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.


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