James Lavelle still has a lot to prove. Having spawned the sublime 'Psyence Fiction' with help from DJ Shadow in 1998, Lavelle has since taken the UNKLE guise on his own with little credit. After the release of the disappointing 'Never, Never, Land' in 2003, James Lavelle is no doubt hoping to banish any doubts with regards to his musical skills with the new album War Stories.
Unsurprisingly, War Stories features many guest contributions, with the biggest coup probably being that of QOTSA front-man Josh Homme (who performs on the track 'Restless'). Having seemingly washed his hands with the trip hop moniker which made UNKLE a household name in 1998, War Stories is largely a guitar driven electronic record, with a danceable contemporary take on 90's indie.
Remembering that this is the same act that generated sublime tracks such as 'Lonely Souls' feat Richard Ashcroft, & 'Rabbits in Your Headlights' feat Thom Yorke, you can't help but feel a sense of disappointment. Whilst you might rightfully claim that the calibre of contributors on his occasion are not in the same league, the overall arrangements barely touch on innovative, & any raw edge you might look for is washed away with the glossy pop production. Nine years on since the impressive debut album 'Psyence Fiction' you begin to question whether UNKLE has ever evolved at all.
This record does have a few good moments, but that is all they are. 'Price You Pay' sounds like a ghostly Elbow number, The driving 'Burn My Shadow' features some quality vocals from Ian Astbury & in 'Person & Machinery' the vocals from Autolux bring an up to date indie feel which touches on the talents of Canadian giants Broken Social Scene.
Ultimately, War Stories feels like a missed opportunity. Despite the occasional dreamy and haunting aesthetics, most of the songs feel quite monotonous & lack a certain 'special' ingredient. And any potential the record might have had disappears with a fear to really push the boundaries. If there was ever a case of an artist attempting to 'play it safe' in 2007, then UNKLE's War Stories is surely it.