Album Review – Underworld (re-issue)

Underworld -‘Beaucoup Fish’ (Universal)

Look over the best-of lists for 1999, easy enough to find on the internet (though I personally recommend and what is clear is just how much awesome dance music was being made in Britain at the time. Underworld’s third album came out the same year as Basement Jaxx’s Remedy, Death In Vegas’s The Contino Sessions, Chemical Brothers’ Surrender, Orbital’s The Middle Of Nowhere and Leftfield’s Rhythm and Stealth. Sure, a lot of it may have been overshadowed by the unstoppable juggernaut that was Moby’s Play (which by the end of 2000 seemed like it should have been titled Overplayed. Then again, none of the U.K. acts had licensed every single track for adverts.)

By this stage, it was over a decade since acid house, and with legal challenges affecting the dance scene – most notably, the notorious Criminal Justice Act with its’ fear of repetitive beats – the era of the super club was underway. There’d been many different strands of dance music appear, both homegrown and imported, and acts like Underworld demonstrated that they could incorporate many of them within the same album. Underworld didn’t tend to work with featured vocalists (many of their contemporaries snapped up indie stars to front their singles); along with the Prodigy’s Keith Flint, Karl Hyde was one of the few dance music frontmen.

Beaucoup Fish opens with the epic, near-12 minute long ‘Cups.’ The press release describes this as ‘Windy City meets Motor City meets Thames Estuary swoop’ and this is pretty accurate. Proper dance aficionados knew – and know that where the US was concerned it was Chicago House, Detroit Techno, and New York Garage. Here is a band who know their roots, setting it out in a British style. From there, it’s onto the urgency of the album’s first single ‘Push Upstairs.’ Nearly twenty years since its release, it’s still thrillingly urgent; music to lose yourself or, just as likely, find yourself, in. Like much of the best music you’ll find in the dance/electronica section, Underworld made music that was for the heart and head as much as for the feet, as demonstrated by ‘Winjer.’

There are one or two moments where the record drops. The opening thirty seconds of ‘Shudder/King Of Snake’ with its willfully out of tune ambience seems more appropriate to a Boards Of Canada track. All is forgiven, though, as the group suddenly run off with Giorgio Moroder’s blueprint for Donna Summer’s evergreen ‘I Feel Love.’ ‘Bruce Lee’ feels somewhat incomplete as a piece to be on the album.

Yet listened to as a whole, the album comes across as exciting and thrilling. Underworld were – and are – a band capable of understanding that you could experiment and still have hit singles. The album hangs together well, overall, slowly letting you back down to earth at the end with the coda of ‘Moaner,’ as if reconnecting  you with the world.

As a deluxe edition, there’s a whopping three extra discs of additional material. The second disc features previously unreleased out takes from the sessions, while the final two discs feature a whole range of remixes. From the outtakes ‘Nifter’ and ‘Ramajama’ are gorgeously hypnotic, and the version of ‘Bruce Lee’ is perhaps preferable to the album version. 

The sheer number of remixes across the two discs is quite bewildering, and quite a lot to take in one sitting (or should that be hearing?) certainly worth checking out are the Salt City Orchestra remix and Fatboy Slim’s not too big beat actually ‘King Of Snake,’ the latter running riot with squelchy 303ness.

As a whole package, this may appear to be for completists and die-hardship but that is to miss the point of showing how comprehensive re-issue packages should be. Yes it reflects dance culture at a certain time, but it deserves to be commemorated. Added to which, it’s interesting to hear the original album alongside demos and to hear the remixes inspired and commissioned. Underworld are still going strong – last year’s Barbara, Barbara We Face A Shining Future is worth checking out – and this is as good a reminder as any that there was so much more to them than just ‘Born Slippy.’


Album Review – Underworld


Underworld -‘Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future.’ (Caroline International)

This year marks twenty years since Underworld’s most famous moment ‘Born Slippy’ was a massive hit, helped in no small part, if we’re honest, by its appearance in Trainspotting. The reality is, of course, that there was always more to Underworld than just that song, and that they were a dance act who had more vision and ideas than simply just producing a few bangers for nights out. With this album, Underworld underline that once more.

This is their first album in six years, and the reality is that this is an act who just sound totally invigorated. It opens with the first single ‘I Exhale’ and over the course of seven tracks and three quarters of an hour deliver music that is both for the head and feet, and indeed, ultimately the heart
The strong opening continues throughout the album. ‘If Rah’ is a hypnotic electro-workout, while the closing ‘Nylon Strung’ is a sublime finish to an excellent record.

The urge in the digital age may be to cherry-pick tracks or simply just move onto the next track. Not only does this album hold your attention, but when it’s over the urge is to play it once more. I was sent this album to review, but the fact of the matter is that if I had bought a copy, I would be thrilled. There’s scarcely a foot put wrong here. This is no 90s revival, but a modern record that should delight old fans and win new ones.


Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future is out now on Caroline International.

Festive Fifty Stuff for a Friday

John Peel and his wife Sheila, affectionately known as The Pig

I’m glad that quite a few people have been enjoying these Peel posts. I won’t be doing these forever, or I may take a different approach to these, but for the time being, I will do a few more Festive Fifty posts (the only annoying thing about them is just how long they take to do!)

First up, a band who have evolved constantly over the last thirty years, even if they only released five studio albums and one compilation in that time. It’s hard to imagine it not being worth the wait, though. Green Gartside and his merry men:

Scritti Politti -‘Faithless.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty no.13)

One of the most heartbreaking bands ever, with surprisingly their only festive fifty entry:

Trembling Blue Stars -’Abba On the Jukebox.’ mp3 (1996 Festive Fifty no.19)

Morrissey had many entries in the Festive Fifty with the Smiths and for the first few years of his solo career, quite a few too. This was the last of his:

Morrissey -’November Spawned A Monster.’ mp3 (1990 festive Fifty no.16)

Underworld only ever had two entries in the Festive Fifty, no surprise that this epic track was one of them.

Underworld -‘Born Slippy (NUXX).’ mp3 (1996 Festive Fifty no.5)

Another band I remember hearing on Peel and scrawling on my school bag…

Huggy Bear -‘Herjazz.’ mp3 (1993 Festive Fifty no.3)

Over the place of a decade, John Peel gave a lot of coverage to Cornershop. This was their final entry.

Cornershop featuring Bubbley Kaur -‘Topknot.’ mp3 (2004 Festive Fifty no.40)

An aching anthem about being an outsider…and this time, Morrissey wasn’t the singer

Bronski Beat -’Smalltown Boy.’ mp3 (1984 Festive Fifty no.48) (N.B. This is from my vinyl copy of the Age Of Consent and is a bit crackly in places)

As mentioned previously, The Wedding Present were up there with The Smiths and The Fall in terms of entries. This is my favourite song of theirs to make the Festive Fifty

Wedding Present -’My Favourite Dress.’ mp3 (1987 Festive Fifty no.6)

Rather like Blur, Radiohead actually seemed to do better on the Festive fifty further into their career than earlier on:

Radiohead -‘There, There.’ mp3 (20003 Festive Fifty no.37)

And finally, mad, and wonderful -Spizzenergi:

Spizzenergi -’Where’s Captain Kirk?’ mp3 (1980 Festive Fifty no.40)

Have a good Friday!