When the great Electronica Rush of '97-98 hit U.S. soil, it often sounded like the space-age promises of the Jetsons coming to fruition just in time to justify Y2K. UNKLE, the project of Mo' Wax label guru James Lavelle, especially captured this futuristic mindset; 1998's Psyence Fiction melded Matrix-style techno-rock with DJ Shadow's trip-hop visions.
Time has caught up to Lavelle on UNKLE's second proper album, however, which makes Never, Never, Land as frustrating as it is rewarding. Musically, it's sublime: Watery piano, keyboard pulses, and menacing beats curl like tendrils of smoke in a dark alley, highlighted by Brian Eno and Jarvis Cocker's glacial synth on "I Need Something Stronger" and the Beatles-go-ambient "Glow."
But like many of his electronic peers, Lavelle is having difficulty finding a modern sweet spot. Whereas Fiction tapped 1998's A-list of names like Thom Yorke and Richard Ashcroft, Never, Never, Land unearths 1989's megastars: Mani and Ian Brown of the Stone Roses. Their cinematic "Reign" features spooky, stern strings, but Brown sounds ready slur "Fool's Gold" at any moment. While certainly a well-built song, it underscores that much of this album heralds the past more than the future. -- Annie Zaleski
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