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Tricky 

Blowback (Hollywood)

As it turns out, Tricky's been making records even he hates -- contract-killers, he might call them, if not audience-killers in the process. (Everything since 1995's Maxinquaye has been one "fuck off" record after another, as in: "Fuck off, I'm not giving people what they want," he explains in his new Disney-financed bio.) But now Tricky's free -- of Island Records, of his longtime manager and attorney, of collaborator Martina Topley Bird (still pals, though), of the weight on his shoulders, and of the dense, dreary, paranoid, claustrophobic music that rendered him unlistenable to all but the faithful who drenched themselves in the dark. And with such liberation comes newfound happiness; you can hear the man smile.

Blowback sounds as though it was made by, of, and for the Top 40. The opening cut, "Excess," is one of those perfect pop concoctions that keeps you coming back for more; it begs you to listen, but with one arm keeping you at bay -- a beguiling tease. Hoping to land on MTV and VH1 (again, from the bio, which reads like a business plan), Tricky rounded up pop stars whose coattails he can cling to for the ride: Alanis Morissette, Live's Ed Kowalcyzk (who's never sounded better -- a compliment offered with an Ike Turner backhand), three out of four Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Cyndi Lauper; also, here is New Yawk Jamaican Hawkman and Ambersunshower, the new Martina, only less so. There's even the novelty song sure to pique the interest of the casual fan, as if any exist: a cover of the Wonder Woman theme song, sung by Peppers guitarist John Frusciante like a little kid playing cross-dress-up. Don't quite know why it's here, but the whole affair's such a welcome relief from recent efforts, you're just glad for the chance to smile, even if you're not as stoned as Tricky (always) is.

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