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Hype factor nine

Psyence Fiction
UNKLE
London/Mo' Wax

When it was just on import, this was the most beloved record album of the year--which, of course, is bound to be the case when Radiohead's Thom Yorke, The Verve's Richard Ashcroft, Beastie Boy Mike D, and a host of other mall-stars hook up with label-hipster James Lavelle and scratch-master DJ Shadow for a showdown at the just-OK corral. You'd think, given the golden ink bestowed upon this copper treasure overseas, that Psyence Fiction revealed the secret truths of the universe between its grooves. But damned if this disc doesn't sound like everything else awful on alternahitradio. Seems the revolution happened in 1995, and no one noticed. Lavelle and Shadow keep insisting Psyence Fiction was torturous to make, their Apocalypse Now; to drive home the point, in a Yugo, they sample Francis Ford Coppola. But it's about as adventurous as a trip through the Virgin Megastore. Blame it on Shadow (aka Josh Davis) and Lavelle, who made so much money from jump street, they wouldn't know the difference between art and commerce. Maybe they really do think Metallica's Jason Newstead is a soldier in the good fight, but more likely they enlisted him because he could sell a few techno-pop records to the gearheads.

Psyence Fiction crawls from flat-out hip-hop with the opening "Guns Blazing (Drums of Death, Pt. 1)" to trippy ("Bloodstain," featuring the breathy breathlessness of Alice Temple--what, Beth Gibbons was tied up?) to art-pop ("Lonely Soul," featuring a mopier than usual Ashcroft) then back again. The record has no flow, and it's like listening to a collection of mediocre singles. Records like this happen when ambition exceeds execution; fact is, it just ain't in Shadow to make a record this big. His records always sound more like aural term papers than the brilliant sound montages oft mentioned in hipster-doofus rock mags. His funk ain't got no soul.

Which is why Psyence Fiction opens with a hidden intro that splices sounds as though someone's spinning the dial through a thousand radio stations all at once; it's at once exhilarating and rather nauseating. (Note from the legal department: Fellers, do you have clearances for all those samples?) Next up is the "Guns Blazing (Drums of Death, Pt. 1)," which features gangsta godfatha Kool G Rap doing his thing over beats that sound like some Beasties B-side. Too bad "The Knock (Drums of Death, Pt. 2)," which follows eight tracks later and features Mike D and Newstead, doesn't. And too bad "Rabbit in Your Headlights" sounds just like a Radiohead song. Isn't it bad enough they're on Radiohead records?

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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