Underworld : A Hundred Days Off

Underworld : A Hundred Days Off


Police report an outbreak of smugness in the Romford area

Approaching ‘A Hundred Days Off’, you feel the weight of a techno soap opera bearing down on you. Can you hear the space left by Darren Emerson? When he left two years ago, did he take with him that vital acid house attitude and magic which made Underworld‘s music so alluring, so different?

Underworld have always been slightly ahead and out of step with the other big dance names and the theory was that DJ Darren Emerson was the only thing stopping the other two from disappearing up their arty arses. But either that was untrue or Karl and Rick have learned and remembered a lot of the funk from the 12-inches that Darren used to bring into the studio. There are more straight house grooves on this album than any previous Underworld outing, more funk, more sex. The loss of Darren is clearly a weight off Karl and Rick’s shoulders (the last studio album ‘Beaucoup Fish’ was the sound of passive-aggressive emails bouncing between three iMacs), but don’t think it’s all flopsy bunnies round these parts now.

‘A Hundred Days Off’ (named after the amount of time Rick’s kids wanted to have off school) strains with tension, darkness, weirdness, things found in drawers that shouldn’t be there, and violence. Deep, deep, basslines, meandering grooves and Karl’s trademark weird-bloke-on-the-bus mumbling lyrics combine to produce a humid, sometimes oppressive record; music, perhaps, for washed-up, paranoid club promoters to sit at home and take cocaine to.

There’s comedown bliss-out on ‘Trim and ‘Ess Gee’, migraine techno on ‘Dinosaur Adventure 3D’, Moroder-esque disco grooves on ‘Mo Move’ and rippling sexiness (all rather incongruous coming from two middle-aged blokes from Romford) on ‘Little Speaker’. Only ‘Sola Sistim’ stumbles, sounding like an instrumental Sade b-side from 1984. But eclipsing all others is the single ‘Two Months Off’. Still after hours of radio play and on the stereo nothing quite prepares you for the glorious rush of fluffy synth stabs lifting you up on a gust of warm Balearic air.

Their best album since their ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ debut, Karl and Rick have pulled off a comeback in fine style and laid some demons to rest. At a time when certain parts of the dance industry are planning on bringing in a ban on old men getting within three feet of a sampler in a desparate attempt to kick some life into a flagging scene, Underworld prove that you’re only as old as the technology you use.

Police report an outbreak of smugness in the Romford area. Residents are urged to remain indoors and keep dancing.

Conor McNicholas