Previously the darling of the alternative dance scene following his groundbreaking 1995 trip-hop debut Maxinquaye, Adrian Thaws, aka Tricky, has spent the subsequent eight years almost destroying his visionary status thanks to a worrying God complex and a series of increasingly erratic albums, none of which have come close to matching the aforementioned's inventively sinister soundscapes and contrasting blends of sweet-sung melodies and claustrophobic lyrics. Two years after the star-studded BlowBack, the former Massive Attack cohort returns with his seventh studio album in eight years, Vulnerable which, as its title suggests, has been described as his most honest and open record to date. While its 13 tracks are unlikely to capture the zeitgeist in the same manner of his most celebrated record, it's unarguably his most accessible offering since, thanks to a newfound, sunnier disposition, perhaps inspired by his relocation to Los Angeles, and the presence of Italian vocalist Costanza Francavilla, a fan who attracted Tricky's attention after giving his drummer one of her demos following a gig in Rome. She may not possess the beguiling sultry qualities of his former muse, Martina Topley Bird, but her delicately fragile and honeyed tones provide a welcome companion to his trademark mumbling growls, particularly on the playful boy/girl melodies of opening track "Stay" and the indie-funk rhythms of the Madchester-esque "Antimatter." Elsewhere, "Car Crash" is a gorgeously languid slice of dream pop reminiscent of the acoustic chillout of Zero 7, likewise "Hollow," a blissful fusion of skittering beats, trippy guitars, and enchanting choral voices, while "Lovecats" is an inspired, dub-heavy reworking of the Cure's 1983 classic hit single. Unfortunately, the nu-metal leanings that dogged his last album are still very much evident, such as on the doom-laden and plodding thrash-out "How High," and the Rage Against the Machine pastiche production of "Moody," while his unapologetic diatribe against the editor of The Face magazine on "Search, Search, Survive" is a rather unpleasant way to close a predominantly optimistic effort, which shows that Tricky is still prone to the occasional paranoid rambling every now and then. Eight years on from Maxinquaye, it's seeming increasingly unlikely that Tricky will ever properly fulfill his huge promise. But while Vulnerable undeniably lacks the unpredictability and genuine innovation of his early days, it's a solid and surprisingly melodic affair which is a huge improvement on his often unlistenable last few efforts.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien