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  100 Days Off  
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Oddly enough, Underworld have been around for almost 20 years at this point, and 100 Days Off is the first release of the third incarnation of the band. Rather than go into excrutiating detail here, let me sum up real quickly: they started off as a new wave synth pop band ("Depeche Mode derivative" is how i would describe this period), then they lost everyone but the vocalist (Karl Hyde) and the guitarist (Rick Smith) and added a DJ (Darren Emerson) and became a powerhouse of the rave world, churning out hit after hit. Then just recently, Darren Emerson left to go off on his own. So the real question is, what does Underworld version 3 sound like?

The answer is "not all that different from Underworld version 2". That might be disappointing, or it might be a real relief. Depends on how you liked Underworld version 2 i suppose.

Personally, i liked Underworld version 2. I thought that they were sort of trailing off towards the end though. Specifically, i thought that 1999's Beaucoup Fish was their weakest album to date. And by weakest i mean "most stereotypically rave-oriented". It just didn't seem as experimental as their other two albums.

100 Days Off, on the other hand, is not quite so rave-oriented, and in general is more downtempo. It's more relaxed, with less of a reliance on throbbing beats, which is not to say that Underworld have left the dancehall: instead, they are grooving at a slower pace. I find that i really like it.

Of course, not all of the rave sounds are gone. Two Months Off is a good dancefloor tune with old-school disco rim hits and early 80's synths. Little Speaker is a driving dance tune interspersed with samples of tired British woman speaking -- like overhearing a girl chat on a cell phone at a club. Dinosaur Adventure 3D reminds me of Beaucoup Fish. However, over the X-addled progressive trance beat, Hyde sings in an almost middle-Eastern style. It's a nice contrast on an otherwise weak song.

However, it is the mid-tempo work that most amuses me. The albums closer, Lutein, features a really groovey beat combined with Hyde's heavily effected voice. This song reminds me of their breakthrough Mmmm... Skyscraper I Love You. My favorite on this album is Twist -- a light little late night number dominated by a nice keyboard riff.

In fact, this album seems to a return to the old form of Underworld -- that is, experimenting with sounds in the context of dance music. Their last two releases aside, Underworld tended to transcend the mere notion of "dance music" with their best tunes. Trim, off of this album, is a good example of how they do that. It almost sounds like a normal rock tune: the beat is a simple thing that almost sounds like it was played on a kit, and Smith noodles overtop it in a way that reminds me of minimalist country music. Of course, the overall feel of the song, which is dominated by Hyde's vocals, is not very country. But the loping beat and guitar that almost twangs is, well, not what i expected to hear on an Underworld disc. Very interesting.

In fact, this album reminds me that Smith is a pretty good guitarist. It was easy to lose sight of that fact amid the general chaos of Underworld songs, but he really shines here, particularly on the solo guitar track Ess Gee.

Overall this is a pleasant album. I am glad to see that Underworld continue to make intersting music, and after hearing 100 Days Off i am curious to see what they will do next.

Related Links:

Everything, Everything, a live album from Underworld version 2.


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