By Giles Turnbull
Underworld has been one of the pioneers of electronic dance music for around 20 years. Their early albums were vast in their imagination; sometimes you wished that tracks comfortably exceeding 10 minutes could be a little less epic!
Barking, their eighth studio album, was written by band members Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, and then each track was shared with noted producers, each allowed to put their own spin on the raw material. It’s an interesting concept, and has created an album that is recognizably Underworld, even classic Underworld at times, with a lighter touch and a feeling that the guys had a greater sense of freedom.
“Bird 1,” the first of a trio of tracks, each barely a shade under seven minutes, comes from a familiar world of sound and poetry, resembling the early albums, and just a hint of the new creative process. “Always Loved A Film” practically fizzes it is so poppy, though it’s also quintessentially a club anthem, with a refrain that is one of those hands-in-the-air signals.
Barking still has the darker reflective moments that immerse you in stories of other people’s lives. “Grace” is one of those; the livelier “Between Stars” is another, and shows how wonderfully the new approach can work: transcendental lyrics, brooding foundations, and a sheen laid out like a patient etherized on a table, while under a full moon there’s an effervescent atmosphere and voices urging, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.”
“Diamond Jigsaw” picks up the gauntlet, but it begins to feel like it’s winding up to go nowhere. “Moon In Water” is intriguing in its oddity; it has a bounce to the beat, but isn’t going to wind you up ready to head into the night on a wave of euphoria. The quiet romance of “Louisiana,” rich in metaphor, is an ending so gentle it’s unnerving.
As a whole, this album is a mixed bag of tricks; a colliding of several different worlds. There are moments of genius, written and delivered by masters of their craft, mixed up with tracks that feel like radio edits of what could be much better, longer explorations. Then there are the pop-natured thrills, destined to be dance floor favorites; and wrapping it all up are the indulgent experimental exhibits that give the album the relaxed vibe of a band having fun.
If Underworld was a dodecahedron, you’d find a bit of every side here; it all works, in different ways and for different reasons. It is great to hear classic strains given a new breath of life, and I give this album a big thumbs up for still trying new things, and for still capturing the imagination as Underworld always have.