Sure, I know who Tricky is. And how long he has been making music. And I’ve heard his work with people like Massive Attack. But I’m slightly ashamed to say this is the first time I’ve listened to an entire Tricky album. And yet I’m still surprised to learn that Fall to Pieces is his fourteenth studio album.
It’s safe to say then that I was not ready for the way Tricky leads you through twists and turns, folk strings and country harmonies alongside the trip hop you might expect. Fall To Pieces is full of extraordinary moments of beauty and pain. But with lots of short songs you often feel like you never really get the chance to get into them.
This is deliberate though. Tricky has said that this album is deceptive, finishing quickly and moving on the next, often stylistically far removed, song.
Let’s take the beginning as an example. ‘Thinking Of’ and ‘Close Now’ set the mood brilliantly. Then all of a sudden, folky strings throw you off course with the intro to ‘Running Off’.
Tricky packs in a whole lot in to Fall To Pieces’ 28 and a half minutes. The passing of time isn’t really relevant though. As Tricky leads you through this complex and poignant journey, it’s about how much you can feel.
If time spent is more your thing, use it to try and get to the bottom of the lyrics – they’re not all as immediate as “I really hate this fucking pain” on ‘Hate This Pain’. From “Kills when it’s done, throws me around, I always fall for this” to “I make bombs and you know, anyone, Vietnam, I’m black boy and you hear my song” and “Feels like I’m a stone, never cried, calming lack of words” the lyrics are enigmatic, yet always seem to touch on the moments of grief Tricky has concentrated into this album.
‘I’m in the Doorway’ is the most conventional song. Simple melodies, catchy hooks and a regulation structure. ‘Take Me Shopping’ (with the country vocal and string harmonies I mentioned earlier), ‘Fall Please’ and ‘Chills Me To The Bone’ come close to being ‘proper’ too, and would achieve it were they double the length. But they don’t need to be. Written from “the depths of my despair”, while being enjoyable and showing the album’s more upbeat side, they’re not an emotional place you want to dwell for too long. Tricky is doing you a favour by moving on swiftly.
As the album progresses, these painful moments come thick and fast. The sparse arrangements of ‘Close Now’, the desperately direct ‘Hate This Pain’, confronting the loss of his daughter, and ‘Vietnam’ lay the emotions bare and bring you close to the experience of falling to pieces in the title.
The vocals are fantastic throughout, Oh Land and Marta especially are both asking for further listening in their own right. The latter’s take on the line I’ve already mentioned that sets the album’s whole tone, “from the depths of my despair, I can’t wait to meet you there”, enthralls and unsettles in equal measure. The surprising thing is the lack of Tricky’s own vocals across the album as a whole. Other than those most direct of lyrics on ‘Hate This Pain’, he sings little else, suggesting a moment of catharsis amongst a sea of grief, best delivered through the voice of others. This album must have been real tough for him.
You might see Fall To Pieces as minimal, short changing you, possibly even lazy. I prefer to look at it as a project to put those fallen pieces back together again. Some are chipped and scratched, some lost forever. Things can’t go back to the way they were before and the sense of incompleteness is captured perfectly by Tricky as he grasps for something that once was.
Words by James Spearing