Ah, the 90’s, bless them! Blue hearts, bad hash, “Archive One” by Dave Clarke, drill mount frames, George Costanza. Mark Wahlberg in his underwear, the first fucks, Detective Somerset, the first lines, Etnies, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Dubstar, Brandon and Brenda, Underworld. There: Underworld. Say it loud: UNDERWORLD. If I had to chose one electronic music band? One band, to define that sacred decade, they would be it. Crystal clear. In other words, if you can make it happen that “Born Slippy” is identified as the absolute hymn of those convulsed years –remember “Trainspotting” and all that– then you have become a universal brand, like Coca-Cola, Rimmel or Tupperware. Underworld have transcended purely musical limits to become an idea, a concept, a way of remembering how good we had it twenty years ago, off our tits, dancing like fools at whatever rave. For many of us, that status gives the duo the honour of being above good and bad. And there is no turning the page if we consider how well they have held on in comparison with the other icons who, well into their forties, have dedicated themselves to living off their name while languishing in mediocrity – I won’t name names but you know who I’m talking about– flushing their prestige down the toilet in exchange for a couple of tours and a nice bank balance.
Ah, friends, but the consistency and dignity with which Karl Hyde and Rick Smith come up with this, “Barking”, after three years of silence, is laudable. They are an example for those who think that at forty-something, it’s all downhill. We can applaud the elegant acceptance of the decline they’re showing. They were a legend and they ruled without hardly any opposition, but now they are just faces in the crowd. And they don’t screw up. They don’t complain. Like the footballer who goes from stardom to the bench when age dictates it, but every time he walks onto the pitch he works like no-one else and keeps contributing small explosions of quality and experience. They’re not ashamed to be among the substitutes, in fact they seem enjoy it, and that lack of bitterness about what once was and what is now, is fundamental: it gives their music an indisputable honesty. And here we have an Underworld who have no problem with sharing the bill with other big names, although the contribution of the invited is more tangential than many people think. With Lincoln Barrett –known as High Contrast in the world of electronic comics, ten years ago he was a drum’n’bass star– Hyde and Smith polish their nails on the magnificent “Scribble”, a hit single of 90’s jungle, atmospheric pop and messianic synths that works like a charm. On “Bird1”, their collaboration with Dubfire –the former right brain hemisphere of Deep Dish– what’s arrived at is a cut that is 100% Underworld: pulsating bass, systolic technoid beat and, of course, the inevitable trademark vocal passages. With Mark Knight and D. Ramirez the produce an ultra-atmospheric, danceable monster with teary trance winds, dramatic synths and slightly gay pop-singing, textbook Underworld.
In this tessitura of good-vibe climaxes and burning pupils, it’s impossible to detach from the progressive lash with guitars they share with Midas Paul Van Dyk. “Diamdon Jigsaw” is a trance-Siberian piece of pure happiness that send chills down your spine: the vocal melodies and the epic keys make you want to be a better person and give people a kiss on the forehead. A warning though: those who believe in miracles should not get over-excited. We’re not talking about a glorious comeback, not even remotely. Underworld lost their aura of being an outstanding band a while ago. However, the average tunes aren’t bad and there are even a couple of gems that are well worth a play or two. I’m referring to the deformed IDM and post-dubstep rhythms the duo have cooked up alongside Appleblim and Al Tourettes on “Hamburg Hotel” and the pill-poppin’ electro-pop of “Moon Water”: epic, cheesy, full of retro 80’s melodies and euphoric synthesisers; all well shaken and served in a Martini glass. They haven’t got the legs they used to have, obviously, but to declare them dead would be a premature burial. And neither you nor me are Edgar Allan Poe. Óscar Broc
Underworld - Always Loved A Film