Like the end-of-season regenerations of Doctor Who, every new record from James Lavelle's UNKLE finds the musical project at the climax of some dramatic transmutation. Never, Never, Land
is no exception. Soon after the release of 1999's Psyence Fiction
, beats wizard DJ Shadow
announced he'd never work as a member of UNKLE again--and accordingly, the first thing you notice about Never, Never, Land
is the absence of his robust percussion. But once over that minor disappointment, it's not hard to wallow in this record's impressively dark scope.
With the aid of new collaborator Richard File, Lavelle has made a record that connects the dots between the creeping melancholy of Talk Talk, the scaly electronics of Massive Attack's Mezzanine and the grand sky-bound epics of the Verve. Like its predecessor, there's a proliferation of guest appearances: Jarvis Cocker, Josh Homme, Brian Eno, Ian Brown, Massive Attack's Robert del Naja. But the vocals are assimilated much more successfully here, ensuring that guest never overpowers song. Lavelle still has a fine eye for casting his songs in the grandest narratives: "Panic Attack" samples the robotic pulse of Joy Division's "She's Not Control" and overlays it with blurred electronic shimmers and driving bass. Mind you, it might be the understated numbers--"Glow", "Inside"--that provide some of the record's loveliest moments. --Louis Pattison
Four years on since Unkle's debut Psyence Fiction, music industry stalwart James Lavelle is back with a new album that promises much and delivers more. With his Mo' Wax label currently in hiatus, the timing for Unkle's return couldn't be better, generating some much needed interest in a scene that's drifted from the underground into the mainstream and then back into the shadows in consecutive years.
Richard File (vocalist, and one time drum 'n' bass aficionado) and songwriter Ant Genn, with Lavelle, now make up the trio. The set opens with the Norman Whitfield/Undisputed Truth-sampling "Eye For An Eye" (a recent UK hit) - the song's animated video recently winning the prestigious McLaren Award for animation at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
"Be There" gave the group their first top ten hit in 1999. It featured the adroit Ian Brown, who again joins the group for the symphonic odyssey, "Reign" - a beautifully constructed soundscape that also features Mani on bass; trivia fans note it's the first time the two have worked together since the hedonistic days of the Stone Roses.
Lavelle's pulling-power also attracts the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Brian Eno on the ethereal electronica of "I Need Something Stronger". Massive Attack's 3D contributes the dark and moody topline on "Invasion", while Queens Of The Stone Age front-man, Josh Homme, features on the stark, yet explosive "Safe In Mind" - surely a single contender.
Never, Never, Land confesses File, is "a clash of high and low emotions", none more so on the beautifully rich "In A State", with Cocker's soothing acoustic strumming working perfectly in unison with Graham Gouldman (of 10cc fame) unearthly vocal. Sasha liked the record so much that in a rare studio sortie he's turned it into an essential club item.
With titles like "Panic Attack", "Invasion", "Safe In Mind" and "What Are You To Me?", it could be argued that Never, Never, Land is drenched in paranoia. It is. So what? Like Radiohead's Kid A it is also rich in metaphors, kaleidoscopic beats, lush cinematic soundscapes and sonic textures that are worthy of your attention. --Jack Smith
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