Underworld | 1992-2012 (The Anthology); A Collection (COOFC)

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cd underworld_75The British house-trance-techno duo is gracing our speakers yet again with not one but two career retrospectives, released concurrently.

 

Before we get into these reviews, here is something you need to know: British duo Underworld—composed of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith—has been tapped to create music for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Yes, those Olympics. This entails the composition of a three-hour piece to accompany the festivities, a huge honor indeed, and one that is destined to put the band’s name on lips all over the world. Kudos to them! And now, on with the criticism…

Following 2010’s brilliant Barking—and 2002’s compilation 1992-2002—the British house-trance-techno duo is gracing our speakers yet again with not one but two career retrospectives, released concurrently. While the onslaught of recollected, remixed, and remastered favorites (some of them downright classics) may seem at first overwhelming, this should help you decide which collection is right for you.

1992-2012 (The Anthology)

cd underworld-1992The most widespread of the two, 1992-2012, is 3 discs’ worth of 25 (!) songs. If you’ve remotely followed the band’s career—or, hell, been to a nightclub in the last 20 years—you’ll be familiar with many of these tracks. The discs are logically arranged, the first being a retrospective of Underworld’s electronica library. Right off the bat, you’ll find Underworld to be anything but one-note, as collection opener “Big Mouth” illustrates; this song is a rousing instrumental full of harmonica and big beats, later paralleled by the frenetic, nearly wordless “Spikee” and smooth “Dark and Long.” Disc one’s dance floor classics include the droning “MMM Skyscraper I Love You,” electronica gem “Cowgirl,” and smooth groover “Dirty Epic.”

cd underworld_200Underworld’s best known—and best, hands down—track kicks off disc two. Boosting the band’s exposure to a wide and more mainstream audience, “Born Slippy” was the highlight of 1995’s Trainspotting soundtrack. Underworld released this version, “Born Slippy (Nuxx),” on their own the following year. Even on repeated (and repeated, and repeated) listenings, this one never gets old. The following tracks further prove the band’s versatility and range; while remaining in the electronica genre, they follow the duo through highs and lows, fasts and slows. “Two Months Off,” from their 1995 release 100 Days Off, is just as fresh as ever and stands up well to the brilliance of the intro track. “Scribble,” originally released on Barking, lives up to its name; another instrumental track, it’s captivating and frenetic.

Disc three is where the meat is. A gathering of unreleased tracks and rarities, it includes a number of B-sides, bonus tracks, and live versions. A true result of digging through the vault, this disc is reserved for the true Underworld fan, opening with “The Hump,” a song previously only available on LP. “Big Meat Show,” I’m told, was a frequent part of the band’s early live shows yet just now available in any recorded format. (Sadly, being inSt. Louis,Missouri,U.S.A.doesn’t offer me any exposure to an Underworld live show; hell, they very rarely hit our shows as it is.)

So while 1992-2012 is really nothing new, it’s a vivid picture of a band that has explored its sound over the decades yet still manages to create songs that define moments in a life. B

A Collection

cd underworld-collectionAs compared to its forbearer, A Collection is a pared-down, more straightforward, album-oriented release featuring many edited versions and a live track. Here, the band kicks things off with “The First Note Is Silent,” a song that borders on—maybe even embraces—pop. It’s still frantic and synth-driven, but it’s more accessible than some of the band’s relentless catalog. “Beebop Hurry” is chilled out, with Hyde’s spoken word atop crazy keys and drum machine beats. A collaboration with Mark Knight and D. Ramirez, “Downpipe” is a 2010 release with vocals by Karl Hyde. And toward the end of the disc, “King of Snake” is an instrumental rave, a previously promo-only offering. Unfortunately, it represents the tiresome side of Underworld, with really nothing much to set it apart from all the other techno music assaulting you from the DJ booth.

Taken by itself, A Collection is a worthwhile investment, especially for those not super familiar with the band’s oeuvre. However, if you’re a true fan who enjoys not only a(nother) look back but a collection of rarities, 1992-2012 is your best bet. B for the new fan, C- for the true fan | Laura Hamlett

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