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UNDERWORLD Barbara Barbara We Face A Shining Future   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Monday, 21 March 2016

For Homes and Earphones

Rick Smith and Karl Hyde have, in various forms, been together now for over thirty years, from playing student dives as a Cardiff-based standard rock band, to the current configuration, a electronic duo. At this point, you know who Underworld are, and what they do. Abstract, instrumental soundscapes, pounding rhythms of urban life, impressionistic lyrics of David Lynchian logic, where the words may not make sense on their own, but all, when combined, create something else. After six years largely out of activity (punctuated by live dates, soundtrack albums, and supermegadeluxeboxsetreissues), the first 'new' Underworld record is a quantum leap ahead – moving from the rampant and frantic huge roars of old classics .. to a pacier, more measured, restrained sound. Underworld always knew the power of restraint... and release. The moment where everything stops, drops, and then, all of a sudden, it all comes back, but faster, louder, brighter. On this, the band take their cue from slower, more measured songs (such as “Bird 1” and “Jumbo”), and instead create powerful, uncoiled beasts that roll across your ears with a measured, determined power, like invading tanks moving across a map.

“If Rah”, for example, starts with just a beat. And, by the end, beat after beat, bar after bar, it's a huge, grooving, semi Daft Punk, thing, a monster, with huge string sweeps, textures, and, at the heart of it all, like all of Hyde's songs, the sound of a man lost in the big city. Without the need for hit singles – as such – songs like “Low Burn” just concentrate on being the best songs they can, and not tied to choruses or playlist formats. You can just lose yourself in the possibilities, and so, there's huge textures, several minutes of endlessly changing soundscapes, the type of thing that draws a clear line between the 'Then' of 1994's epic “Thing In A Book” and “Dark Train”... and 'Now'. And even now, “Sanitago Quattro” - a four minute breather that wouldn't sound out of place at a Leonard Cohen concert – is, despite being well over 10 years old since it was first played live – would probably benefit by not being on the record ; it breaks the mood, and sounds like a different act, a different time.

There's no stone dead, 100% instant classics. But that isn't the point. This isn't a record designed to be played in nightclubs. But in Homes and Earphones. The record sounds like .. a walk through a vibrant city, a afternoon museum, a pacy, living, breathing thing, an object of no small beauty, the heartbeat of a city, and the closing duo of “Ova Nova” and “Nylon Strung”, are close and intimate. Open me up. I want to hold you, laughing. Carry me.

It's the sound of desire. Of hope. The moment where you catch someone's eye. Where maybe... this could change the world in a small way. Change my world. Your world. But this isn't the Underworld of the chemical fuelled nineties,but a new, smarter, older, wiser, more thoughtful time, where, as edge towards their sixties, they engage beyond, and still create lasting work. They face a shining future, reborn.

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