UNKLE: War Stories

B+
Album: War Stories
Label: Surrender

In the mid-to-late 90's, when James Lavelle was busy turning electronic on its ear with his Mo' Wax label, he was only slightly busy with UNKLE, which has leisurely released three albums over nine years. As with the previous two, Lavelle assembled a dream-team collective for the latest set: Returning are Josh Homme, Massive Attack's 3D, and vocalist/co-composer Richard File. They're joined by The Cult's Ian Astbury, Nada Surf's Matthew Caws, and the Eagles Of Death Metal's David Catching, filling out a bizarre yet effective guest list. Unlike its immediate predecessor, War Stories is essentially UNKLE's version of a rock album. Some songs are intensely gripping, like the instrumental rave-up "Chemistry," which drives along like Mogwai never happened. Others are plain weird: Josh Homme's Mark E. Smith impersonation on "Restless" is jarring, and Ian Astbury pushing his shattered pipes through "Burn My Shadow" sounds like an odd play for commercial viability. War Stories was partially recorded at Homme's Rancho De La Luna studio in Joshua Tree, so it's no stretch to imagine a live band blazing through most of these tracks, though the billing as "a collection of desert songs" is a little misleading. "Driving" songs? Yes.