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One of the products of the early '90s Bristol, England trip-hop explosion was the enigmatic and often controversial Tricky. As one of the original members of the Wild Bunch, which later became Massive Attack, Tricky provided laid-back if somewhat foreboding vocal raps to the downtempo grooves that later became the defining characteristic of the trip-hop genre. On Massive Attack's 1992 groundbreaking debut Blue Lines, Tricky's guest appearances provided some of the most notable lyrical moments. In 1993 Tricky followed this up with his first solo single "Aftermath," which featured the first appearance of his vocal muse Martina Topley-Bird, who remained a central part of Tricky's sound for the next six albums. After another appearance with Massive Attack on their second album Protection, Tricky's first album Maxinquaye, named after his mother Maxine Quaye, was released to widespread critical acclaim and won Tricky a large following.

Many fans were quite disappointed, however, in what followed in Tricky's career. His official follow-up album, Pre-Millennium Tension, explored dark soundscapes and dub-affected heavy atmospherics, no doubt influenced by his travels to Jamaica to record the album, and left much of the catchy hooks of Maxinquaye behind. The result was dark, scary, and much less coherent than the first album and was consequently ignored by many fans and critics alike.

The following albums Angels with Dirty Faces, Juxtapose, and Blowback were all in a similar vein; although occasionally quite insightful, overall they explored the same tones and moods, showing no signs growth or of the genius that first brought him into the public eye with Maxinquaye.

On his latest album, Vulnerable, Tricky seems to have switched gears. In part this is because he has replaced his long time vocal and musical partner Martina with the previously unknown Italian Costanza Francavilla and left out his usual long list of guest appearances in favour of going it alone. But on Vulnerable Tricky also distances himself from the heavy, dark and brooding moods he explored in past albums. Much more upbeat and accessible, at times even hopeful and inspiring, Vulnerable seems an appropriate title indeed. Tricky seems to have put himself out there for all to see, warts and all.

The results are mixed. Although there are still echoes of previous jaunts into the dark paranoia filled recesses of humanity ("Search, Search, Survive"), overall Vulnerable is experimentation with pop genres. While upbeat and melodic tracks like "Antimatter," "Stay," and "Ice Pick" won't rival Kylie Minoque for the number one spot on the charts, their catchy pop hooks could get them mainstream radio play despite their experimental beats and time signatures. Meanwhile, angsty guitar driven tracks like the fist-pumping "How High," "Moody," and "Where I'm From" are sure to please the alternative rock crowd. The two cover tracks are clever and effective: The Cure's "Love Cats" comes slowed down and mellowed out, with Robert Smith's whiny vocals replaced by the dual vocals of Tricky's almost-whisper and Constanza's innocent lilting. XTC's "Dear God" gets similar vocal treatment, while featuring an acoustic guitar and police sirens in the distance. Both covers work well and complement the sad melancholy of "Car Crash" and the chilled-out dub of "What is Wrong."

Overall the album is less than stellar. Jumping between tempos, genres and energy levels makes itdifficult to listen to from beginning to end. Whereas past albums were criticized for their failure to develop stagnant moods, this album seems to jump around too much. But Vulnerable is far from a failure. Its stand-out tracks are original and catchy. Tricky seems to be trying to break his rut and move away from his jaunts into darkness and paranoia in favour of necessary innovation and experimentation in pop.

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