V2 RELEASE: NOVEMBER 5, 2003 REVIEW: JANUARY 4, 2004
British dance music has reached its middle age, and seems to be accepting
it. Shortly after The Chemical Brothers “Singles 93-03”, those
other dance titans Underworld also find it timely to release a retrospective.
“1992-2002” is a double best of that goes on forever. And
then a bit.
If Fatboy Slim and The Chemical Brothers turned British dance music into
pub rock, like my colleague Mattias Huss wrote a couple of years ago,
then Underworld can be said to have turned it into arena rock. At least
that’s what the big, dumb arrangements of some of their songs suggest.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve always appreciated Underworld.
The problem is that the full length versions of their songs included here
feel like they go on forever. In some cases the ten minute versions work.
But some of their earliest material sounds way too corny a decade after
they were produced. “Bigmouth” from 1992 is almost as annoying
as The Grid’s banjo techno hit “Swamp Thing”. “Dirty”
and “Rez” are better, metallic and nasty like a robot biting
your leg, but frustrating in the way they feel like very long build-ups
that never climax.
I also have a problem with the way they cloak some of their tunes in suffocatingly
many layers of inane ambience. “Dirty Epic” works brilliantly,
since it’s not a dance track but a contemplative ambient hymn, but
even dancefloor filler “Born Slippy Nuxx”, from the soundtrack
to the horribly overrated “Trainspotting”, risks to disappear
somewhere in a sonic fog that would be more in place on a Tangerine Dream
album. Or amid the pointless neon lightshow excesses of a Pink Floyd live
The trilogy of “Push Upstairs”, “Moaner” and “Shudder/King
of Snake” hit exactly the right spot, though. Relentlessly monotonous,
skeletal and angry, they show a path Underworld should have treaded more
often. A path that leads to great electro rather than to arena rock heaven/hell.