Angels with Dirty Faces

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Perhaps Maxinquaye was such a startling, focused, brilliant debut that Tricky's subsequent albums would have paled in comparison, regardless of their quality. Nevertheless, his desire to distance himself from the coffeehouse trip-hop that appeared after Maxinquaye forced him into a dark, paranoid corner. Determined to strip away all of his fair-weather fans, he delivered the claustrophobic Pre-Millennium Tension, a paranoid record that its follow-up, Angels With Dirty Faces, mirrors. Since it builds upon Pre-Millennium instead of breaking new ground, Angels may strike some listeners as merely a retread, but it gradually reveals new layers upon repeated listens. Tricky has been redefining his rhythms, adding skittering jungle loops and hardcore hip-hop beats to his trademark dub-warped trip-hop. On top of that, he's expanding his sonic palette, adding cheap synthesizers and avant-garde guitarists to create a nightmarish junk-pile of hip-hop, dub, electronica, rock, and gospel. Again, Martina is on board and her stylish croon adds moments of relief to the enveloping dread, as does Polly Harvey on the odd gospel-tinged "Broken Homes." Specific tracks work well individually -- "Mellow," "Singing the Blues," "Angels With Dirty Faces," and the absurd, bile-ridden "Record Companies," in particular -- but on the whole Angels With Dirty Faces is less than the sum of its parts. By being slightly different but essentially the same as Pre-Millennium Tension, Angels With Dirty Faces demands that listeners meet it on its own terms. Whether they'll want to is another matter entirely.

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