The late-90s days of top five albums and starry guests may be gone, but UNKLE have regrouped with a stirring, seductive minor classic. Presumably those marquee names were holding out for a call from Gorillaz, or Massive Attack, or Soulsavers. It doesn't matter. James Lavelle and UNKLE Mk 4 have, on the fifth album under the moniker, relied on their own inclinations and instincts. This is electronic psychedelic-groove, flush with drama. Neither space rock nor alt-dance but flickering somewhere on the cusp of both, it should win back deserters while glamouring new converts.
So: no Thom Yorke, Eno, or Ian Brown. Instead, vocals and other fripperies such as music are provided by people you've never heard of (or are pretending you have to appear clued-up). It really is a production-led album (recorded in London, Melbourne, LA and Ibiza). Maybe patches just glide and throb along, yet these serve as lulls might in a cinematic thriller. You need the take-a-breather moments to set the bursts of mad-axeman-chasing-you-up-the-stairs into relief.
The opening Blade Runner whooshes of Nowhere slide into the breakneck Follow Me Down (with Sleepy Sun), which mashes up Eastern influences (India, that is, not Hoxton) and a slice of Bjork-giddy Sugarcubes. Natural Selection sees The Black Angels doing Secret Machines' motorik, with crisp enthusiasm. The Answer (with Big In Japan, the Baltimore ones not the ancient Liverpool ones) is huge and anthemic, like limbs from Elbow and Mercury Rev spliced together. Expect the intro to do duty as the soundtrack to various World Cup moments.
Heavy Drug is just a minute long yet crams in a cappella and Spiritualized trance, while Katrina Ford of Celebration sings like a woman possessed on the blatantly Banshees baroque of Caged Bird. Ablivion is all galloping rhythms and sexy time-shifts. And to climax, because 500 projects in the last year isn't enough for him, Mark Lanegan croons the farewell track Another Night Out, reasserting how like a Soulsavers album this is when it's flying.
There's an abundance of heaven here, stars or no stars. The best UNKLE album this century.