The Shamen – UV

The Shamen always seemed pretty daft and short-lived, and so it’s odd to think about reviewing one of their albums two whole decades after its release. Odder still, when that album is UV.

This was their final release, following two years after their final release on One Little Indian, Hempton Manor. The story goes that they were trying very hard to get themselves released from that contract, but having done so, The Shamen were effectively over. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that UV is a little uninspired at best.

Opening track Mercury offers little new. The beats are, perhaps, a little more house-inspired than previously, but otherwise this could have fit well on Axis Mutatis (1995). That’s a good thing – Axis Mutatis was a great album, but it’s perhaps surprising that three years later they were opening an album with something so similar.

The album had launched with the single Universal, but oddly The Shamen have never quite seemed to be able to bring their own ideas into full fruition without a little help (as witnessed by all the Beatmasters remixes of singles which turned out to be so much better than the originals). So it is that 187 Lockdown‘s handiwork on Universal is what really brings it to life. With that, it’s a great mix of deep house, and the dance/pop crossover that The Shamen were so good at.

The mix of interplanetary and old world references were one of the things that had characterised Axis Mutatis, accompanying tracks that were probably very good for taking drugs to, and so having got the single out of the way, UV settles back in with more of the same. Palen (K) is a very good instrumental, driven by a huge acid bass line. Nothing new, but nothing bad either. Beamship – Brief Sighting is a short beatsy thing that doesn’t seem entirely sure what it wants to be.

You’ll experience a brief moment of joy as I Do sounds a lot like Ebeneezer Goode for exactly one note, and having got past that, it’s a pretty good song, with some nice vocal work but the lyrical drivel that you should absolutely be used to by now. As with a lot of The Shamen‘s own production work, it almost works. Imagine how good this would have been if The Beatmasters had been allowed to get their hands on it.

Pop is next, a big, slow instrumental that takes some inspiration from preceding albums Hempton Manor and Arbor Bona Arbor Mala, the exceptional bonus disc that accompanied Axis Mutatis. It’s not quite as good as any of that, but having accepted that this is a bit of a career retrospective album, it’s good to have a nod to it here.

One of the more misguided things on this release are the multiple versions of Universal, which does make it feel as though it was thrown together pretty quickly from a few random leftovers. 1999‘s version is pretty poor – all the interesting parts of the earlier version have been removed, and replaced with dull house beats, and not a lot else. Even the fade at the end seems to have been slapped on in less time than it took the track to play.

Sativa ’98 is an updated version of an underground 12″ that the duo had released the preceding year, and it’s another pleasant house instrumental, taking a lot of influence from those preceding instrumental albums again. It’s the sort of thing that I feel I’d enjoy more as a single track on an obscure vinyl white label – on an album, or on this album anyway, it just doesn’t quite seem to work.

Serpent is typically daft, but it’s probably the best track on here actually. Again, there’s nothing particularly new here, but it does at least show The Shamen at their best – silly lyrics against great, banging dance music. My apologies for the use of the word “banging” there, but it seemed appropriate.

Next is Mr. C‘s club mix of U Nations, which seems to be different from Universal, although it’s not entirely clear how, as some of the lyrics are shared between the two. I’m not sure my brain can cope with this, but at least some of it appears to be borrowed from Universal, which makes it the third time they’ve put it on here. Is that really necessary?

For Marca Huasi, we get an exploration of drum and bass, territory into which The Shamen had strayed a couple of times before, and you feel as though they almost know what they’re doing, but it doesn’t completely work here. It’s good, but it’s not great. The Technical Itch mix of Sfynx is better, an instrumental, still drum and bass, but they haven’t tried to mix a song into it, so it’s clearer what it’s trying to be.

Finally, we get Metatron, which particularly seems to be echoing Axis Mutatis, but this time they do it well, with the slightly frenzied beats and lyrics that are probably as silly as ever, but aren’t really audible. And then the album draws to a close. So UV isn’t a bad career retrospective for The Shamen, but it’s probably a good thing that they never followed it up – there’s little new here apart from the discovery of house beats.

This album is no longer available new, but you should be able to find second-hand copies floating around.

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