Over the course of nearly thirty years, and with various members coming and going, Underworld finds themselves releasing their first record in six years. Under the guidance of Hyde and Smith, the band has become somewhat of a staple in electronic music, especially during the nineties where they were likely more well known.
That’s not to outright say the new record, Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future, is bad. It’s really not when compared to the excess of mundane music coming out these days, but it does stand in contrast to the group’s heyday when things seemed slightly more focused. The album opens with I Exhale, which features a sort of droning beat coming in and out over echoed vocals and various other modes of synthesizing. While the band has been able to do well for themselves, especially in the European countries, they never really took off in a huge way in the states, which is fine. The point here is is that while the band still is well known in other places, they never really changed their approach. Which is funny to me since this record doesn’t speak to me in the ways say, “dubnobasswithmyheadman” did. Maybe it’s my age, but this isn’t exactly what I expected from the band after six years.
Some songs do work well though. Track three, Low Burn, is an effective and mid paced dance track which features great use of tones and minimal vocals. Underworld works best for me in this capacity, and it harkens back to the glory days when the band could be considered right next to names like Aphex Twin, the Chemical Brothers, and others. Now, what the band doesn’t make up for with traditional Underworld music, they make up for experimentation and a willingness to change it up and challenge themselves. Santiago Cuatro, is a meandering trail of South American mysteries, and it might even be the best track on the album.It’s just a really good song overall.
Overall though, I’d say the album is good, but not great. Certainly nothing compared to what came before. They still have mass appeal and can find themselves high up on the Coachella lineup, but this record overall is a reminder that while some artists change in ways you consider best, they can’t all do it. Underworld might just be one of the bands for me. In summation, Barbara Barbara, has some key moments and even excitable elements, but it misses its mark in terms of traditional dance music we’ve come to expect from the act. Nothing that makes you want to close your ears and run, but nothing that makes you yearn to stay either.