An old, weary man’s voice marks the start of UNKLE’s second effort. He speaks of the past, changes and how quickly things can go from good to bad. In addition to making for a creepy opener his words sum up the album’s quality perfectly: A bunch of bloody amazing songs spliced up in some fairly mediocre efforts. UNKLE, probably most famous for their collaboration with Radiohead vocalist Thom Yorke on Rabbit in Your Headlights
, are a Trip Hop duo. Comprised of James Lavelle and a rotating second member (at one point, circa the release of UNKLE’s debut DJ Shadow held this spot) UNKLE create eclectic Trip Hop with the aid of hosts of talented guest vocalists and rappers. Their sound is very dense, organic and dark. It’s smooth yet scary, dense yet clear.
A perfect example of this sound’s greater points is on what is possibly Never, Never, Land’s best song, Eye for an Eye
. The song begins with a strummed middle-eastern tinged Guitar line, building with this foreign melody is an array of both acoustic and electric drumming big bass drum rolls compliment electronic high-hat sixteenths perfectly underneath synthesizer twiddling. The vocals also have a sort of foreign, dated feel to them. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
is repeated overtop another man’s wonderings. The wondering man utters the line Where your going, your not coming back from…
and then the song kicks into overdrive. The synth twiddles multiply, while the drums become more frantic. By the end of the song, in addition to the singer near screaming “Run, run, run but you just can’t hide”
, strings have joined the mix along with multiple keyboard lines, making the production so dense it’s almost impossible to dissect the parts. A fantastic song to use as a first track (not counting the introduction) and a fantastic first single in general.
The whole album has a feel similar to that of “Eye for an Eye”. It doesn’t necessarily sound like Eye for an Eye but they both share many of the same qualities. The production is very dense on each song; in addition the production is very flowing, the strings sections flourish, the guitar parts are pretty sounding strummed chords, the drum parts are very natural and even the synthesizers don’t give it away as an Electronica album. As one would expect from a man who was once partners with Trip-Hop god DJ Shadow, all the songs also have a very dark feeling. It would be a daunting task to even find a happy sounding moment on the album. Even In a State
the poppiest, most upbeat track on the album creates a very gloomy aura. Only when soaring strings join the song’s pounding hand percussion, acoustic guitar and creepy synth arpeggios does it even come close to having an uplifting feeling. I Need Something Stronger
could probably be considered the Yin to In a State’s Yang, as far as the album goes. It’s composed of entirely electronic instruments and is very ambient, probably an after product of having Brian Eno play on the song as a guest.
But as with most albums, there are always a few bad tracks. Panic Attack
is one of them. Panic Attack has a very claustrophobic feel to it, hence the name. Quick electronic arpeggios played over a fast beat make a great home to the worst vocal on the album. The song’s saving grace are the acoustic guitar “breakdowns”, usually these parts feature a woman’s voice singing a pretty harmony and nothing else but an acoustic guitar. Panic Attack appears smack dab in the middle of the album and is easily its weakest track. Also heading up Never, Never, Land’s filler section are two useless remixes at the end of the album. Josh Homme’s Eye for an Eye Backwards
hardly changes the song at all, while Chris Gross’s Safe in Mind (Please Take this Gun from Out My Face (Remix)
takes one of the coolest tracks on the album and turns it into a lame minimalist bore-fest that I have trouble not skipping, a damn near terrible way to end the album.
While the literal ending to the album hardly matches the rest of the album’s quality, the last few non-remix tracks on the album contain two of its highlights. Reign
features a quick string line leading the melody and one of the better vocals on the album which Stone Roses’ front man Ian Brown delivers. I am the reign; I’m going to rein this way again. I am the reign, Reign a Reign a Reign again
Brown sings right before the five or so minute track ends, and Glow
begins. Glow is a beautiful acoustic ballad, with pleasant guitar, sweeping strings and a pretty vocal spot by Joel Cadbury. While the track is playing, it’s superb but its very forgettable. This may be due to the fact that Inside
Inside is the perfect track to close the album with. It’s memorable, scary and brilliant. It begins with a sample from Jacob’s Ladder “The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life [/u] and ends with 60 or so seconds of silence, but the in the middle is where the genius lies. Inside is another track featuring a prominent Acoustic Guitar line, something hardly used on UNKLE’s debut. Searing strings, electronic drums, and a bouncy bass line add to the music creating one of the densest beats on the album. The chorus to Inside is easily the catchiest on the album. It soars above the verses and is staggeringly beautiful. The lyrics are also probably the most human on the album, and are about a relationship of some kind. And love does see/ Sense in all of this/ Something's gotta give the singer lets out before arriving at the chorus where You don't wanna see/ You don't wanna see/ Inside of me
is sung over a heartfelt string line. And so the track ends, and the album should end.
Sans the lame remixes at the end, Never, Never, Land is truly an album to hear. Its pretty, dark and relatively brilliant. Its only flaw when compared Psyence Fiction is the lack of DJ Shadow. The song’s also lack the diversity of Psyence, which in my mind can go either way as far as hurting or helping the album. Never, Never Land receives a strong 4/5.