Album: Unkle

Never, Never, Land, Island
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His previous collaborator DJ Shadow having departed after UNKLE's 1998 debut, Psyence Fiction, James Lavelle has hooked up with the singer-songwriter-DJ-programmer Richard File for this follow-up album. The immediate result is a more stable, generic sound, Shadow's fractured scratch-scapes replaced by File's fragile, high-register vocals and songs that, for all their stylistic twists and turns, are generally grounded in a bed of acoustic guitar. So, despite the presence, as on its predecessor, of a diverse group of guests including Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, 3D of Massive Attack and the former Stone Roses Ian Brown and Mani Mounfield, Never, Never, Land seems less of a compilation and more of a production album. There is an overall tone this time, wary and paranoid, very like on a Massive Attack recording, even when 3D's sinister murmur isn't involved. Based on vocal and orchestral samples culled from The Undisputed Truth's version of "Ball of Confusion", the single "Eye for an Eye" is typical, its dramatic flourishes punctuated by the muttered queries: "Who's done this? Who's killed us?"; Homme's haunted vocal on the bass-heavy maelstrom of "Safe in Mind" is similarly suspicious - "Someone's found a way/ To break into my mind" - while "Panic Attack" features yet another lost-soul murmur adrift in echoey swirls of synth. The most sophisticated piece is probably "In a State", in which Mani's bass underpins an Underworld-style mix of acoustic guitar and strings livened up by expressive tom-toms and a climactic swell of 140 vocal tracks. Amazingly, it all fits together beautifully.