Tricky's Uneasy Listening

If the icily sexy, sleek grooves of Massive Attack make them the

rulers

of trip-hop heaven, then ex-member Tricky, with his dark, roiling

stew of

angular beats and anguished blues rants, must be the overlord of

trip-hop

hell.

Since the success of 1995's Maxinquaye all those years

ago, Tricky

has moved further and further away from the sound of his old

mates toward

the far-out rhythmic zones inhabited by predecessors like Miles

Davis circa

On The Corner and Tom Waits circa

Swordfishtrombones. On

Angels With Dirty Faces, he offers more of what was served

up on his

last release, 1996's Pre-Millennium Tension, wallowing in

his role as the

paranoid King of Hydroponic Rock as he sheds the fans waiting

around for Maxinquaye II.

Immediately, as the menacing first track,"Mellow," kicks in, you

start to feel as if you've been puffing a giant phatty yourself, and

you

know you're back in Tricky-land. "She make me feel high, she

makes me feel

low" Tricky mumbles, deep in gangja-ville, as the rumbling

staccato funk

sputters all around him, a soundtrack for an evening of stoned,

dirty sex.

Meanwhile, "Singing The Blues" has partner Martina Topley-Bird

singing a standard about being broke and paying dues while

Tricky

constructs a veritable trip-hop inferno around her. In fact,

Angels With

Dirty Faces as a whole can be described as a mutant form of

blues for

the 21st century, with Tricky working the same kind of alchemy that

Miles

Davis did on albums such as Dark Magus and Get Up

With It, a

place where jazz, blues, funk and rock can meet and meld.

Other highlights include PJ Harvey's soul-gospel turn on

"Broken

Homes," one of the disc's more conventional moments. "Six

Minutes" is the

first of a number of music industry rants -- and one indeed gets the

feeling that with music as defiantly uncommercial as this, Tricky's

time as

a major label inhabitant is just about up.

The breezy calypso (an influence also popping up on "Demise") of

"Analyze

Me" ignites some erotic fire, as Topley-Bird coos "Will it be on sand

or on

hot land ... Red zones in my head phones." "The Moment I Feared"

is

frantic punk-hop, while the deconstructed funk of "Talk To Me

(Angels With

Dirty Faces)"

is a patience-tester featuring Tom Waits' sideman Marc

Ribot on guitar. "Carriage For Two," narcotically alluring, pulsates

with a

Miles Davis-like funk undertow over which the vocals of Tricky and

Topley-Bird (quoting from "God Bless The Child") ride.

Perhaps the album's last three songs best sum up the state of

Tricky's

tortured psyche. The smothering, self-immolating blues of "Tear

Out My

Eyes" finds him summoning up the ghost of Kurt Cobain: "I wanna

blow my

head off in Seattle" he moans, "I can see a change in me / I

deserve to die

because of lies." The singer turns his anger outward, however, on

"Money

Greedy" and "Record Companies." The former, a furious funk jam

recognizable to those who saw Tricky on the final Lollapalooza

tour,

alternates between braggadoccio ("I got out") and accusation: "Kill

me with

a quickness / I guess it's strictly business ... You trample on my

soul."

Finally, "Record Companies" is near-Black Sabbathian in its

evocation of

darkness, as Tricky indicts corporations who use the proceeds

from dead rap

singers to manufacture guns: "Record companies love when they

kill

themselves / it boosts up the record sales" he croaks. "Now which

one of

you's gonna be the next niggy / 2Pac holding hands with Biggy."

In an age where the term "alternative" has become debased to

the point

where

it can refer to vapid airheads like Tori Amos (alternative to

what?), Tricky restores the term to its original meaning. He's the

alternative to the alternative, and Angels With Dirty Faces is

as

challenging as anything that will be released this year.