Fifth albums. There’s not much to be said for fifth albums, is there? The chances of creating your magnum opus 16 years into your career with a fifth studio release are very slim. James Lavelle’s UNKLE, despite some impressive production credits, are no exception.
Throughout its 58 minutes, Where Did The Night Fall harnesses the atmosphere of an ominous dystopia. Swathes of synth and dub bass are used throughout, setting an uneasy tone of urban malaise. Similarly the album’s array of guest vocalists are unified by loose themes of fear (-On A Wire’), escape (-The Answer’) and submission (-Caged Bird’).
After the instrumental prelude of -Nowhere’, the Sleepy Sun-assisted -Follow Me Down’ kicks things off. Were Rachel Fannan’s singing not so stylistically indebted to Bjork, UNKLE’s inventiveness might be able to shine. Lavelle is the king of transient inflections. So subtle is the man’s studio trickery that it could be lost outside his own fine tuned ears. -Joy Factory’s’ masterfully panned cymbals are a delight for the senses. Similarly -Ablivion’s’ meld of sweeping strings and agitated drums inject some much-needed drama into, what is overall, a relatively tame affair.
Where this album is really let down however, is in its choice of contributors. The use of relative unknowns has not lent itself to a Spector-esque moulding process. On -Falling Stars’ Gavin Clark throws in an arbitrary acoustic guitar and miserablist vocals into the mix, while Elle J’s finest Alison Mosshart (The Kills) impression fails to excite on -The Runaway’. UNKLE themselves appear to be on autopilot for much of the record. Where Did The Night Fall is too often an exercise in interesting textures that build to nothing. And with the frequent filler on this sprawling 14-song set, the album becomes a matter of endurance.
Through closing track -Another Night Out’, we are given some indication of what the LP this could have been. Mark Lanegan’s beautifully haggard voice counterpoints the lightweight offerings that preceded it. Evoking the wistfulness of a wee-small-hours Tom Waits, he provides a memorable ending to an otherwise forgettable collection of songs. Had UNKLE imposed a bit more tracklisting discipline, and dispensed with the sound-a-like contributors, they might have made a fifth album to surprise us all.