Underworld and West Ham. Not, you would think, the most immediate of bedfellows. And yet the two share much in common, both outfits capable of marked inconsistency and occasional flashes of brilliance. West Ham can beat Manchester United one week, lose to Sheffield United the next. Likewise, Underworld can have you reaching for the sky or shaking your head in puzzlement.
With Romford clearly remaining in Karl Hyde‘s blood, it’s also clear he knows all there is to know about West Ham and their legacy of frustrating unpredictability. And so it is with his band’s return from the dance music wilderness.
In that time away from propulsive rhythms they have however secured a highly effective partnership with Gabriel Yared, shown in the score to Breaking And Entering, and that informs some of the evocative soundscapes found towards the end of this record.
Oblivion With Bells gets off to a flyer. There’s nothing especially new in Crocodile, but the familiar interweaving synths initially reach for the heavens before Hyde’s softly meditative vocal. This moves seamlessly into the underlying menace of Beautiful Burnout, Hyde’s “sun goes down, temperature drops” vocal casting an uneasy spell before the Hybrid-style breaks kick in, soon followed by the sort of riff to incite a club-friendly riot.
Sadly after a taut, well structured first fifteen minutes or so – 2-0 up if you like – they take their foot off the pedal. Holding The Moth noticeably relaxes the tension with a more comfortable bassline before the more random vocal takes over. Parity is nearly restored with some nice Brian Eno-esque washes of colour before the album’s biggest own goal.
Ring Road attempts to paint a picture of East London, probably Romford again, with its shopping malls, football shirts and cafes. “There’s a blue sky over me but the fear is over me” notes Hyde – and so too is the spectre of Mike Skinner in what can only be described as a horrible mix-up of styles. On one hand, curiously uplifting – on the other, intensely annoying.
Disappointingly the record fails to recover from this setback, and while Boy Boy Boy tries to punch its weight with a heavy beat, the harmonies ultimately fail to convince. Some thrills and spills, then – like West Ham – and the first 15 minutes are as good as you could hope for from a band coming back to life after an extended period on the sidelines. Unfortunately just like the Hammers, they need to shore up that creaky defence before they find themselves looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone.