My first encounter with the music of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith was when Underworld didn’t exist yet. In 1983 a mysterious band named Freur burst into pop charts with a single, “Doot Doot”, which remains one of the brightest example of the creativity of electronic sound mixed with pop attitude. The song was amazing, with its vapors of hot synths, dub sounds and alien voices and a breath-taking final. I have been loving them since then.
So when they became Underworld and released “Born Slippy” I was prepared. No surprise in how electronic sounds and techno were bent to the needs of a masterpiece of pop songs. Because in the end Underworld are masters in creating pop songs. Techno is the instrument, not the goal. That’s why you can’t stop listening to albums like Beaucoup Fish, one of the best electronic albums ever produced.
And now, after years and years of music, in the era of post post post dubstep? Underworld remains their box full of pop dreams, while Rick and Karl discover new territories alone or with friend (such as Brian Eno). The example is the new release, Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future, in which they carry on their positive attitude towards life and the use of techno as a way of making pop songs. Nothing more, nothing less. The level is not the same of the golden years, although some moments are good: the powerful and ironic “I Exhale”, the techno bassline in “If Rah”, the 4/4 dark techno “Low Burn”, the typical electro pop attitude of “Ova Nova”.
The rest in not interesting, and seems like filler. So Barbara, Barbara… does not offer surprises, the territories have been already explored. We could expect something more from these masters, but it is difficult to be Underworld, when there is no more underworld to explore.