Underworld have taken on a number of forms since their formation in the 1980s. From their earliest electro-pop leanings to the beginnings of the band we know today for their classic debut Dubnobasswithmyheadman to the chart conquering “Born Slippy.NUXX” and on to their place as dance music’s elder statesmen and sound trackers of the 2012 London Olympics, they are a veritable British music institution.
Never ones to rest on their laurels, Underworld have been constantly evolving throughout their career. Even when they reached their commercial peak for “that song from Trainspotting,” they’ve never wavered from making music that was true to themselves. This is still the case on the band’s ninth album, Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future, their first full-length in six years, and one that sees Karl Hyde and Rick Smith steadfastly making the music they want and need to make.
Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future — the title is one of the last things that Rick Smith’s father said to his mother before he died and gives the proceedings a poignant quality that prevails through the album — is Underworld sounding reinvigorated. From the opening fuzzed-up funk urgency of “I Exhale” to the warm strains of “Nylon Strung” that closes the album, the dub and techno elements that Underworld are known for are all present and correct. And there is a hopefulness that makes for a blissful and euphoria-inducing listen.
The band co-produced the album with Welsh drum ‘n’ bass DJ/producer High Contrast, who they collaborated with on “Scribble” on their 2010 album Barking and the 2011 riësto-fronted cut “The First Note is Silent.” Like their previous work together, there is a triumphant feeling of elation throughout Barbara, Barbara. “Low Burn” and “Motorhome” are full of warmth and soul, and the majority of the robotic beats sound soulful and gives you a good indication of the positive feeling that resonates through the album.
The beauty of “Santiago Cuatro” is a highlight here — it’s a mysterious and minimal track built upon layers of Spanish guitar that seems to soar throughout its duration. Likewise the upbeat “Ova Nova,” a laid-back throb, will be stuck in your head — in a good way — and shows the duo’s eclecticism.
Underworld have made an album that is not only thoroughly relevant but also a statement. This is a magnificent album that shows that Underworld are still kings when it comes to creating life-affirming and intelligent music.