Tricky’s first album, Maxinquaye, was a stone(d) classic – a journey through a whole new soundscape, alternatively spacy and aggressive, melodic and percussive. His second, Pre-Millennium Tension, was very good; his third, pretty good; and his fourth just OK. The trend was pretty clear, so I haven’t paid much attention since then.

But something I read or heard, I can’t remember what, convinced me to check out his 2008 release Knowle West Boy, and I was pleasantly surprised – nay, shocked – at how good it was. Tricky seemed to have rediscovered his sense of fun, of the possibilities of music. The follow-up, Mixed Race, is even better.

You know you’re in good hands right from the opening beats, a looped sample from David Essex’s “Rock On” that sounds equally like a beating heart and a ticking time bomb. What follows is a typically tense Tricky groove laced with tasty bits of harmonica, slide guitar, percussion, and some kind of work song. And then just when you’re getting the taste for it, it’s over. A lot of the songs here are like that; they get in and out quickly, sometimes sounding more like sketches than finished products. The whole album clocks in at an economical 29:25, and while that might not seem like much of a value for your dollar, I actually like the fact that Tricky isn’t belaboring everything. What with judgment day coming in about two months, why waste time?

There’s plenty to enjoy here, anyway: The mirror-ball slam of “Kingston Logic”; “Time to Dance,” straight out of some extremely classy nightclub populated by replicants; the slinky “Early Bird”; “Really Real,” a bank of icy fog swirling around distorted synthesizer notes. Perhaps best of all is “Murder Weapon,” a ludicrously irresistible track based on Echo Minott‘s dancehall track of the same name, itself based on the venerable “Peter Gunn Theme.”

Many of the vocals are handled by Frankie Riley, who of late has replaced Martina Topley-Bird as the yin to Tricky’s yang, with the man himself contributing his usual resin-soaked growls. Their voices blend particularly well on the jazzy “Come to Me,” an uncharacteristically lighthearted entry in the Tricky ouevre, downright seductive with its loping bass and slippery horns. Well, enough of my blather; here’s some hard evidence.