tue 23/07/2024

CD: Underworld – Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Underworld – Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future

CD: Underworld – Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future

The return of Rick Smith and Karl Hyde finds the pair peaking early

"That's the last time I let Howard Hodgkin clean the bloody windows"

After the release of 2006’s Barking, it was difficult to know what to make of Underworld. A couple of decent songs aside, collaboration seemed to have stripped away identity, leaving us with sketches on which a host of different producers had scribbled with their own, vivid, Crayola colours. For a band whose strength had  been found in the album format, this was an unwelcome volte-face.

Six years on, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde are back, but is Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future a return we should welcome with open arms?

Early indications are certainly promising. “I Exhale” slaps us on the back with a pounding rock rhythm and heads in, all smiles and assured, familiar nods; the sliding tone of the bass, the bright, synthesised, nylon shimmer and distorted back notes… Meanwhile, Underworld’s conversation is as interesting as it’s ever been. Snippets of stanzas are cast adrift and we’re left to interpret how we see fit. Without further guidance, it becomes a milieu in which every signifier floats – what is clear however, is the positive outlook as Karl Hyde begins: “Life – it's a touch, Everything is golden, Open, Wider.”

“If Rah” shuffles and nods along, while Hyde channels the deadpan delivery of Mark E Smith, but without the tiring, sneering cynicism. Then “Low Burn” gets everyone on their feet with the clearest nod yet to their Junior Boy’s Own heyday. After this energetic peak, “Santiago Cuatro” reaches for a Sandy Bull album and the subsequent folky, modal drones are unexpected and hugely welcome. Aligned with the brooding balladry of “Motorhome”, which boasts an easy melancholy, it’s the perfect point to say goodnight and crash out. Great night, see you later.

Except there’s more to come. And I sort of wish there wasn’t…

“Ova Nova” and “Nylon Strung” leap out of bed to party with purpose, but it all feels a bit too euphoric for its own good – like being woken by a flatmate who’s up at 6.30am making smoothies and hoovering before heading out to a spin class. If that sounds like misanthropic carping, that may be because it is – you’re left with clean carpets after all, and, for the most part, Barbara… is the sound of a band peaking all over again.

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