If growing up was something of an abstract concept to the punk generation, adulthood really did a deer-in-the-headlights job on those poor E’d out ravers. And sure as “Gimme Shelter” was a requiem for all that ’60s hippy optimism, Underworld’s “Born Slippy” poignantly soundtracked rave’s hollow, gurned-up hangover. Curiously, where Underworld was once a dark foil to what was generally a culture of peace, love and hedonism, in these grim times, “Barking” is a relatively upper’s affair, and something of a techno’s-greatest-bits.
In 2009, a song floated across my radar (OK, the Internet) with Underworld’s Karl Hyde’s name attributed to it. This track, “Downpipe”, by Mark Knight & D. Ramirez, featured the vocals of Hyde in a smoldering electronic number that still remains one of my favorite songs from that year. But it left me with a few questions: where it had come from, what is Underworld up to, and why is there no news about this on their site (at least at the time)? It turned out I had to wait till this summer to get my answer.
To give some perspective into just how long Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have been making music, in the year that they began recording, Joy Division had just released Closer (soon after Ian Curtis’s death), John Lennon was shot, Raging Bull had just come out and Iraq invaded Iran. Thirty years on and as a celebration of this milestone Underworld have, along with several contributors including D Ramirez, High Contrast, Dubfire, Appleblim and Al Tourettes, released Barking. Standing at just over an hour long, Barking is, unsurprisingly considering its collaborative nature, a mixed kettle of sonic fish.
Underworld's eighth album found the duo seeking outside production, which came in the form of a half-dozen dance heavyweights who pull the aging duo in several different directions, mostly pop, trance, and, occasionally, their native techno. The opening "Bird 1" is a glorious return to form, featuring a production from Dubfire that recasts the duo in the gritty, rain-soaked techno of 1993, a dead ringer for Dubnobasswithmyheadman's "Dark & Long. " Underworld have rarely revisited old ground, making this a startling and excellent track.
It's a little ironic that, while Underworld's mid-to-late-1990s albums have aged extraordinarily well, the band itself hasn't. They lost Darren Emerson to globetrotting, Ibiza-rocking DJ glory at the beginning of the decade and they haven't quite found their stride in the two (now three) albums since. This was perhaps inevitable: Karl Hyde's wild-eyed, front-of-the-mix personality always ensured that Underworld would age more like a rock band than an electronic act.
Aging British electro duo Underworld - who blew everyone's mind with Born Slippy .NUXX back in 1996 - are still at it and now on album eight. This time Karl Hyde and Rick Smith team up with a revolving cast of dance producers (Appleblim, Al Tourettes, High Contrast), hoping one of the many approaches to rock-meets-techno will again produce a bankable hit. [rssbreak] Surprise! That doesn't happen.
Underworld employed stylistically diverse music producers from all walks of electronic life for Barking, a hard-hitting collection of catchy floor-busters great for a good time. Drum n’ bass producer High Contrast contributes his liquid funk to quick-shuffling lead single “Scribble.” Beatmaster Paul Van Dyk lends a hand on trancemonster “Diamond Jigsaw.” And Mark Knight and D. Ramirez’s work on two boisterous poppers, “Always Loved A Film” and “Between The Stars,” showcases singer Karl Hyde’s avant-garde vocals in the best light.
The sound of musicians with nothing to prove and everything to give. Sarah Bee 2010 If years in dance music are like dog years (and they are), then Underworld might as well have come bouncing into the world a few minutes after the big bang. Barking is their first album in three years, almost an hour of new music, and it’s welcome indeed – it may underwhelm some fans, but it shouldn't.