UNKLE - War Stories
Forget what you've heard from UNKLE before. War Stories mainly departs from the trip-hoppy eclecticism of Psyence Fiction and the airy electronica of Never, Never, Land. This third outing from James Lavelle and an otherwise ever-shifting line-up firmly puts the emphasis on rock. Look into the making of War Stories and it all makes sense: some of these songs were recorded in the studios where Josh Homme makes his Desert Sessions albums, and Chris Goss (member of Masters of Reality, producer of Queens of the Stone Age) has a production credit.
After a couple of scene-setting opening pieces, it's Hold My Hand which announces this change of direction. Rolling in on big drums and a meaty guitar riff, you can imagine it bizarrely as a homage to ZZ Top. It is also, I believe, the first time Lavelle has taken on vocal duties. This is followed by Restless, perhaps the closest thing here to UNKLE of old. Josh Homme sings over a funky loop and (yes) more guitars; the furious drums that eventually come in sound nicked from one of Lavelle's DJ sets. At least another couple of tracks rock just as effectively, at the same time upping the guest count. Urgent first single Burn My Shadow features Ian Astbury of The Cult on vocals, while Mayday, a dirty, bluesy stomp, was recorded with The Duke Spirit.
Of the mellower numbers, Persons & Machinery (featuring Autolux) stands out as the best; xylophone and oblique, possibly political lyrics bringing to mind Radiohead. Old chum, 3D from Massive Attack, mumbles over Twilight, but it twinkles and underwhelms in much the same way as a lot of 100th Window did.
The album's biggest fault is that it's at least 25% too long. Leaving off a few of the duller tracks wouldn't have done any harm. Still, War Stories often kicks ass, is a definite step up from Never, Never, Land and should make us glad that Lavelle includes making his own music in his portfolio of interests.
Please note: this is a review of the 1 disc version. A limited edition, including a bonus disc of instrumentals, is also available.
UNKLE podcasts: burn / luna / chris / josh