Underworld - 'Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future' a review

Underworld, hailing from Romford (lager lager lager) may always be remembered most for their mega hit from 'Trainspotting', 'Born Slippy (Nuxx)’, but there's a lot more to them than that. This is their seventh album proper (as Underworld MKII), and the first since 2010's 'Barking'. Not that they've been lazy, solo projects (mostly ace), more film work and being musical directors for the London 2012 Olympic spectaculars have all been negotiated on the path towards this fine return. And you know that Karl Hyde from Underworld? Well I had him in the back of my cab once. Well, not the back of my cab, I've never driven one. But he did purchase from my place of work, Richer Sounds in Romford shortly after 'Born Slippy' had ruled the airwaves. Amazingly in a packed music related shop in his home town of Romford I seemed to be the only person who recognized him. This says a lot about Underworld, generically faceless but instantly recognizable once you open your ears.

The albums odd title comes from Rick Smith. 'Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future' is one of the last things his father said before he died. Rick's mother's name is Barbara and she was fearful of the future without her husband. Despite the most famous lyric from their most famous song Underworlds club culture has always had more depth that drink, drugs and partying.

Opening with a heavy drum beat the group are immediately on pace. The synths are a bit more analoguey sounding than the stabbing digital sound of many previous releases. There's a feel of Berlin Bowie too. The track 'I Exhale' is also the albums leadoff single (as much as it can be in this age of non-physical release pre album 'singles'). It's a great undeniably 'This Is Underworld' lead off moment. Sadly, the days when this kind of creativity leads to hit songs and massive public consciousness are long gone, but Underworld fans will know this as a wonderful new dawn without denying the bands past. And this is how the album continues. It's great because it is what it is, without trying to be anything in particular. The band sound as if this is the music they make because this is who they are not because anyone is telling them who to be. For an electronic band there is a wonderful organic sound and feel.

Always immaculately crafted and supremely produced this also a collection that works well as single tracks or a collective whole. Some of Hyde’s intervening work has been with Brian Eno and though Eno is not present here I feel I can hear his presence. If anybody's going to leave a mark on you it’s probably going to be Brian Eno. Fourth track 'Santiago Cuatro' is the first to break character, a soft instrumental built around a meandering oriental base. 'Motorhome' trance’s around a singular lyrical motif for over three minutes before expanding its horizons, and it's a fine thing. As with 'Louisiana' from 'Barking' (an absolute Underworld career highlight, check it out on YouTube if you're unfamiliar) I'm loving the softer Underworld moments as much as the banging ones. And softly a-banging again we go as the album build towards its climax with ‘Ova Nova' and closing track 'Nylon Strung'.

And so after seven tracks (the Japanese as usual get a bonus extra track) Underworlds classy return slides to halt. Maybe it sounds more mature, but then so are the men that made this music. But as ever Underworld sound and remain highly relevant and coolly creative. A very very good album.


X-Ray Audio – Recorded music in Soviet Russia on the bone

Simple, Free Image and File Hosting at MediaFire

On Wednesday (9th March) I went along to an event at Rough Trade East off of Brick Lane promoting a book called ‘X-Ray Audio – The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone’, a tome about bootlegged western and banned music in post war Russia, in which many Russian citizens suffered imprisonment because of their love of music and their willingness to make it available in a state that banned much of it. With little to put their music on these guys pressed music onto discarded used X-Ray plates. The recorded quality was not great but it was better than nothing. My attendance was prompted by a performance from Marc Almond, whose performances were cut to X-Rays live on the night (without too much success!). This performance of ‘Friendship’ a song Marc knew of from his Russian musical hero, Vadim Kozim, was recorded to one of Marc’s own X-Rays, presumably of his gruesome injuries following a life threatening motorcycle accident in London in 2004. The recording did not work too well (modern X-Ray  plates do not lend themselves as well to the process as much as the older ones used in Russia half a century ago.) Here though is my trusty iPhone recording of the performance.

The resultant recording was unplayable, Marc’s crowd rousing foot stomping basically not helping the process (which can be seen on the projector screen behind him). Before this, Stephen Coates, the editor of the book and performer in the Real Tuesday Weld, presented his story of how the book came together. This is his presentation at TEDxKrakow

On the X-Ray Audio website there is also a short documentary on the subject. This is it.

The evening was informative, interesting and enjoyable, including Marc’s all too brief, under-rehearsed but enthusiastic performance. The book is a wonderful read. Finally, here is Marc’s BBC World Service radio documentary (from late 2015) on the previously mentioned Vadim Kozin. Marc cut an album of Kozin’s songs, released in 2009, called ‘Orpheus In Exile’.