The sound of musicians with nothing to prove and everything to give.
Sarah Bee 2010-09-06
If years in dance music are like dog years (and they are), then Underworld might as well have come bouncing into the world a few minutes after the big bang. Barking is their first album in three years, almost an hour of new music, and it’s welcome indeed – it may underwhelm some fans, but it shouldn't.
It's a collective effort, in keeping with Underworld's history of collaboration, featuring an eclectic cast of co-producers including Lincoln Barrett aka High Contrast, Dubfire (half of Deep Dish) and trance maestro Paul Van Dyk. Barrett hauls the techno duo into the realm of drum'n'bass, and there are moments of Pendulum-ish fist-pumping, particularly on lead single Scribble. Always Loved a Film, meanwhile, is heavily redolent of lovable Canadian prog-house beastie deadmau5. Once leaders who sounded like nothing else, they're now content to mingle with the pack, soaking up influences and paying homage to their peers.
That shouldn't suggest that this isn't distinctively an Underworld album. It's still linear, euphoric and atmospheric, entwined with Karl Hyde's beatific vocals. Some of it – particularly oceanic centrepiece Between Stars – could almost be anyone, except for Hyde's characteristic intonation, swimming just below the surface of the mix as ever. It's frustratingly generic in spots, but always good. This is no one's idea of a lazily thrown-together or cynical project.
The final two tracks move in a way only Underworld can achieve. Moon in Water features a monotonous rhythmic narration which would be disturbing if not for the sweet, everything's-gonna-be-fine stride of the backing. Then tremulous piano-based closer Louisiana delivers a farewell of such honest-to-gawd transcendent comedown teariness that one should not tackle it in a vulnerable late-night state without mop and bucket.
What Underworld always retain is a unique warmth that exudes in great generous pulses from everything they do. There's a lightness and a jollity about their music which combines with an unabashed poignancy, and there's a sense of deep contentment and peace about this album. They may not be sticking their necks out as pioneers now but it's not important – they are never less than themselves, and superficial quibbles aside this is the sound of musicians with nothing to prove and everything to give.
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