I've spent the last few weeks reading various music message boards from all over the world. The reactions to this release have been as passionate as they have been varied. The last James Lavelle contribution to the Global Underground series was the least of my favourites. I've always had this love/hate relationship with GU releases. I buy them. I listen to them. I hate them. Then I learn to love them. James' Barcelona contribution was the only GU release that I hated so much, I gave away. I just didn't get it and I didn't want to! His GU #26 is quite a different story altogether. This is not about progressive breaks although there are more than enough tracks on here that fall under that genre. It's as removed from progressive house as it can possibly be without it not being progressive house. It doesn't even touch progressive trance. My first and only thought when hearing this mix from start to finish was that it was all about progressive rock. With that in mind, I feel this is about as 'commercial' as Global Underground will ever allow themselves to be seen as. I hope so anyway.
In its heyday, the legendary Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd dominated progressive rock. Their mammoth rock opera style gigs were the 70's version of a progressive journey. Thirty years down the track and I can't help but feel that James Lavelle is trying to transfer the musical concept from those legends and turn that into a 21st Century sound. As such, if there were a current progressive rock band, one of the vanguards would have to be UNKLE. And that's one of the main reasons why I'm laughing so hard. Because this might have been better off released as a Global Underground by UNKLE instead of a Global Underground by James Lavelle. With that in mind, this compilation should be heard in an experimental context, which might then excuse its less then perfect flow.
CD 1 to GU #26 Romania is entitled 'Beauty and'' and opens with its self-titled intro. Once past the intro, the mix begins with the UNKLE Reconstruction of Queens of the Stone Age's 'No One Knows' which is then mixed into the original version of UNKLE's 'In A State'. Or more pointedly, it's not mixed at all because one track ends just as the other begins. While I'll never pretend to know the ins and outs of mixing, I know enough to recognise sloppy mixing when I'm hearing it. And this is very sloppy. Even more obvious is the lack of cohesion between these two tracks. They simply just don't belong together. Under any circumstances! This really is not a good start to a mix that is supposed to represent Global Underground. Anyhow, moving right along, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself grooving to the sounds of PFN's 'Flow (False Prophet Mix). Progressive breaks is something that I've only just begun to appreciate and I thoroughly appreciate this particular example. So, just when I thought there was hope in a bleak beginning, I found myself listening to a veritable UNKLE/Meat Katie festival of sound, which was only interrupted by a single DJ Shadow track. Now, I wouldn't have minded so much had the flow from track to track been more fluent and the UNKLE tracks had been new material but this was terribly disjointed and the UNKLE tracks sounded worn. It's not that I hated what I was hearing, I just didn't like it either. As such, it wasn't until Santos' 'Sabot (Evil 9 Mix)' that I started to enjoy the mix again. And with that, you only had South's brilliant 'Colours In Waves (UNKLE Reconstruction)' and M83's 'Run Into Flowers (UNKLE Reprise) remaining to be heard. Up until those last three tracks, this particular mix seemed to meander along with the odd exception of PFN's 'Flow'. As I said, it's not that the music was bad, it wasn't but given the reputation that Global Underground mixes and DJs have, this should have been far, far better. I did like that fact that upon hearing this mix I was reminded of progressive rock from the 70's. However, it's just that some of the tracks selected left this mix with a very average feel when it could have been so much more brilliant and so much more stunning. And it's that average track selection that has left me underwhelmed. There are so many talented producers out there who remain undiscovered that it disappoints me that someone in Lavelle's position limited himself where track selection was concerned.
So, where does that leave the second part of GU #26? Well, funnily enough, in a much better place. CD 2 from start to finish is obviously a better mix and the flow is more what I would have expected from a professional DJ. This particular part is entitled 'The Beast' but I can't help thinking it's the actual 'Beauty' of the two mixes. I would have liked this mix to have been extended over two CDs which would have allowed this latest contribution to be a more than worthy contender in the Global Underground series. The mix opens with the dramatic mirth of Plastikman's 'Ask Yourself (U.N.K.L.E. Edit) and the edginess is continued with Scumdolly's 'Making Ends Meet', UNKLE's 'Invasion (Medway vs Eva Coast To Coast Mix) and Peace Division's 'No More Subliminal Sh*t'. It's not until you start hearing Meat Katie & Lee Coombs' 'Import' that the mix starts to take on a life of its own. The bass becomes fuller, deeper and much more apparent. You start to take even more notice of what you're listening to with tracks such as Ultima's 'Don't Funk' and Pepe Bradock's '4'. But much like the first CD, it's not until the last three tracks of the mix that the sound becomes full bloom. Some will find Fred Numf vs Five Point O's 'Hong Kong Junkie (Medway Remix)' is an exceptional addition for any mix. It's truly a great piece of dance music. For others, the Sasha Re-edit of Alex Dolby's 'Psiko Garden' will sound brilliant. But for me, the one track that has been ripping my soul apart, of late, has been the Sasha remix of UNKLE's 'In A State'. While I felt the original was used ineffectually on the first CD, the Sasha remix of the same track was a brilliant way to end a mix. This track still moves me, it still rips my heart out, and above all it still makes me cry. It's just a shame that the majority of the music leading up to this ending wasn't as brilliant.
