Never Never Land
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Audio CD, Extra tracks, Limited Edition, October 26, 2004
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With the aid of new collaborator Richard File, Lavelle has made a record that connects the dots between the creeping melancholy of Talk Talk, the scaly electronics of Massive Attack's Mezzanine and the grand sky-bound epics of the Verve. Like its predecessor, there's a proliferation of guest appearances: Jarvis Cocker, Josh Homme, Brian Eno, Ian Brown, Massive Attack's Robert del Naja. But the vocals are assimilated much more successfully here, ensuring that guest never overpowers song. Lavelle still has a fine eye for casting his songs in the grandest narratives: "Panic Attack" samples the robotic pulse of Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" and overlays it with blurred electronic shimmers and driving bass. Mind you, it might be the understated numbers--"Glow", "Inside"--that provide some of the record's loveliest moments. --Louis Pattison
Top Customer Reviews
It didn't disappoint, in fact it became one of the most listened to albums of my whole 3 year stay at University.
James Lavelle and DJ Shadow had created something truly original. I even used the library's incredibly slow computers to download the video to 'Rabbit in your headlights' -- which, if you haven't already witnessed, is disturbing, cerebral, and quite brilliant.
The winter of 2004 heralds the return of James Lavelle to American shores, this time teaming up with Richard File to produce ''Never, Never, Land'' -- yet another revelation in modern dance music. Collaborators for this new album include vocals from Ian Brown, Brian Eno, Jarvis Cocker and 'Massive Attack''s inimitable 3D.
After a brief intro, `'Never, Never, Land'' opens with the ominous "Even now in Heaven there were angels carrying savage weapons" -- a track with a not-so-subtle anti-war message, with samplings from the movie 'A thin red line' used to great effect.
The album evolves through many atmospheric channels, from the heavy break beats and stomping baselines of 'Eye for an Eye',
to the thoroughly chilled ambience of 'In a State' or the free-flowing electronica of 'Invasion'. Some tracks like 'Safe in Mind' have obvious rock influences and vocal mixes used in very interesting ways.
Like it's predecessor, ''Never, Never, Land'' is not your average mix of club anthems or dance-floor hits -- you'll not find this at Ibiza this coming summer (except as a Sasha or Digweed remix, perhaps) it is a serious experiment, for fans of originality -- a refreshing alternative to more fashionable and generic sounds.
Which is why I love it, but also why I am a little disappointed. For me, it still holds true that a sequel is hardly ever as inspiring as the original. ''Psyence Fiction'' was such a raucous injection that I think Lavelle will have to work much harder to improve upon it.
I don't know if it can be attributed to the absence of DJ Shadow, or the fact that this time around the collaborators are not so `A-list' -- you can find much discussion of this around the internet and I'm not sure any of it offers conclusive evidence -- but there is definitely something missing.
Overall the album feels much more professional, more 'crafted' than their seminal work, -- this is what I find the least compelling. I just think some of the magic gets lost when all of the raw creative power of the original experiment gets whittled down by too much editing and perfecting. There is also the lack of epic tracks like 'Rabbit in your headlights' and 'Lonely Soul' to really draw me in.
And if anyone is wondering if the McLaren award winning video to 'Eye for an Eye' is included on the CD release -- sadly, no. I think this is another major shortcoming.
But having said all of that, this second installment is still one of the best dance music releases I've experienced in a long long time, and should still get credit for being bold and unusual in a genre that is mostly steeped in uninspiring clubhouse pop with lyrics like
Ostensibly, the helmsmen are James Lavelle (who did much of the exquisite and expansive producing) and collaborator Richard File (whose voice shows up on over a third of the songs). But these two are guiding a ship that is staffed with a pretty talented crew, including Brian Eno, 3D (of Massive Attack), Jarvis Cocker, Josh Homme (from Queens of the Stone Age), and Ian Brown.
Some argued (when the album was released, and even now) that despite (or because of) the wide array of talent around the record, the end result is uneven and unfocused. Lavelle, in interviews, countered by saying that a unifying theme was one of childhoods lost, of personal growth in the face of unstoppable time. This makes some sense, given the title and the lead track ("Back and Forth," in which we are told that life is "changes ... what you gotta go through your whole lifetime"). In spite of Lavelle's claim, thought, there is some sonic discrepancy between a few tracks, but this seems like small potatoes when those tracks are already so well done to begin with.
Most of the record is buffeted up by powerful waves of sound (some of them more than reminiscent of the men behind their making; 3D's "Invasion" sounds like it was lifted straight out of a Massive Attack album), floating on lofty currents of bass, much of it sparkling with arteries of synth bright enough to bring some light to the dreary lyrics. This is, to be sure, electronica, but it is electronica at its genesis, before it had taken great pains to distance itself so exclusively from anything even remotely mainstream. As such, a few tracks have a commercial hue about them, but none of them are anything but themselves. This is not the electronica of today -- experimentation for the sake of experimentation. This is a humbler and more naive version -- experimentation for the sake of good music.
And good music it is. "Glow" is an evocative anthem that seems to be fighting valiantly (and soulfully) against the effects of a general anaesthetic. "I Need Something Stronger," with its tender purrs and passive industrial heartbeat, unfurls like the soundtrack to an android's daydream. "Eye For An Eye" sounds inspired by Zepplin's anthematic energy, weaving bright vocals with a cataclysmic mesh of distortion and bass. "Reign," with its stringed backbone and slightly-trite chorus, is kept from sounding Prepackaged-And-Radio-Ready by Ian Brown's distinctively clear voice and a bass line provided by his ex-band member, Mani (of The Stone Roses).
The overall product is one that is billowing and clean, oceans-full and flowing, produced with meticulous attention to every trill and tremble. And although the various contributors (and, to a greater extent, U.N.K.L.E.'s fuzzy facelessness) mean that the songs don't always complement each other so well, that doesn't also mean those songs aren't good enough as it is. Because, in fact, they're great.
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