UNKLE – [Album]

Sunday, 12 August 2007

If UNKLE had some master plan to lure me into listening to their latest album War Stories by packaging the promo in a sweet cardboard envelope with images of monochromatic Joshua trees and skeletons on the cover, it worked. Let’s face it, it gets pretty old getting yet another janky promo with no artwork. James Lavelle made quite the effort on this latest album, the first on his Surrender All label. And hot damn, what an album.

First off, compulsory name drop of all the artists who appear on the album: Ian Astbury, Josh Homme, 3d (Massive Attack), Liela Moss (Duke Spirit), Eugene Goreshter (Autolux) and Gavin Clark (Clayhill). The artwork and Homme’s presence are testament to the album having been recorded between L.A. and Joshua Tree with Chris Goss who produced Queens of the Stone Age and Homme side project, Desert Sessions (which also rules). I feel like I’ve described many albums as great soundtracks to a road trip; but this one particularly takes the cake in my opinion.

I don’t really get why all the hardcore fans of Lavelle’s Psyence Fiction seem to resist his later efforts but I find the album to be a rather progressive evolution. While still maintaining the dark undertone and emotionalism of Psyence Fiction, War Stories flows between sentiments both individual and collectivistic. The drama inherent in the music seems to range from personal dialogues to a critique on the state of a war conscious society. However, don’t expect an overtly political album. Lavelle saves the guttural drama and dissent for the instruments as opposed to the lyrics. Perhaps the only thing I find difficult about the album is deciphering whether it’s an album to drop bombs to, a missive protesting them or well, an album to have sex to. It’s true.

And ironically, despite all the stellar guests on this album (Moss and Astbury’s turns are particularly stunning), my favorite track is the driving “Hold My Hand” which features none other than Lavelle himself on vox. Careening down the freeway at 80+ it is hard not to like this song. So maybe the biggest secret of Lavelle’s War Stories is that despite his uncanny ability to assemble the best guest vocalists on an album of any artist, he might just be his own best weapon.

War Stories is out now on Surrender All

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