When Tricky returned from his five-year recording hiatus with the autobiographical Knowle West Boy in 2008, he proffered a hard-hitting set of songs and soundscapes comprised of originals and covers that roared with confrontational brownpunk energy. Two years on, Mixed Race is as direct as its predecessor, but sparser, more spacious, mostly low-key, and very brief (under half an hour). While its sound is still in-your-face, it's remarkable how little murk there is -- despite the layers of backing tracks. Lyrically it's autobiographical, but it's also a gangster album. The sound of guns being cocked and loaded is almost ubiquitous. The signpost is the single, a revisioned take on Echo Minott's '90s dancehall hit "Murder Weapon." The lyric (delivered by Tricky's brother Marlon Thaws), full of references to guns and shoot-em-up street battles, is juxtaposed with Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn Theme" and a sampled blues harmonica riff. Its sound looks to the past for inspiration while looking only at itself as a map reference. "Bristol to London" rips on the old-school styles of Brit-hop with a furious synth up front and three staggered rhythms. The wiry funk in "UK Jamaican," with singer Terry Lynn, defines the plight of immigrants who think (or are forced to think) with "Kingston logic." "Ghetto Stars," one of numerous tracks to feature Tricky's excellent touring vocalist Franky Riley, comments on the reality of gangster life in public housing projects with dramatic string samples, slow, menacing loping beats, and metallic guitars. She also shines on the spooky, sinister, drone-blues opener, "Every Day." "Hakim" uses a North African motif, handclaps, and both vocal and lute from Hakim Hamadouche (Rachid Taha), along with a shuffling rhythm track. "Early Bird," with its slow chunky guitars, shimmering cymbals, muted trumpet, and a knotty little single-string blues guitar riff, is dark and imposing. "Come to Me" is a (literally) finger-popping jump jazz love song, slowed down to cough syrup flow. "Time to Dance," the closest Tricky claims he will "ever get to disco," is synthed-out minimalism, dry and deadpan. "Really Real," a collaboration with Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie, is a spaced-out, aimless dronescape, with guitars and rhythm tracks crisscrossing in a repetitive mantra-like manner. Ultimately, Mixed Race, with its simmering tension, is a worthy follow-up to Knowle West Boy, and a fine entry in Tricky's catalog overall.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek