Skilled Mechanics - Skilled Mechanics - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Skilled Mechanics - Skilled Mechanics

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2016-01-22

Even for an artist not usually known for his carefree pop tunes, Tricky’s new album, created with long-time collaborators DJ Milo and drummer Luke Harris, is a down-tempo, perpetually murky and smoke-furled affair. It’s probably his darkest-sounding, most claustrophobic album since 1998’s Angels with Dirty Faces, although that record’s righteous, burning anger has been replaced by the slow, steady drip of implied menace.

On the opening ‘I'm Not Going’, over a clipped two-chord guitar riff, singer Oh Land purrs “I’m not really into it/ Click and I’m dead”, which sets the scene nicely for a collection of songs which, for the most part, slither along, hissing and grumbling in Tricky’s inimitable style. There are, thankfully, chinks of light: ‘Hero’ saunters ahead on a chunky bassline and body-popping beats. Album highlight ‘Beijing to Berlin’, meanwhile, recalls 2010’s ‘UK Jamaican’ in its hard-edged but funky hip-hop sound and rapper Ivy 艾菲’s fierce attitude.

Tricky’s recent move to Berlin, the city artists such as Bowie and Depeche Mode escaped to in search of a more radical sound, seems to have caused the erstwhile Adrian Thaws to return to some core influences. His love of 80s electronic music is evident on tracks such as ‘Boy’ and ‘Here My Dear’, the latter sporting a great early techno sound, with blocky synths and looped female vocal snippets. ‘Well’, meanwhile, is built around some fantastically doomy analogue synth, like something from a John Carpenter film or The Terminator.

As a musical contrast to this, ‘How’s Your Life’ is all smooth R&B, while ‘Brother’, originally by Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, is reimagined as a muted piano ballad with numb, haunted vocals. The album also features a reworking of 90s alt-rock act Porno for Pyros' ‘Porpoise Head’, titled ‘Driving Away’ and realised as an icy children’s lullaby. Unfortunately considering Tricky’s excellent track-record when it comes to unlikely cover versions, I’d say these are the two weakest tracks here.

Thankfully, things come good on final track ‘Unreal’, a woozy, brief sci-fi ballad sung by Xdare which puts one in mind of FKA twigs. It’s just a shame that it fades to nothing before the two-minute mark.

Overall, Skilled Mechanics would have benefited from a few more propulsive, flashy numbers like ‘Beijing to Berlin’ or even the mid-paced but interesting ‘Necessary’, on which Tricky randomly interpolates his own excellent cover of Janet Kay’s ‘Silly Games’ from 2014’s Adrian Thaws. While never boring, Skilled Mechanics is a slightly underwhelming, uninvolving album which doesn’t bode too well for Tricky’s new project. 

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