UNKLE are back once again, this time with regular member James Lavelle partnering up with his latest collaborator Richard File(who he has been with for the last couple of albums) to make Never, Never, Land, an innovative new 2-disc offering. James Lavelle's history in UNKLE has been populated with some fabulous albums, arguably the best of which was his hip-hop beats union with DJ Shadow, Psyence Fiction. This new album is quite different from much of UNKLE's previous material, adopting a Moby-esque ambience to some of the tracks, whilst never losing that ominous, brooding sentiment that we have come to expect from them, nor that pervasive, all-too-familiar beat.
After an opening salvo of samples (again something you will recognise as commonplace in UNKLE's work), we get Eye For An Eye, a solid track which makes good use of Eastern drums to give us a new side to the music from this particular artist - and introducing us once again to the understated vocals of Richard File. The next track changes suit, dropping the Eastern drums in favour of piano chords reminiscent of Massive Attack's earlier work but retaining File's engaging vocals throughout, then we move on to Safe In Mind, a track which - strangely enough - has Eurythmics-like undertones and uses Josh Homme's more haunting vocals to carry you through the quietly brooding sonic machinations. Then we get a much more familiar Orb-like track bursting with samples and ambient noises before we return for more of File's vocals on a chirpy, uplifting mission. Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja pops up for Invasion and The Stone Roses' Ian Brown performs for the single, Reign, producing quite an effectively strong counterpoint to his powerful but depressing previous collaboration with UNKLE for Psyence Fiction. Also reminiscent of that previous album, we get some excellent orchestral contributions from the London Session Orchestra, possibly pushing this towards being the best track on the album. The last couple of tracks round off the album in a very relaxed, summer afternoon kind of way - providing unobtrusive vocals and a pleasant, chill-out feel that tells you the brooding storm is over and the album is nearing its close. The pattern of the whole production is mirrored in each of the tracks, a slow, brooding pot-boiler of an album, with plenty of quiet moments lulling you into submission before cleverly oppressive beats and a multitude of interesting accompaniments - from Eastern drums to mellifluous strings - bring your stereo to life. It is a solid offering from UNKLE, with none of the slightly morbid Radiohead influences of some of their previous work, although this does mean that some of the tracks are a little more shallow, without the perceived depth of more haunting lyrics and style.
After a brief pause we get the two remixes - Eye For An Eye Backwards, worked over by Joshua Homme and Alain Joahannes, but not vastly different - we've still got that Eastern feel, although it does feel a bit more 60s this time around. There are a few more samples and a great closing crescendo which probably gives this the edge over the original version. Finally, Safe In Mind is remixed by Chris Goss and sounds completely different - the underlying accompaniment has been completely ripped out and replaced by some much more domineering synth work, marginally to the detriment of the track. Still, it is always nice to have slight variations on the leading tracks from the album (even if they are not my personal favourites).
The bonus CD, after a couple of lead-in tracks, consists mainly of remixes and the chosen artists instrumental in these version explain the familiarity with their work on the original version. We get an Ape Sounds remix of Panic Attack, an Anagram remix of Reign and a Medway vs. Eva: Coast-to-Coast mix of Invasion but, most tellingly, a Hybrid remix of Glow and a Sasha remix of In A State. Hybrid's version of Glow is simply superb, with their ever-reliable beats pervading the more dance-like, uplifting effort. The UNKLE variation track Have You Passed Through This Night Before is also quite a nice addition to round off a very playable second CD that is even longer than the main album.