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
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.