Underworld "dubnobasswithmyheadman" (Junior Recordings, 1993)

Karl Hyde and Rick Smith started Underworld in 1987, producing two 80s pop funk rock albums that did not really need any attention. Underworld was finally disbanded, but brought back in 1991 when DJ Darren Emerson entered the project. His club music background was joined with the elektropop approach of the other two, thus creating a unique clash of music styles. "Dubnobasswithmyheadman" was their first album as a trio, which gained quite some success in the techno scene of the early 90s. In 1995 Underworld produced a club hit with "Born Slippy .NUXX" (originally a B-Side), that one year later became a chart success when it was featured in the movie "Trainspotting". The next albums were "Second toughest in the infants" and "Beaucoup Fish", establishing Underworld as one of a few marketable techno "bands", along with the likes of The Prodigy or The Chemical Brothers.

Emerson left Underworld in 2002, Hyde and Smith continued as a duo with three internet releases (the Riverrun project). In 2007 the so far last studio album "Oblivion with bells" was released. Underworld also produced music for movies (e.g. another Danny Boyle flick: "Sunshine") and remixed songs for artists and bands like Depeche Mode, Björk and Front 242.

dark and long Very clean, straightforward track with only a few diversions. The basic techno beat elements are there, as are the (then fresh, now common) signature Hyde lyrics (even though they are pretty low-key here). With a minimal melody in the background, this track has something of a calm, hypnotising desert trip. Peaceful. 6.5

mmm skyscraper i love you In the beginning the sky over the big buildings opens and beams of neonlight rhythms fill the city. This one has a little more interesting beat programming to offer as the first track, including a pretty cool tom whirl. A lot of nice colorful dabs here and there, the vocals seem random but in a 13 minute piece like that you do not care all that much. Reminds me of the steady rattle of a train that every now and then seems to take off and slide through some thunderstorm. 8.0

surfboy Beach Boys? Guess again... Plain percussive start with some thrown in sound bites. Fast but subtle. The bass grumbles threateningly in the background, quite quietly. There is definitely something emerging from a dark corner into the strob light (no, not Earl and Randy doing Mr. Roboto, but close), and after about four minutes it is catching some lovely happy jingle, later some strings to bring some warmth into this cold, minimal workout. 7.5

spoonman The album continues a little more up-beat, with multiple basses and yet another infinite loop. Hyde delivers one of his Orzabal imitations while there are enough breaks to make it a nice functional club track. Reminds me a little of their (admittedly way faster) Auricom blasting, Spilinake raving "Tin There". 6.0

tongue The phasing sound in the beginning is quite annoying. A western guitar follows (I smell some sheep there) and distorted vocals. There is a boring slow loop in the later part, but apart from that no beat this time. Too little composition to be called a song, too long for just an interlude, and I am too clear minded right now to appreciate it as a chill out track. 4.0

dirty epic Even though this is another dance piece, this one has more melody than the last track. The beat consists of a hard bass drum and some oddly chewed claps. The emphasis however is on the vocals, and everytime this happens, Underworld tend to get more boring with every minute that passes. And: like typical Underworld tracks this one is very long. Luckily a likable organ softens it well enough. 5.0

cowgirl What "dirty epic" lacked in variety and energy, "cowgirl" makes more than up for it. This, along with "Born Slippy .NUXX", is for me the ultimate Underworld production. The lyrics are partly sliced and used in a percussive-like fashion, the bass is as um-ba-um-ba simple as possible but so effective, the beat builds itself up slowly but confidently. If you ever wanted to know how to unfold the full potential of your beat with the perfect timing of breaks, this is the track that shows you. Masterpiece! 9.5

river of bass It appears that they wanted to cool down the listeners now. I find the mastering a little awkward: too much bass and lower frequencies for my taste. Not very spectacular and inspiring, and for this kind of music too long. 4.5

m.e. Hyde is not alone this time. He gets help from a funny U96-like computer voice and a Japanese female. Fluffy, easy synthie lines for a catchy pop house tune with more of a song structure than Underworld usually use. The bass tries to be funky, but nevermind. As an album closing title this one passes. 6.0

[Artwork] You got to give it to Underworld that they always try to do something different with their album artwork (and, by the way, doing it on their own). This one is all black and white and contains of multiple layers of text that appear more like textures. A lot of letters, but it does not appear to be ment to be actually read (at least it is not gonna be an easy read). Nice work anyway. 8.5

Conclusion This is my favorite Underworld album. However, I have only listened to the first three. Somehow the music got stale pretty fast and so I did not bother checking out the later records. The signature lyrics really can get on your nerves, especially if you want to listen to a whole album. Hyde just sometimes seems to be too much in love with his own voice. "Dubnobasswithmyheadman" on the other side keeps that annoyance on a minimum level. It also contains the great "cowgirl" and for that time real fresh music of different techno and house styles. Of course it should be clear that these are mostly all club tracks and seven of the nine tracks are longer than seven minutes. On the whole this album takes nearly 73 minutes... Overall Rating: 6.55

February 2008