Underworld
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Underneath The Radar , 5/10
Change The Weather , 5/10
Dubnobasswithmyheadman , 7.5/10
Second Toughest , 7/10
Beaucoup Fish, 6/10
A Hundred Days Off , 5/10
Oblivion With Bells (2007), 5/10
Barking (2010) , 5/10
Barbara Barbara (2016), 5/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Summary.
Underworld, the trio of disc-jockey Darren Emerson, vocalist/guitarist Karl Hyde and keyboardist) Rick Smith, pioneered "big beat". Rock guitars, electronic dance beats and spoken-word found a magic intersection in the lengthy tracks of Dubnobasswithmyheadman (1994), each a chameleon continuously changing in texture, melody and tempo without ever losing its identity. The album, a tour de force of dance production techniques, referenced the insistent sequencers of Giorgio Moroder's disco-music but was mainly a container of sound effects, polyrhythms and haunting melodic fragments. Second Toughest In The Infants (1996) reprised the combination of existential mood and fantasia-like melodic collage.


Full bio.
Underworld were throughout the 1990s one of the most influential projects in dance music. The revolution brought by the group was first of all one of ethos, as Underworld adapted the ethos of rock to techno (they performed live and posed as stars). Musically, they accomplished a synthesis that was actually harking back to
Giorgio Moroder's disco music.

The project was born when Karl Hyde and Rick Smith put an end to Freur, who had had the 1983 hit Doot Doot and released the albums Freut (1983) and Get Us Out Of Here (1985).

The early singles illustrate how Underworld (in which four-fifths of the Freur were in fact militating) wanted to replicate the trick of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon in the era of raves: transforming the pop song format through studio technology. To tell the truth, Mmm Skyscraper I Love You (Junior Boy's Own), Rez, Cowgirl and Spikee seem to simply mimic the new wave of 15 years earlier. The albums Underneath The Radar (Sire, 1988) and Change The Weather (Sire, 1989) were similarly puerile. The latter, heavily influenced by Kraftwerk, counted on an ensemble of seven musicians with drums and bass.

Underworld was reborn as a dance-music unit after Hyde spent some time in New York, learning the new trends in sampling and spoken vocals. Twenty-year old disc-jockey Darren Emerson became the leading creative force behind the new sound of the singles The Hump and Dirty (credited to Lemon Interrupt), that were clearly addressing the dance clubs. Pared down to the trio of Emerson (beats and computers), Hyde (vocals and guitar) and Smith (keyboards), Underworld set about to reinvent the concept of dance-rock around the concept of "remixing". In particular, Underworld took aim at casual conversation and at Hyde's guitar. Rock and roll, electronic dance music and spoken word had found a magic point of intersection.

Dubnobasswithmyheadman (Junior Boy's Own, 1994) was their breakthrough album. Each of the nine lengthy and atmospheric tracks is a chameleon, constantly changing in texture, melody and tempo without ever losing its identity.
Dark And Long opens the album with the insistent sequencers of Giorgio Moroder's From Here To Eternity coupled with whistling electronics that could be from a Stan Ridgway album. A detached recitative and African percussions move front stage and the song takes shape. It is, needless to say, a depressed slab of existential weltanschaung.
That mood carries over to Mmm Skyscraper I Love You, twelve minutes of frantic crescendos, polirhythmic grooves, syncopated minimalisms, sound effects and haunting melodic fragments. What is unique about Underworld is that they conceive each piece, no matter how long and no matter how intricate, as a "song", as a concept that tells a story and has a melodic core.
The zenith of this "existential" dance music is reached with Dirty Epic. From the very first notes, eerie sounds soar around a basic, steady beat. Seconds after the singer has whispered the first few lines a pause yields to a duet between a robotic voice and an organ drone. The bass church-like drone continues to underpin the singing until the next break, when a tempo shift brings in guitar riffs and synth fluttering while the singer's part gains strength and acquires a more conventional funky-soul quality (think Soft Cell). It takes exactly ten minutes for the song to complete all of its mutations.
Even the simplest dance tracks (such as Surfboy, M.E.) regurgitate a cornucopia of sonic diversions. Among the light divertissments, Cowgirl is notable: the singer intones a chant in the vein of Eurythmics over an instistent minimalist figure and a very fat techno beat, and both sources of rhythm keep growing as the song proceeds.
This album was a tour de force of dance production techniques. The following album would be even more elegant, but this one would remain as a cornerstone in the way inventive dance songs are produced.

