[28 September 2008]
James Lavelle is the type of guy that would run for public office if he had political aspirations: he doesn’t have to be smart, just surround himself with smart people. Since Lavelle has been making records, he’s recruited the smartest and most innovative people he could in order to release albums that don’t, well, suck. Unfortunately, the moment Lavelle is given control, things begin to, well, kind of suck.
Save for a few vinyl-only EPs that I’m told are outstanding, nothing Lavelle, under the U.N.K.L.E. name, has done is particularly worthwhile. His first major label release, Psyence Fiction was lauded namely because of its inclusion of the famed DJ Shadow as the primary contributor. Shadow, who two years prior had released his remarkable Endtroducing…, infused a jolting sense of melancholy into the otherwise stagnant U.N.K.L.E. release. And though he proved to be the only outstanding aspect of the record, Shadow was dismissed much like other Lavelle collaborators—most notably Tim Goldsworthy of DFA records and Money Mark.
Enter Lavelle’s fourth release as U.N.K.L.E., End Titles … Stories for Film, a record that solidifies Lavelle as the Chris Martin of melodramatic electropop: He clearly listens to the right influences but obviously doesn’t have what it takes to release something truly original and profound, instead returning watered-down versions of the things he loves. In this regard, this disc and U.N.K.L.E. as a whole are infuriating. It’s the slight tinge of excitement people feel when it’s announced that the Lavelle is releasing another record, the thought that, maybe this time, he’ll finally deliver on the potential he clearly has and once executed.
But End Titles … Stories for Film doesn’t even deliver this sensation as it’s a collection of, essentially, b-sides and soundtrack cuts recorded shortly after U.N.K.L.E.‘s third release War Stories—basically dooming this latest effort from its inception. Interspersed between digitized, piano ballads are overwrought symphony arrangements from the film Odyssey in Rome, creating a jarring juxtaposition that is unforgivable.
The most notable contributor on End Titles … Stories for Film is Gavin Clark, providing the most melodramatic of vocals on five different tracks. Sounding more like he’s constipated than filled with internal pain, Clark pushes through lines with a strained difficulty on the crescendoing “Cut Me Loose” before the very Thom Yorke-esque chorus—“Rabbit in Your Headlights” much? He produces laughably angsty vocals on “Against the Grain” as well, which is driven by a string section harkening back to “Paranoid Android” while a soft choir/keyboard hums along the melody.
Clark can’t be solely blamed for the embarrassing lyricism, though. Members of Black Mountain deliver the worst line of the record, repeating the eye rolling, “Static here in the cloud machine” for upwards of a minute on “Clouds.” The track sounds like Mars Volta got a hold of a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record and thought they made totally rad tunes.
Besides these somewhat untraditional, lackluster guest spots—odd that the one thing that used to hold Lavelle above water is now the most notable problem—is the fact that End Titles … Stories for Film has absolutely no flow to it, something Lavelle more or less acknowledges in the liner notes. This album is the perfect materialization of Lavelle’s style: a hodgepodge of influences and experiments that are nearly impossible to coalesce, especially if you’re James Lavelle.