Underworld - Barking

Underworld have proved they can mix it with anyone, and everyone comes up happy.

Civilisations might rise and fall, governments form and implode – hell, even rock dinosaurs Oasis may have powered to the top, stayed there, then crumbled into ignominy – but Underworld keep on keeping on, sneaking out whispery techno until it goes out of fashion, then comes back into fashion then goes out again. They’ve been Underworld proper for the better part of 20 years now and ‘Barking’ is their sixth album. It takes some willpower to remain essential over that sort of period, but stalwarts Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have that drive and, let’s face it, that bloodymindedness.

A couple of years on from ‘Oblivion With Bells’, Hyde and Smith find themselves of a not-so-bloody mind to shake the formula up a bit. That album had boasted consistently high quality, but lacked the killer tune to prick up the public ear; this time Underworld are not doing it alone, instead bringing in a series of collaborators to perhaps add that spark. The result is a record that flirts and swoops through styles, all the while underpinned by the duo’s matchless electro throb and pop smarts.

Spacious opener ‘Bird 1’ – featuring “additional production” from funky house maestro Dubfire – bears scars of serious Underworld classic ‘Mmm… Skyscraper I Love You’, but, alongside the big rave synths and airpunching slap of ‘Always Loved A Film’, it’s the most familiar piece here. As these “additional producers” bring their own scripts, so the cosy settings change, and we end up with Paul van Dyk airlifting a Krautrock frequency into ‘Diamond Jigsaw’ which pulsates like a Chemical Brothers epic yet recalls nothing more than David Bowie’s ‘V2 Schneider’, and High Contrast welding dated but bright drum’n’bass clatter to single ‘Scribble’. This one sounds like arch 80s Scots perfectionists The Blue Nile at 78rpm. You never knew you needed that in your life.

Some blends work better than others, of course. Dubfire coasts again with the Hooky bass of ‘Grace’ and Appleblim keeps it elegantly inconsequential on ‘Hamburg Hotel’, but there’s always High Contrast to come up trumps once more with the down-in-the-mouth ‘Moon In Water’. It could easily have been earmarked for Robyn’s recent comeback, mixing pretty tune with meaty pop flesh, only here it’s working down the gears for tremulous, echoey closer Louisiana, where Hyde and Smith work alone to show they can do emotion without any help, thanks. It’s not the point – in unshowy style, Underworld have proved they can mix it with anyone, and everyone comes up happy. This may be Barking, but it still has some bite.

Tags: Underworld, Reviews, Album Reviews

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