The drum'n'bass mega-hit Born Slippy turned Underworld into a household name (well, sort of), but was not fully representative of their artistic mission. Second Toughest In The Infants (Wax Trax, 1996) continued Dubnobasswithmyheadman's experiment but focusing on the clubs. The timbric elegance and tribal rhythm of Juanita (sixteen minutes) exploit a pattern invented by Giorgio Moroder with From Here To Eternity, and then wed it to frantic techno accelerations, to psychedelic melodic chanting and to syncopated hip-hop interludes.
The subdued, melancholy tone of Banstyle leads Underworld into trip-hop territory: minimalistic repetition of a bass keyboard pattern, slippery soul singing, noises of nocturnal jungle, undercurrents of reggae and blues guitar, reverbed dub beats, bossanova-style mumbling, and jazzy drumming throughout. As a ballad, it is a bold experiment: the instrumental parts are an order of magnitude longer than the vocal parts, it mutates all the time, and it lasts fifteen minutes. It is Mike Oldfield's technique of linear collage applied to dance music.
After these two monster tracks, the album glides down to less ambitious music. The liquid techno beats and trance-like murmuring in Confusion The Waitress are immersed in the same trip-hop ambience. The heavily distorted techno crescendo of Rowla and the helicopter-like tribal beat Pearl's Girl (ten minutes of mad tempo shifts) express pure edonism.
This album stands as more than a mere continuation of the pan-stylistic program launched with Dubnobasswithmyheadman: it takes all those ideas and, instead of expanding in all directions, it compresses them in superbly crafted songs.

Under the moniker Lemon Interrupt the group recorded the singles Big Mouth and Dirty. The sound of Beaucoup Fish (V2, 1998) is the classic sound of Underworld. Cups is twelve minutes of sonic bliss: a mellow melodic theme whispered by Hyde as if in trance, a brisk funky rhythm with exotic overtones and floating electronic notes.
Aware of its dance-floor legacy, Underworld unleashes also three gargantuan monsters of beats: King Of Snake is a techno locomotive with a piano pulse reminescent of Giorgio Moroder; Kittens is a supersonic, tribal jungle spasm; and Moaner closes the disc with a rumbling, pulsing maelstrom ripped apart by savage distortions and devastated by a lunatic rant. The heavily syncopated Push Upstairs and the hip-hop novelty Bruce Lee are crowd pleasers, but also reaffirm Underworld as the most unpredictable of the crowd pleasers. Jumbo was the hit du jour.

Everything Everything (JBO, 2000) is a live album.

After a four-year hiatus, Underworld returned with A Hundred Days Off (Junion Boys Own, 2002). Three lengthy tracks (Two Months Off, Little Speaker, Dinosaur Adventure 3D) straddle their classic progressive-dance style (slowly developing themes that rely on seismic grooves), but the shorter pieces are, at best, unfinished ideas.

Darren Emerson's collaboration with Tim Deluxe, Episode 1 (Thrive, 2002), is a mix album. Emerson had already left Underworld.

After scoring two movie soundtracks, the Emerson-less Underworld released Oblivion With Bells (2007), an album that delivers few innovations. Hyde's vocals are more of a distraction than an attraction. So it is not surprising that the best pieces are the ones that downplay the vocals, such as the post-house stomp Crocodile, the psychedelic ambient music of The Best Mamgu Ever, and the instrumental Glam Bucket. Hyde's best rap is probably Beautiful Burnout.

The hysterical sound of Barking (2010) continued the slide into irrelevance, closing with the soul ballad Louisiana after failing to pick up momentum with Bird 1 and the single Scribble.

Confusingly, three different anthologies came out in the 2010s: the double-disc 1992-2002, that compiles longer edits of their classics, A Collection, that compiles the versions for singles, and the three-disc 1992-2012, that mostly duplicates the first one and adds a disc of rarities.

In 2011 Underworld scored the ambient soundtrack for a theatrical adaptation of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", directed by Danny Boyle.

In 2012 they served as musical directors for the Olympic Games in London.

Someday World (Warp, 2014) and High Life (Warp, 2014) were mediocre collaborations between Hyde and Brian Eno.

Barbara Barbara We Face A Shining Future (Astralwerks, 2016) continues into the adult/senile style of Barking. The pounding and almost hard-rocking I Exhale, which sounds like a dance cover of vintage T.Rex, is cute for a few minutes, but then it becomes repetitive and tedious, four minutes too long. The last six emphatic and cinematic minutes of If Rah are preceded by six pointless minutes of declamation and syncopated beats. And the album ends with another moronic pop ballad, Nylon Strung. (The Japanese edition ends much better, with the sinister recitation of Twenty Three Blue). The stately techno Low Burn harkens back to the early albums, but it feels like an outtake. Ova Nova is at least intriguing because it blends a poppy disco-soul music sung in an effeminate falsetto a` la Janet Jackson with a melody that echoes the Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star.

Manchester Street Poem (2019) collects the music composed for a public installation of 2017.

The deluxe reissues of their first three albums spans 12 total CDs. The six EPs of the "Drift" series, including a collaboration with the Necks, were collected on Drift Series 1 (2019).

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