UNKLE

"Never, Never, Land"

Global Underground

In Britain, where a pop musician can be dubbed a genius one day and a charlatan the next, the saga of UNKLE is typical. The collective's 1998 debut, "Psyence Fiction," combined trendy dance beats and bombastic Brit pop in a way that was widely hailed as splendid. But the U.K. music press soon turned on one of the album's two principal auteurs, Mo' Wax label founder James Lavelle, who then drifted apart from his primary collaborator, California-based collage artist DJ Shadow.

Lavelle eventually produced a second UNKLE album, "Never, Never, Land," with new musical partner Richard File. As before, the disc features numerous celebrity guests, but this time the contents are better blended. UNKLE is again acclaimed in Britain, although enthusiasm is more limited in the United States.

The CD has just arrived here, more than a year after its European release.

Despite the synth-generated settings and the many cameos, this is essentially a singer-songwriter album. "Safe in Mind," which features Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, turns into a rocker, and "Panic Attack" is driven by strident beats and loops. Yet even that song is a ballad, which is the set's dominant form. Lavelle's grandiosity hasn't been significantly inhibited by his fall from favor; "Never, Never, Land" still has many overbearing touches. But it's more cohesive than its predecessor, and such standout tracks as "Reign" (sung by Stone Roses veteran Ian Brown) and File's "What Are You to Me?" actually allow songcraft to rival atmospherics.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Wednesday at Club Five. * To hear a free Sound Bite from UNKLE, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8110. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)