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Underworld - A Hundred Days Off

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Artist: Underworld

Album: A Hundred Days Off

Label: V2

Review date: Sep. 26, 2002

Still Underworld

Three years moves by pretty fast in the dance world; when Underworld dropped Beaucoup Fish, it seemed like the group was unstoppable. Combining a deadly mix of trance beats, chilled-out atmospherics, as well as guitar and oblique lyrics from front man Karl Hyde, the group was ready to become the Radiohead of dance. That was until lead arranger & producer Darren Emerson left the group after their Beaucoup Fish tour. Why he left is still somewhat murky, and it was feared that when Hyde, and fellow producer/keyboardist Rick Smith announced that they would carry on as a duo, the group would not be able to replicate the artistic and commercial success of Beaucoup Fish, or “Born Slippy” (the song that was featured in the film Trainspotting which helped thrust them into the limelight). Not only that, but has anyone ever heard the first two Underworld albums? Let’s be honest here, they were horrific, and it wasn’t really until Emerson came on board that the genesis of the group started to glow.

So what happens next? Has the dance world moved on since we’ve last heard from Underworld? Well, more importantly, is there so much hype behind the laptop-based IDM/Glitchterror/destructo-noise movement that heads will completely forget about Hyde & Smith?

A Hundred Days Off (perhaps a clever play on the three year absence in the mercurial eyes of the dance community), finds Underworld not reverting to their pre-Emerson days, but carrying on like he had never left. Opening with “Ma Move,” a little twinkle of keyboards, a rush of trance beats, and the beast is off and running. What made Beaucoup Fish so stunning was the fact that it looked beyond the dance realm to incorporate little elements of jazz, rock, poetry, but not as a cliché; they did it in all seriousness, and to great effect. A Hundred Days Off is somewhat of a bookend to Beaucoup Fish – be it the upright shake of “Twist” that wouldn’t sound out of place on the last Orlando Cachito Lopez album, or maybe “Sola Sistim,” that has a beat resembling a sped-up version of Bjork’s “Venus As A Boy,” and Hyde doing a poor Mark E. Smith impression (“poor” meaning you can actually understand what’s being said). “Trim” is like the Beta Band inna soundclash with Andrew Weatherall’s Two Lone Swordsmen, while tracks like “Two Months Off,” “Dinosaur Adventure 3D” and the album’s closer “Luetin” are classic Underworld. The sum is more daring and beautiful than it’s parts, and it just goes to show that Underworld is still Underworld, even if a core member departs, and they change the game up while they’re on a hundred-day vacation.

By Stephen Sowley

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