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Unkle - Never, Never Land


Review: Jack Foley

DJ SHADOW may have departed from the Unkle line-up, having sworn never to work with them again after 1999's Psyence Fiction, but anyone fearing the worst had better think again.

For James Lavelle has recruited the help of Richard File and produced an album of shimmering brilliance, that easily surpasses the previous effort in terms of all-round quality.

Whereas Psyence Fiction produced only fleeting moments of brilliance (such as the Ian Brown, Thom Yorke and Richard Ashcroft collaborations), Never, Never Land is an altogether different affair; an album which works as a collective whole, and which forces you to think about your place in the world, while wrapping you up in its mesmerising beats.

But then what else can you expect from a long-player which begins with the following monologue: "Your whole life is changes; you go through changes in your life; one second you've got it made, the next second you're done in the dumps; and it goes back and forth throughout your whole life; one second, you got the most beautiful girl in the world, next second you don't even have a girlfriend no more... And this is life, it's changes, this is what you've got to go through, throughout your whole lifetime."

The passage possesses that haunting element of truth that makes you put your own life in perspective, pausing only for a few brief seconds, before declaring that 'even now in heaven, there were angels carrying savage weapons' and propelling you, head first, into the musical rollercoaster which follows.

Make no mistake, this is a thrill-ride of an album; full of tough, moody beats one minute, and subtle, acoustic guitars and strings the next, while being punctuated by some really great collaborations.

Former single, Eye for an Eye, is all about the beats, a sprawling, even epic track, that screams defiance (especially in its nods to the world situation, today), before nicely giving way to the spine-tingling piano lead-in of In A State, and the driving bass of Mani.

Another feature, this time out, is the added dimension of File's vocals, which possess a South feel about them, especially during the stand-out track, What Are You To Me?, which really does appeal to the hairs on the back of your neck.

It means that Never, Never Land feels like a well thought-through project, rather than an indulgence, even though some may lament the lack of the Shadow influence.

Of the collaborations this time out, every one makes a mark, be it Josh Homme's haunting turn on Safe In Mind, which incorporates the same frenetic beat employed by Unkle on their recent Sunna remix, or Ian Brown's equally brilliant return, for Reign.

South's Joel Cadbury crops up on the dream-like Glow, during which the acoustics and strings take prominence over the barely audible beat, while 3D provides a touch of class to Invasion.

If anything, this album feels more diverse, more willing to extend its range, than Psyence Fiction, and much less of an experimental indulgence.

There is very little on it that doesn't work; no tracks which have you reaching for the skip button.

Never, Never Land is that rare commodity in modern music; an album that refuses to sound old, no matter how many times you have it on repeat play.

It will have you hooked from the start and you won't want it to end.

Track listing:
1. Back & Forth
2. Eye for An Eye
3. In A State
4. Safe In Mind (featuring Josh Homme)
5. I Need Something Stronger
6. What Are Yot To Me?
7. Panic Attack
8. Invasion (featuring 3D)
9. Reign (featuring Ian Brown)
10. Glow (featuring Joel Cadbury of South)
11. Inside
12. Awake the Unkind

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