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Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future (Astralwerks)

the mid 90s, Underworld to me represented everything exciting about
the convergence of underground dance music, pop, and something
genuinely new. Their renaissance albums dubnobasswithmyheadman and
Second Toughest In The Infants, the latter in particular, remain
firmly in my all-time favorites to this day. How is it that I drifted
so far from their music? I all but completely lost interest, and when
going back to the albums that I only skimmed, I wonder why — while
not as compelling as their previous successes, they’re certainly not
bad. Perhaps it’s the inevitable ebb and flow of personal taste and
discovery. In any case, when this latest album surfaced, I had been
enjoying a renewed enthusiasm for their music, and I was delighted to
hear new stuff. There are certain pieces and parts of Barbara Barbara
that feel familiar, in both good and not so good ways. The first cut
showcases Karl Hyde’s signature reverberated verbal wander, a
combination of stream of consciousness and repetition, paired with an
undulating mid-tempo groove. It’s a curious opener but it works, an
unusual hybrid of The Fall and Morphine in its timbre and attitude.
“If Rah,” the second cut, isn’t my favorite, and its position
feels slightly unfortunate; its vocal recalls the swagger of Beaucoup
’s “Bruce Lee” and it feels like a tough sell at first before
it takes on more of a deliberate pulse.

But it’s really with the
third cut that Barbara Barbara is likely to win everyone over, old fans
and new converts alike. “Low Burn” has an elegant beauty in its
lush insistence — it never deviates from the same two-tone pattern
for its duration, and its repeated vocal phrases feel like classic
Hyde / Tomato: “Time, first time, blush, be bold, be beautiful,
free, totally, unlimited.” It’s a clean, straightforward club track
infused with a gorgeous, soaring beauty that is truly disarming. It’s
one of the first Underworld tracks to resound with that sort of
patient perfection that characterized all of their best 90s sprawls.
It’s an unusual complement to the beatless guitar instrumental that
follows, but that juxtaposition feels Underworld in itself.
“Motorhome” has the heavy hand of a dubstep halfbeat, but its
spazzy monotone lead feels like a bagpipe and takes the track to a
totally different place moodwise, with almost a proggy vibe by its
end. While I wouldn’t write these center tracks off as filler, they
do end up feeling like the journey to a destination, that being the
final two cuts. Both cuts feature Hyde singing more melodically, and
he’s joined by his daughter on backing vocals. It lends a different
quality to the tracks, but both are strong, a clearer, streamlined,
and perhaps more intimate complement to the larger than life “Low
Burn.” Longterm fans of Underworld are likely to fall in love with
at least parts of the new one if not the whole thing, and I’m sure
they’ll gain some new ones by way of such a creative success.

Buy it: iTunes | Amazon