Underworld occupy a curious place amongst dance music’s ruling Olympians. Elements of their catalogue (particularly 1994’s ‘dubnobasswithmyheadman’ and 1996’s ‘Second Toughest in the Infants’) are as crucial to the canon of electronic music as the Iliad is to Greek mythology.
Yet, despite being universally loved, championed and critically lauded, wide scale mainstream success has eluded them, at least in comparison to their UK peers such as The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers. Ninth studio LP ‘Barbara, Barbara, we face a shining future’ is unlikely to change this, but crucially it shows that Karl Hyde and Rick Smith are content to inhabit a secluded glade of Olympus away from the glare of the spotlight.
At seven tracks and under 45 minutes, ‘Barbara’ is their shortest LP to date, but its brevity belies a wealth of aural treasures, from the gradually escalating catharsis of opener ‘I Exhale’ to the shimmering elegance of closing track ‘Nylon Strung’. The standout though is the swirling slow-build of ‘Motorhome’ which – over a cloudburst of swooning synths - pits melancholic piano against Hyde’s softly repeated mantra to “keep away from the dark side”. Thankfully, Underworld refuse to heed their own advice, and the subtle juxtaposition of light and dark elevate ‘Barbara’ from a decent listen to an enthralling one.
Words: Benji Taylor
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