I can't help but feel that I'm going to be crucified on so many levels because in some ways I do like this release. Yes, compared to previous Global Underground compilations, this is a not so grand release. On the opposite end of the opinion spectrum, there were some that were saying that this was as great as Sasha's GU # 009 San Francisco or GU #013 Ibiza. Seriously, don't kid yourself into believing this because there are not enough drugs in the world to convince any person that this release is on par with those two groundbreaking efforts. Nonetheless, CD2 is its saving grace and the one I much prefer to hear but there are also moments on CD1 that are quite pleasant. From an overall perspective, it's not perfect, not even remotely. There are far too many UNKLE and Meat Katie tracks and as such, it's very self-indulgent. While I can overlook self-indulgence, I can't overlook the fact that a lot of the tracks are quite old. With Global Underground releases, fans expect the majority of the music to be unheard and unreleased. Well, I do anyway.
On a positive tip, what I do admire is that James Lavelle tried to do something that was atypical of the usual Global Underground releases and you can't fault him for trying. If anything, GU #26 smacks of an attitude that says 'F*ck you! I'll play what I want, when I want and how I want!' To me, there's nothing wrong with a bit of attitude on a compilation. But, if you are going to carry off this kind of attitude successfully, you better have the right tracks and aboveall, an unquestionable amount of technical skill to match that attitude. Unfortunately, Lavelle falls short in both areas especially in the technical stakes because, diplomatically speaking, some of the mixing is less than average. Nevertheless, there are moments of sheer brilliance. Tracks such as PFN's 'Flow (False Prophet Mix), Meat Katie & Lee Coombs' 'Import', Fred Numf vs Five Point 0's 'Hong Kong Junkie (Medway Remix) and UNKLE's 'In A State (Sasha Remix)' make me wish I knew how to create music. They make me wish I knew how to beatmix perfectly instead of sounding like I've just scraped my nails down a school blackboard.
As I said previously, some will love this release while others will deplore it. Some will be convinced they get 'it' and others will laugh because they'll think that Global Underground has played a twisted practical joke. Whichever way you look at it, or listen to it, this is definitely one compilation that will create a hybrid of heated conversation. And just maybe that's where its brilliance lies. James Lavelle has attempted to interpret what he feels is dance music that can be accessed by many. For all I know, his mind could have been 'in a state'. Pun? Maybe but we'll never really know. At the end of the day, I found myself reminded of what the first sounds of 'progressive' were and how they were regarded as self indulgent in a musical composition. This mix is so imperfect that it's 'raw' and as such, this is about as 'raw' as dance music is likely to get.
I would like to think that there are those that aren't confined to their progressive box and can see past the imperfection of GU26 Romania to experience the little moments of brilliance. I would like to think that there are those who love dance music so much that they can see a tribute to the early days when it is presented to them. Because, whatever you think this is about, James Lavelle has probably given you an interpretation of the first time he ever experienced dance music.
Thu / 4 Mar 2004
CD 1 - Beauty and...
01. Beauty and - Intro
02. Queens of the Stone Age - No One Knows (U.N.K.L.E. Reconstruction)
03. U.N.K.L.E. - In A State
04. PFN - Flow (False Prophet Mix)
05. U.N.K.L.E. - Eye For An Eye (Silencer Mix)
06. Meat Katie - K Hole
07. U.N.K.L.E. - Have You Passed Through This Night? (Eye For An Eye U.N.K.L.E. Variation)
08. DJ Shadow featuring Roots Manuva - GDMFSOB (UNKLE Uncensored)
09. U.N.K.L.E. - Reign
10. Meat Katie & Elite Force - Ju-Ju
11. Meat Katie & Dylan Rhymes - Dita Beater
12. Santos - Sabot (Evil 9 Mix)
13. South - Colours In Waves (UNKLE Reconstruction)
14. M83 - Run Into Flowers (U.N.K.L.E. Reprise)
C-hantel - The Realm (Accapella)
CD 2 - The Beast
01. Plastikman - Ask Yourself (U.N.K.L.E. Edit)
02. Scumdolly - Making Ends Meet
03. U.N.K.L.E. - Invasion (Medway Vs Eva Coast To Coast Mix)
04. Peace Division - No More Subliminal Shit
05. Meat Katie & Lee Coombs - Import
06. Meat Katie & Elite Force - Slagg
07. Ultima - Don't Funk
08. Pepe Bradock - 4
09. Chemical Brothers ft The Flaming Lips - Golden Path (Ewan's Rave Hell Dub)
10. Fred Numf vs Five Point O - Hong Kong Junkie (Medway Remix)
11. Alex Dolby - Psiko Garden (Sasha Re-edit)
12. U.N.K.L.E. - In A State (Sasha Remix)
Derrick Carter - Where You At (Where Yaccapella)