It seems unfair that such an innovative duo should be overdriving subwoofers in dance clubs across the world for thirty years and going…yet they are only recognized by the mainstream for their single “Born Slippy. NUXX” on the 1996 film Trainspotting. Such is the eternal plight of electronic music; however, Underworld MK3 (meaning post-2008) seems untroubled on their latest release, Barking.
One of the most notorious trademarks of Underworld’s sound is the poetic quality of the lyrics, often seeming somewhat disconnected from the music itself. The first track on the album, “Bird 1,” is unmistakably theirs with its Beat-meets-beats style and a guest appearance by Iranian house DJ/producer Ali Sharizinia, more commonly known in the dance music world as Dubfire. The main hook boasts those famous fat analog lead lines that weave in and out of the whole album, giving it a cohesive and intimate feel, almost as if it were a live set. “Always Loved A Film” evokes a more traditional pre-millenium Ibiza sound with stronger vocals and a classic trance-style breakdown during the bridge with a feel-good message to boot (“And I don’t know if I love you more than the way you used to love me/and I don’t know if you need me more than the way you used to need me, but it’s heaven/heaven/can you feel it?”). A far cry from the disembodied, psychedelic relentlessness of their other Trainspotting contribution, “Long And Dark,” it’s about as upbeat and squeaky clean as one can expect Underworld to get.
We are then led head-on into some unexpected drum n’ bass dabbling with the aptly named “Scribble,” and then to the frenzied “Hamburg Hotel,” a strange and sparse trip into the minimal, ambient ground more typical of them. “Between Stars,” despite the usual four-on-the-floor, plays it surprisingly straight and could almost appeal to the Gaga fans (at the least) or maybe even the indie kids (at the most). Debunking the “repetitive techno” stereotype in one fell swoop and far more musically diverse than their usual sound, this track has a lot of potential for mainstream appeal, if only as a nostalgic nod to the brief electroclash fever of the early 00’s…”Born Slippy” again? The synth lines and female vocals on “Moon In Water” are as retro as they are current, and simply striking, as is the final track, “Louisiana” with its piano and dreamy lyrics.
It goes without saying that by this point in time, Underworld has found a way to thrive in the underground dance scene. They always find a way to add something new to their sound and to draw from all sorts of influences, be it their contemporaries such as Aphex Twin, Moby, and The Chemical Brothers, or from the most basic forms of poetry, life, and noise. Whether or not people remember Trainspotting nearly fifteen years later, Barking marks a significant evolutionary step in Underworld’s sound, and there is something here for everyone.