Because Songs Matter

Guest Blog: Unkle – War Stories

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I am really excited about today’s guest blog entry. It comes from my
friend and professional writer John Allman. Hope y’all enjoy it.

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UNKLE
WAR STORIES
(SURRENDER ALL)
FILE UNDER: Ambient electronica that rocks.

When was the last time you remember hearing a great song by The Cult?

It would likely be 1989 when, ?Sonic Temple, was released. Ian Astbury was *it* at the moment. His voice, propelled by Billy Duffy’?s guitar, commanded college playlists.

How odd then to hear not one, but two, stand-out Cult songs on a 2007 album not released by the band.

You can thank Unkle, the British trip-hop act, whose superior new album `War Stories’ spotlights not only Astbury but a handful of British and American vocalists that deserve to be heard.

Unkle, formed in the mid-1990s by James Lavelle and Tim Goldsworthy, has gone through many incarnations since its inception, but the music hasn’?t suffered.

In fact, on the new `War Stories’, the band’?s third full release, Unkle blends electronica and AOR rock to near perfection.

The irony shouldn’?t be lost. This is, after all, one of the first bands signed to Mo’ ?Wax, the seminal U.K. label that helped put “?trip-hop” in our lexicon. This is the band that once included DJ Shadow in its ranks and who routinely collaborates with 3D, aka Robert Del Naja, of Massive Attack.

Though Lavelle and Goldsworthy parted ways in 1995, Lavelle has continued by recruiting an ever-changing lineup of superior vocalists and musicians.

Nowhere is this more evident than `?War Stories’, which boasts contributions by Astbury, 3D, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, British garage rock heroes The Duke Spirit, Los Angeles-based Autolux and guitarists Jeordie White, aka Twiggy Ramirez from the Spooky Kids, and David Catching, one-half of Homme’?s side project Eagles of Death Metal.

It’?s an A-list affair that does not disappoint. If anything, the album’?s solid arc is wholly refreshing in today’?s radio-ready-single market. There really isn’?t a throw-away track here.

The theme of the album, appropriately, is conflict. From physical fighting to spiritual combat to the betrayal many feel by their elected leaders, `?War Stories’ effectively conveys a time of upheaval and self-reflection.

One of the strongest tracks is ?Burn My Shadow, which features stellar vocal work by Astbury. It’?s a haunting song reminiscent of the Cult’?s 1985 release, Love.

The must-see video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSsMGNwYDdg] adds a more literal interpretation of self-destruction or suicide.

But the lyrics hint at something deeper; “I burn my tomorrows/and I stand inside today/at the edge of the future/and my dreams all fade away”,? and given the album’?s title, they may convey the fading support and declining influence that both England and the United States have experienced because of the Iraq war.

Restless, the lone contribution by Homme, is a better song than anything off Queens of the Stone Age’?s current release, Era Vulgaris.

The Duke Spirit rev-up on ?May Day, which will make you long for more of vocalist Liela Moss’?s smokey rasp.

Another standout track ?Persons & Machinery, featuring Autolux is also one of the most pointed on the album. The lyrics could be referring to either U.S. President George Bush or Britain’?s former Prime Minister Tony Blair:

?We’re all getting so tired of you
The things you say
The things you do

Oh please just follow your great plan though
We’ve all had it
We’ve had it
We’ve had it with you.

Despite its political influences, this is the perfect after-hours chill album. It’?s never too aggressive, and would compliment a gathering either as a listening showcase or as a background soundtrack for good conversation and lots of libation.

Unkle - Burn My Shadow (feat. Ian Astbury)     

Unkle - Restless (feat. Josh Homme)     

Unkle - May Day (feat. The Duke Spirit)     

For those seeking more Unkle, here are some great sites to explore:

Band and album info: http://unkle-war-stories.info/

Lyrics: http://www.alwaysontherun.net/unkle.htm

2 Comments

  1. August 30, 2007    

    I do loves me some Unkle, and hell, my first band ever started out playing Cult covers in the drummer’s basement. Nevertheless, when comparing this one to Psyence Fiction I’m just left with the impression that Josh Homme ain’t no Richard Ashcroft, and dear Ian Astbury ain’t no Thom Yorke. I do like _War Stories_, though, but some of the personnel/vibe choices make me think that an appearance by half of Velvet Revolver might be in the future. Less rock, more science; I say.

  2. Arnie Arnie
    March 15, 2008    

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