Album Reviews

Underworld – A Hundred Days Off

(V2) UK release date: 16 September 2002

Underworld - A Hundred Days Off You could sense the knives being sharpened as Underworld limbered up for their fourth album (fifth if you include the rather patchy live set of a couple of years back). The 1999 album Beaucoup Fish may have been nominated for the Mercury Prize but it was a patchy, downbeat affair. When this was followed by the departure of Darren Emerson, the band looked to have reached a creative dead end.

Not so. For while A Hundred Days Off may lack some of the raw, vital energy of Second Toughest In The Infants it is, in many ways a more rounded, satisfying album than anything that Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have produced before.

Certainly the absence of Emerson doesn’t seem to have affected the band unduly, which makes you wonder what his contribution actually was. There’s certainly a renewed and – dare I say it, soul – evident on this album, something that’s all too lacking in much of today’s generic dance music.

Ultimately this is music for the head as well as the heart, although hardcore dance floor fillers are, admittedly, hard to come by – Dinosaur Adventure 3D is the closest we get to Born Slippy 2. The reason is that this is an altogether more reflective album than its predecessors. Opening track Mo Move is a stirring statement of intent – swirling bass loops encircling Hyde’s spacey, detached vocals and stream of consciousness philosophising (something about “I dream that I’m chemical”), while the extended version of recent single Two Months Off is nine minutes of hands in the air housey exuberance.

This would certainly seem to be a happier Underworld than before, with rather more delicate shading of mood than has been in evidence on previous offerings. Although, for the most part, the boys are content to explore mellow, vaguely jazzy grooves reminiscent of parts of Moby‘s Play, there’s a focus and bite even to such languid tracks as Sola Sistim and Trim (although we could have done without that rather tiresome, and cliched, vocoder). One track, Ess Gee, suggests that messrs Hyde and Smith have been casting their musical net rather wider, being a dead ringer for the meandering instrumental passage from King Crimson‘s Moonchild (a track also sampled recently by Doves). Luetin, with its joyous, loping groove is a great way to finish what has to be regarded as the Underworld comeback album. Jolly fine it is too.

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