Lavelle and File are back - with added guitars!
Gemma Padley 2007
In thirteen years Unkle have only released three albums. War Stories is a reminder that despite channelling most of their energies into remixing other people’s work, James Lavelle and Richard File are equally capable of producing quality tracks of their own as they are of remoulding others.
Part of Unkle’s success lies is their ability to coerce music’s top vocalists into singing; this and their knack of matching the ‘right’ voice with the most suitable instrumentals is central to their music hallmark – tracks that sound individual but which fall under the distinctive Unkle umbrella. War Stories, a genre-hopping feast, follows this mould. Some may argue this signals a drying up of ideas on Unkle’s part or an over reliance on a failsafe formula – not so; album number three is diverse and engrossing.
The signature fusing of trip-hop beats with rock energy is here in abundance. “Mayday” with its pilfering of the bouncing prog rock riff in Kasabian’s “Empire” features garage rock group the Duke Spirit. Ian Astbury of the Cult features on “Burn My Shadow” with its similarity to the ear-drilling drumming of Pendulum’s “Voodoo People” remix; Astbury reappears on “When Things Explode” which uses the same sparse drumming as Radiohead’s “Climbing Up The Walls”.
The main criticism then is that War Stories draws too heavily from other musical sources and sounds tired or familiar. But there is enough variety here to narrowly miss falling into the heard-it-before trap. Tracks such as “Chemistry” flying the trip-hop flag are urgent and compelling while “Broken” featuring Clayhill singer Gavin Clark is unashamedly pop but speeds along with an absorbing vibrancy. Josh Homme guests on the attitude-laden “Restless” while “Hold My Hand” (James Lavelle’s vocal debut) exudes Manchester Britpop soul minus Mani and Ian Brown.
War Stories is one of two things – a dynamic collection of songs from a pair of audacious experimentalists or a hackney-ed attempt to recreate the success of the Psyence Fiction days. Whichever view you take, there’s no question of Unkle’s enduring reputation as master genre mergers.