One of my favorite pastimes is to get really spaced out drugs-preferably
some prescription cough medicine, codeine-just suck back a bottle,
strap on my head phones, and lose myself in the bowels of the
subway for hours, listening to music and observing people, writing
down what I see. People watching can be a twisted experience in
the right state of mind; a perfect time-waster for a hack music
writer such as myself.
Occasionally, I'll find someone interesting enough to break out
of my trance and attempt interaction. Most times this is met with
weird stares, coughs, harrumphs, even threats. As most of you
know, life in the Northeast in the early 21st century isn't the
most friendly place or time to be meeting strangers underground
in Boston's public transportation system.
But I do it anyway.
It was on one such occasion that I noticed a young Latina girl
sitting across from me, sketching something. I hadn't noticed
her for several stops - I was engrossed in U.N.K.L.E.'s
new release Never, Never, Land for what seemed like hours.
But eventually, I couldn't stop glancing over at her. It wasn't
that she was terribly beautiful; it was that, after some minutes
of discreetly observing her, I realized she was sketching me.
Me, nodding out on this dreary T car
Me, with my cracked
headphones and decidedly shady demeanor.
Slowly I stood up and moved to the empty seat adjacent to her.
"What are you drawing?" I blurted out. She seemed
flustered and tried to put away her notepad, but I gently put
my hand on top of it, and glanced down at it.
"I was just sketching people on the train and you..."
"I like to people watch too," I said, cutting her
off. "Can I have it?" I asked.
"Okay..." She tore off the page and handed it to
me. Amazed at the abnormality of the situation, I felt like
I couldn't let the conversation end. Without thinking about
it, I removed my headphones and placed them over her ears, letting
the sounds linger in her mind for a few minutes. Her eyes took
on a glazed look, and after some moments she spoke. "It
sounds like 1984," she said.
I was surprised at this, because images of Duran Duran,
U2, The Smiths and The Cars popped into my
head. "Not the actual year," she said. "The book
- you know Big Brother, the Ministry of Truth, George Orwell?
The thought struck a chord with me and I began to realize that
she was right. In fact, the feeling in the air these days decidedly
"sounds like 1984." The recent U.S. release of the latest
U.N.K.L.E. album (which came out overseas in 2003), sounds like
an Orwellian backdrop (oh...I hate when writers use last names
as adjectives...) to the young millennium - maybe the soundtrack
to 28 Days Later, or an accompaniment to Albert Camus'
The Plague. You know, bleak vision of the future, corrupt
government controlling their citizens' every action, death, famine,
destruction, all that jazz. Which is exactly how I felt about
their previous release, Psyence Fiction, which was damn
near close to genius.
The music itself is a haunting, sprawling dreamscape - a style
that has become a signature for group founder James Lavelle,
originator of the groundbreaking British label 'Mo Wax. That description
sounds enticing enough, but the problem is that they just don't
live up to the standards they set for themselves on Psyence
Fiction. A quick glance at the album credits and it immediately
becomes clear why. Resident super-genius Josh Davis, a.k.a.
DJ Shadow, is conspicuously absent. Losing DJ Shadow is
a major blow to any outfit, even one that includes the talented
Lavelle. No one currently performing music today-not one person-can
recreate the originality that DJ Shadow brings to his art. There's
an important lesson to be learned here, and it should be an obvious
one: Never, never, let the most talented person in your group
get away from you. It's just common sense. And U.N.K.L.E. is severely
damaged as a result of this blunder.
In Shadow's absence, Lavelle's hooked up with a new partner in
the form of singer/songwriter Richard File. The newcomer
holds down his spot capably, and one can imagine a good three
or four tracks from the Lavelle/File era making it onto Psyence
Fiction, especially "Inside", the final track on
the original U.K. version. It brings to mind the 1998 collaboration
with Radiohead's Thom Yorke, "Rabbit in Your
Headlights", another Davis creation.
Despite its shortcomings, Never, Never, Land is a solid
effort, one that certainly serves its purpose. Although there
isn't the slew of all-star guest spots there were on the last
go-'round, there are a few appearances worth noting. Chief amongst
them - Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, who
gets production/vocal credits on "Safe In Mind," as
well as a pair of bonus remixes. 3D of Massive Attack
(a collective that could be considered U.N.K.L.E.'s British cousins...though
that might be a slight to 3D and crew...) makes an appearance
on "Invasion", albeit not a particularly memorable one.
And that's essentially what Never, Never, Land boils down
to - it's simply not memorable. I suppose the whole point of this
is to express my frustration about a record that I want to be
much better than it actually is. It's weird, how one can get exactly
what they expect, and still be disappointed. Knowing about the
absence of DJ Shadow before hearing the record created those lowered
expectations...but shouldn't one hope anyway?
As for the girl, it's likely that none of this crossed her mind
while listening to the music I imposed on her. The thing she took
from it was a clear feeling - and that's what music should be
about: extracting feeling from the art. So at least some good
came of it. I continued to ride with her as she drew pictures
of strangers. She missed her stop while devoting her attention
to sketching a bag lady sitting in the row of seats across from
us as we kicked around the idea of what 1984 felt like.
1. Back And Forth
2. Eye For An Eye
3. In A State
4. Safe In Mind (Please take this gun from out my face)
5. I Need Something Stronger
6. What Are You To Me?
7. Panic Attack
12. Eye for an Eye Backwards (Joshua Homme and Alain Johannes
13. Safe in Mind (Please take this gun from out my face) (Chris
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