Ride the sainted the rhythms. In 1998 Underworld enjoyed a minor chart hit with “Underneath The Radar”. Selling more in the USA and (especially) Australia than their UK homeland, their’s was funky pop number none too dissimilar to that which dominated Top 40 countdowns in the late 80s. By the time the decade came to a close Underworld’s career had stalled and Rick Smith and Karl Hyde were seeking a change of direction. 1990 marked the end of Underworld MK1.
In recruiting the then emerging talent of DJ Darren Emerson in 1991, Underworld opted for major self-reinvention. They became (what would later be referred to as) a techno outfit and cut their teeth on the UK’s Megadog circuit, sharing the bill with the likes of Eat Static, The Orb and Timeshard. When I first caught them live at Leicester Polytechnic in 1995 where the vibe was friendly/druggy. There were no distinct ’songs’ to speak of, just a continuous blend of pulsing rhythms and electro sounds interspersed with occasional vocals from then reluctant front man Karl Hyde.
In 1996 came Trainspotting and its soundtrack’s inclusion of Born Slippy.NUXX, a ‘B-side version’ of stop gap single from a year earlier. In the wake of Trainspotting’s zeitgeist-grabbing success everything changed for Underworld. Everything, everything, everything.
By the the time I saw them play the larger Brixton Academy touring on the back of Born Slippy’s predictable re-issue, Ben Sherman shirts and lager, lager, lager had become the dominant motifs. In those intervening two years Messrs Hyde, Emerson and Smith had emerged from behind their banks of electronics and embraced the idea that they were now a crossover dance act along with The Prodigy and (to a lesser extent) Orbital.
Thankfully, time heals all wounds. And like many major artists who enjoyed success during the early 1990s, Underworld, long since shorn of Darren Emerson, recently announced a 20th anniversary remaster/re-issue of their debut album dubnobasswithmyheadman. Is it their best album? Not in this writer’s book it isn’t. That gong goes to sophomore effort Second Toughest In The Infants.
Moreover, it wasn’t their debut album as Underworld MKII that won me over; it was the companion Dark & Long EP that packs several re-imaginings of dubnobasswithmyheadman’s opening cuts, two of which clock in around the twenty minute mark.
The 4-4 rhythm of “Thing In (A) Book” begins with a pulse. That pulse morphs into a throb. The throb gives way to kick, soliciting hypnotic head nod whilst melody lines swirl, ebb and flow. It’s a slow burning ambient techno epic. “Spoon Deep”‘s more physical take on album cut “Spoonman” packs a one-inch punch from the outset, thereafter rummaging through a box of synth grind, acid squelches and syncopated percussion for seventeen long minutes. And that false ending? It’ll get you. Every. Single. Time.
Any veteran techno head worth his salt knows “Dark Train”; it was the other Underworld cut found on the Trainspotting soundtrack. Its synth stabs simultaneously tinged with euphoria and introspection drive us through the night; a sound so typical of those early live shows.
The 20th anniversary edition of dubnobasswithmyheadman will drop in early October 2014 as single CD, deluxe 2xCD, 2LP vinyl and super-deluxe 5xCD editions. Here’s the latter’s epic track list.
1. Dark & Long
2. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You
6. Dirty Epic
8. River Of Bass
CD2 Singles 1991 – 1994
1. The Hump (Wild Beast)
2. Eclipse (Released As Lemon Interrupt)
4. Dirty (Released As Lemon Interrupt)
6. Dark & Long (Hall’s Edit)
7. Dark & Long (Dark Train)
CD3 Remixes 1992 – 1994
1.Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (Jam scraper)
2.Cowgirl (Irish Pub in Kyoto mix)
3.Dark & Long (Most ‘ospitable mix)
4. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (Telegraph 16.11.92)
5. Dark & Long (Burts mix)
6.Dogman Go Woof
7. Dark & Long (Thing in a Book mix)
CD4 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED RECORDINGS 1991 – 1993
1. Concord (3 Comp75 id9 A1771 Aug 93A)
2. Dark & Long(1struffid3A15512)
3. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (A1765 Sky Version id4. Harmone6 COMP43)
4. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (After sky id6 1551 2)
5. Can You Feel Me? (from A4796)
6. Birdstar (A1558 Nov 92B.1)
7. Dirty Epic (Dirty Ambi Piano A1764 Oct 91)
8. Spoonman (version1 A1559 Nov92)
9. Organ (Eclipse version from A4796)
10. Cowgirl (Alt Cowgirl C69 mix from A1564)
CD5 LIVE JAM KYME RD (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED LIVE REHEARSAL RECORDED IN THE BAND’S HOME STUDIO IN 1993)
1.Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You
5.Big Meat Show
Did you note the absence of “Spoon Deep” and “Dark Hard”? Well done you!. Oh well. One can’t sweat such omissions given with the bounty of previously unreleased riches on offer, all of which have been remastered “from the original midi files” by Rick Smith at Abbey Road studios. The 5CD editions will run you 50 quid.
So far so standard.
What separates this anniversary edition from other anniversary editions is the inclusion of a hi-res audio release, doubly unusual when you consider Underworld as purveyors of electronic music. 20 quid gets you remastered, 24bit/96kHz PCM versions of the original album’s nine tracks on a Blu-Ray disc. This will no doubt have some fans asking why not 24bit/192kHz or even DSD? For some, the glass will always be half empty.
If you want to tap the Blu-Ray’s full resolution and your Blu-ray player doesn’t have analogue outputs you’ll need something like the Essence HDACC HDMI DAC. That said, we might yet see this remaster make it to HDTracks or Qobuz as a hi-res download.