Sometimes it takes an indie movie about Scottish heroin addicts to kick-start a music career. Thus was the case with British electronic duo Underworld, who formed in 1987 and peaked as a trio with Darren Emerson in the mid-90s. The Danny Boyle tour de force Trainspotting catapulted their little-known single ‘Born Slippy .NUXX’ into the charts and put Underworld on the cover of several magazines, but since then not much attention has been given to Rick Smith and Karl Hyde.
That’s not to say that they’ve been holding up in some dark studio with cheese crackers and other substances. Barking is album #6 for the prolific duo and though critics have been hailing the album as a stereotypical “return to form” adorned by so many acts of yesteryear, it’s important to note that Barking moves beyond the usual Underworld territory. In fact, if you consider that their early sound was mainly described as functional alcoholics having internal dialogues with themselves, Barking is a far more accessible album for newbies to get into.
Underworld’s trademark has always been their big, effortless, euphoric sound that weighs heavily on house, trance and drum n bass. On Barking, an A-list of collaborators such as Lincoln Barrett aka High Contrast, Dubfire (half of Deep Dish), trance superstar Paul van Dyk, and Brit house producers Mark Knight and D Ramirez lends a hand to make that sound bigger and clearer. Each track plays like the end credits to a sequel to Trainspotting. But apart from how deeply contemplative and infectious they sound, each song is built around a pop structure and doesn’t sound like a DJ just looping together some of Karl’s vocals.
‘Scribble’ has got that big, bouncy feel and dnb attack, which is probably why it’s the lead single. The track best summarises the new Underworld: fast, concise, dark and positive. Opener ‘Bird 1’ is a moody slow burner with off-key melodies sung by a monotonous Karl. ‘Always Loved A Film’ is also another chiefly Brit dance track with the chorus simply chanting, “Heaven! Heaven!”
There are moments when things seem out of place like on ‘Hamburg Hotel’ when everything gets wobbly no thanks to dubstep producers Appleblim and Al Tourettes, who probably did not apply the right charm to the track. Underworld score better with fast, banging tunes. Their dark brooders aren’t bad either, but bubblegum dance pop ‘Moon In Water’ might be too cheesy for those who weren’t there in ’99. The album ends abruptly with soft piano ballad ‘Lousiana’. It’s a serious emotional closer that caps things off in a yet again euphoric way.
Underworld has made the biggest pop album of their career. And this time, they won’t need any films about druggies to go with it.
LISTEN TO: ‘Scribble’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: UNKLE, MASSIVE ATTACK, FAITHLESS
RATING: 3 1/2
1. Bird 1
2. Always Loved A Film
4. Hamburg Hotel
6. Between Stars
7. Diamond Jigsaw
8. Moon In Water
Listen to Underworld at www.myspace.com/underworld.