November 14, 2003
Underworld : Anthology 1992-2002
8 / 10
Back when Thom Yorke thought electronica was a posh branch of Dixons, Underworld were busy anglegrinding dance into exquisite new shapes. From the blissful twinkling beats of 1992’s ‘Rez’ to the wide-eyed spiritual rush of last year’s ‘Two Months Off’ they ruled dance for a decade in an arse-shaking trinity with Orbital and the Chemical Brothers.
The Undies, as they were sadly never known, were always the oddballs though, Karl Hyde’s punky pogoing antics married to a stream of consciousness owed more to Beat poetry than Big Beat. In short they made intelligent dance music it was okay for indie kids to like. And as such – even more so than Stone Roses - they taught a whole floppy haired generation to dance. Incidentally, with ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ they also crystallised the concept of the Dance Album You Could Listen To At Home. Both minor revolutions.
Their influence hit its high water mark in 1996 at Britpop’s height when a little known B-side soundtracking Britain’s most successful movie was released as single. With ‘Born Slippy’’s relentless beats, tales of "Velvet mouths/Lipstick boys" and its "Lager Lager Lager" chant it appealed simultaneously to the rhythmic, poetic and moronic. In a year of music elsewhere dominated by guitars it became its anthem.
However it was with ‘Cowgirl’ and ‘Dirty Epic’ they forged a new kind of dance that was paradoxically both downbeat and exhilarating. Even now the songs still exude a dazzling mystery and power.
Underworld’s secret lay in their unique chemistry, as Karl bounced and emoted larger than life, disco boffins Darren Emerson and Rick Smith beavered away in the background: the reclusive understated Dr Jekylls to Karl’s exuberant Mr Hyde. Even after Emerson quit with some rancour the next single ‘Six Months Off’ still fizzed with energy that owed much to the full throttle highs of ’88. But the vigour of the scene had been suffocated by a combination of bad drugs, aging fans and extortionate clubs. It’s dissipated underground and, naturally, has become more interesting, but it’s cruelly left Underworld in the eyes of fashion exposed as dance dinosaurs in a landscape of strutting guitar homo erectus.
However whether this is their epitaph or a stop-gap, its evocative mystery, innovative dirty baselines, ferocious beats and starry-eyed urban romance give this a timelessness that’s evaded their contemporaries. For these are grimy urban tales every bit as evocative as ‘London Calling’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ or anything by Smiths. But you can dance to them aswell. Sorted!
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