A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Thursday, October 17, 2002

I'm baaaack! Sorry for not posting the past couple of weeks..had some "car troubles" which I needed to address..so it cut down on my "Schizoid Man" time. Sooo....yeah, the new Underworld disc, called A Hundred Days Off, was released domestically roughly three weeks ago--I bought it a few days after it came out and have been listening to it on and off since that time. The good news is that Karl Hyde and Rick Smith haven't reverted back to any Freur "Doot Doot" madness (Freur was their early 80s synth-pop incarnation--which spawned the annoying hit "Doot Doot"--the tune was a hit only in England and the Continent)..they've managed to keep Underworld's cred intact after third member Darren Emerson's departure two years ago for a solo DJ career. The bad news is that "A Hundred.." isn't quite the follow-up to their last studio record (Beaucoup Fish) that I was expecting. Reviews that I have seen so far have been praising it as a return to form after the "wildly un-even" Beaucoup and the live Emerson-era summation Everything Everything (which was one of the first discs I commented on with "Schizoid Man"). While some of the tracks *do* improve on the Beaucoup sound, overall it lacks the experimentation of Beaucoup in favor of a safe, "Underworld-TM" sound..there's no Jumbo or Kittens to liven the record up when you hit a dull patch. I will say that Hyde's vocals are a lot sunnier on "A Hundred.." and it seems like he's even attempting to (*gasp*) sing, instead of his usual monotone "hey-I'm-just-one-of-the-instruments" vocalizing.
"A Hundred Days Off" starts out strong with the first two tracks Mo Move and the first single Two Months Off. "Mo Move" has a burbling keyboard underpinning the bass synths and Hyde's druggy and detached vocal (but he *is* singing)..the track builds with a high-pitched sample that sounds like one of those drums where the skin is rubbed, and a high pitch tone is produced--only this one sounds like it's being played by an amphetamined monkey. Some more drum samples are added on top, along with some keyboard washes. The result is a very catchy tune and worthy of it's addition to Underworld's catalog. "Two Months Off" starts with a synthesized "hand-clap" in one channel and a ricocheting keyboard in the other..then a keyboard phrase slowly builds and becomes the main rhythm of the track, along with a drum track. Hyde steps to the mic and sings "You bring light in"...before singing in his stream-of-conciousness way that we've come to expect..only way more melodious than on Born Slippy or even "Jumbo". Then there's a breakdown section featuring a spoken-word sample of an English woman talking and some keyboard washes in both channels...the main keyboard phrase soon returns along with the beat and Hyde. So far, so good.
The next tune is Twist, and though it's not godawful..it's not really anything that they haven't done better on other albums--a two-note keyboard melody, some bass synth lines and a clubby drum beat. Build up, break down, build back up..easy, peasy, Japanesey. Sola Sistem, the next track, slows things down tempo-wise..with it's languid beat and Hyde's weird, filtered vocal that sounds like he downed some NyQuil before the session. It's mildly interesting, especially when some horn-like keyboard stabs enter the mix a third of the way in and the beat begins to echo like a dub track. Little Speaker returns the club rhythm--and again--pretty good tune, especially the "funky soul Hammond organ" keyboard riff--but Underworld aren't trying anything too daring here...and this track goes for about 9 minutes! About halfway through, a hypnotic gamelan-like sample takes over, which is a nice change..but it just doesn't have the punch that the change in Cups (the opening track on "Beaucoup Fish") has. The next tune, Trim, redeems them somewhat. It's got some twangy bended country guitar notes and Hyde's wobbly vocal sound (at last--that stupid vocoder put to good use!)..and it doesn't wear out it's welcome by being overlong. Good show, lads! Ess Gee is a throwaway guitar instrumental..sorta mellow..sorta drifting...mainly just an exercise for Hyde to practice his picking skills..possibly on a Gibson SG guitar, or so I'm guessing from the title. It's thankfully short..clocking in at a little over 2 minutes. The next track, Dinosaur Adventure 3D, was panned in a lot of reviews..but I actually like it. Despite it's lame and unwieldy title, it's classic Underworld..but with a little sumpin' new also. There's a killer keyboard sample that has that "chopped-up" effect that Orbital uses and it's always cool if used right. Hyde does some nice singing..stretching out the last syllable of each line..they add some vocoder to his vocals..but it's not annoying and enhances the emphasis on certain words. Ballet Lane combines guitar and keys and has a calming feel, especially after "Dinosaur..". It's not even really "electronica" anymore..and perhaps Underworld are feeling a bit strait-jacketed by the "techno" label foisted on them. "Ballet Lane" is a step in another direction..an awkward one, to be sure, but it's not clumsy and sits in just the right place on the record. Luetin closes "A Hundred Days Off". An electro track based around a clubby keyboard phrase and Hyde's almost-buried-in-the-mix vocals..it's a fitting closing tune that could be the soundtrack to the end of a party. It partially begs to be in the background, because the keys get repetitive and Hyde's voice weaves in and out of the forefront of the mix, making it difficult to understand his words. "Luetin" ends with two notes playing..sounding like dripping water..though I don't think it's a metaphor for either the album or Underworld. I'll give this one three stars out of five. Hyde and Smith have proved there *is* life after Emerson..who, being younger than the two, gave them insight into and credibility in, the early-to-mid 90s club scene. Was "A Hundred Days Off" worth the four-year wait? In some respects, yes...but I hope they try a bit harder next time around..provided there *is* a next time...I haven't heard any talk about this being "the final Underworld record", but you never know.
That's all for now..in quick news...Badly Drawn Boy's new full-length is out soon..his third, if you count the About A Boy soundtrack (which I don't own yet--I know, I've been shirkin' my B.D.B. responsibilities)..I'll have to pick up the brand new one. Supergrass, whose self-titled last album was one of my top picks for 2000, also have a new one out soon, called Life On Other Planets--gotta look into that one, too. And lastly..yes, the rumours are flying thick and fast..the remaining members of Led Zeppelin are possibly going on a reunion tour, with the late John Bonham's son Jason filling in the drum chair. It might be interesting to check out--seeing as the last time these guys played together on-stage was at Live Aid in 1985. Robert Plant is looking the worse for wear now and Jimmy Page has yet to live down that embarrassing P. Diddy collaboration (only John Paul Jones has escaped a critical drubbing by staying low-key and doing artsy, indie-type stuff for the most part)..still, Plant can still belt 'em out, even if he can't hit all the high ones now..and Page has always kept his guitar-slinging skills alive. A tour schedule will be announced, if they "seal the deal"..and if you can deal with a crowd of ageing boomers and suburban white guys with girlfriends in tow..and you close your eyes during Misty Mountain Hop..you just might be transported back to 1971 via Zep's time-machine--well, that's if you want to be transported back to 1971. Me, I'm gonna see what ticket prices are like before I sign on to the "Houses Of The Outdoor Physical Presence" tour. Cheerio!