Music Week 8 August 1998

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Music Week
Frequency Weekly
Country England
Language English

The 8 August 1998 issue of Music Week features an article on UNKLE's Psyence Fiction album.

Transcript

UNKLE by Tony Farsides

Over-budget, over-blown and well overdue - there have been times when Mo Wax's forthcoming UNKLE album Psyence Fiction has seemed closer in spirit to a movie production like Waterworld or Titanic rather than a record.

Co-produced by label boss James Lavelle and beat auteur DJ Shadow (also the co-songwriter on each track), the album is finally released on August 24. Three years in the making, it remains Mo Wax's biggest release yet and one of the most eagerly-awaited of the year. Indeed, its delayed timing is now likely to boost sales given the current prominence of guest vocalists including Radiohead's Thom Yorke, The Verve's Richard Ashcroft and The Beastie Boy's Mike D.

Changes in personnel and musical direction peppered the album's three-year production while the closure of Mo Wax's PolyGram licensee A&M UK on the eve of the LP's release, and a transfer to Island Records, have erected a fresh set of hurdles.

Mo Wax director Steve Finan makes no bones about the difficulties posed by A&M's disappearance. "It's been very, very painful and difficult," he says. "I was in America doing promotion last week and was having to get to know people at Island at the same time as organising this huge promotional campaign."

However, both Lavelle and Finan are determined these obstacles will not affect an album which for Lavelle represents a chance to lift Mo Wax on to a new level. "It's a chance to step up, to reach a whole new group of people and to work with a great video director {Jonathan Glazer}," he says.

Finan is dismissive of rumours that the album cost up to #2m or went ridiculously over budget. "It's no more out of shape than a normal record of this size," he says.

The whole marketing campaign, which was eventually finalised last week, features a number of typical twists. Although destined for a mainstream audience, Psyence Fiction will be accompanied by the extravagant packaging for which Mo Wax has been famed. The album's artwork has been created by legendary New York graffiti artist Futura 2000, who also designed a set of UNKLE character toys.

Following the album's release in August, the first single, Rabbit In The Headlights featuring Thom Yorke, will be released on October 12. The single package will feature remixes by Massive Attack and Sixties veteran David Axlerod. But, because of its length, it will not qualify for the singles chart. Finan says, "A lot of the time with Mo Wax we've made a conscious decision not to go near the chart. People who buy our records want them when they want them and not when a record company wants them to."

The second single, which will come in the New Year, has not yet been confirmed. There is speculation that it will be Nursery Rhyme featuring the hotly-tipped Badly Drawn Boy, although he is on the verge of launching his career on XL with his own EP in October. Failing that, it could well be Bloodstain featuring Alice Temple. Mo Wax has no rights to release Ashcroft's track as a single.

While the plot for the UNKLE album has now been finalised, Mo Wax's future is still unsettled. With its three-year deal with A&M/PolyGram expiring shortly, it could find itself in limbo. Although the UNKLE album is being released through Island, Mo Wax has not moved into the company and is being run as a separate operation at present. Finan says, "Once I'm convinced the changes are finished at PolyGram we'll continue negotiating."

There will be no shortage of other potential suitors for a label which is finally translating hip credentials into albums that can sell at a mainstream level. Virgin narrowly missed out on signing Mo Wax first time around and is rumoured to be a strong contender, as is the new independent music venture being put together by former A&M MD Osman Eralp.

However, much will depend on Lavelle's attachment to artists like DJ Shadow and Money Mark, who will remain at PolyGram. With no decision likely until the New Year, for the moment at least Mo Wax's future is truly Psyence Fiction.