Mo'Wax - 2003 - 63 minutes
Six years in the making, UNKLE's 1998 debut, 'Psyence Fiction', suffered the music media bashing of many an over-anticipated enterprise. The hype stemmed from the previous critical success of the helmers of the project, the precocious UK producer James Lavelle (of Mo'Wax fame) and the prodigious turntablist DJ Shadow.
Add to this heady mix the self-conscious choice of collaborative artists du jour - Richard Ashcroft, Thom Yorke, Damien Gough and Beastie Boy Mike D - and perhaps it's fair to say that the feeding frenzy was not surprising. However, for many critics the enterprise didn't live up to its promise. 'Psyence Fiction' was considered difficult to get into, dark and brooding and most unforgivable - the artists on board overshadowed the music.
Unlike most critics, I loved UNKLE's first project. It doesn't always flow but you're guaranteed a heady, if apocalyptic mix and some unparalleled set pieces, most notably Richard Ashcroft's mournful musings on 'Lonely Soul'. Five years on and the album has gathered more of a following perhaps due to the use of DJ Shadow's back catalogue to sell everything from alcohol to cars.
Given the bashing that Lavelle has received in the media, it's a happy surprise (for me anyway) that he has decided to revive the collective of UNKLE - sans Shadow - and finally produce a follow up album.
And if anyone is left in any doubt, 'Never Never Land' vindicates the maestro with its celestial panoramic soundscape. Where 'Pysence Fiction' lacked coherence, this latest offering has a more organic and lighter-handed feel.
This time round the collaborations are less in your face, with an unselfconscious use of vocalists. Here it's less about mapping the zeitgeist and more about the music. Jarvis Cocker, Massive Attack's 3D, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Joel Cadbury of South lend their talents to the mix and 'Reign' manages to bridge gaps, musical and otherwise, with the reunion of Ian Brown and Mani.
Highlights include the biblical 'Eye For An Eye' featuring a sample from 'Ball of Confusion' and a voice over segment from Terence Malick's war epic 'The Thin Red Line', 'In a State' with its echoes of former Massive Attack hits, the lush atmospherics of 'Glow' and the sunset bliss of 'What Are You To Me?'
Taking the place of DJ Shadow, the relatively unknown (probably not for much longer) singer and acoustic guitarist, Richard File, makes an excellent contribution with subtle vocals and paired down guitars.
Tracklisting: Back and Forth - Eye for an Eye - In a State - Safe in Mind - I Need Something Stronger - What Are You to Me? - Panic Attack - Invasion - Reign - Glow - Inside - Awake the Unkind