Underworld - Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future (2016) High-Fidelity FLAC Stereo 24bit/96kHz
Title: Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future
Genre: Electronic, Techno, Progressive House
Label: © Beat Records/Smith Hyde Productions
Release Date: 2016
Quality: High-Fidelity FLAC Stereo 96kHz/24bit
On the first proper Underworld record in half a decade, the duo of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith continue to place matters of the heart at the center of their best songs.
Let’s talk about love—with Underworld, you kind of have to. Though still best known for shouting "lager, lager, lager" in their epochal 1996 hit "Born Slippy.NUXX," the long-running dance duo, consisting of singer-lyricist-multi-instrumentalist Karl Hyde and producer Rick Smith, have quietly but persistently placed matters of the heart at the center of their best songs. Their breakthrough single "Cowgirl" pledged "I wanna give you everything," robotically chanting the final word like a mantra for emphasis. "Jumbo," the buoyant highlight of 1999’s Beaucoup Fish, took a (literally) sweeter approach, with singer Karl Hyde purring "I need sugar" when "I get thoughts about you." And despite the involvement of a series of guest producers whose work never quite gelled, UW’s last studio album Barking was held together by a chain of out-and-out love songs, from its singles "Scribble" to its tremulous closing ballad "Louisiana" ("When you touch me, planets in sweet collision"). Regardless of their reputation for turning late-night urban-hedonism anthems into festival-filling crowdpleasers, Underworld remain romantics at heart.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future—perhaps because Smith and Hyde’s own creative romance needed rekindling. Though their post-Barking period saw them collaborate with director Danny Boyle on both his stage adaptation of Frankenstein and the opening ceremony he helmed for London’s 2012 Olympics, recent years have seen them go largely their separate ways: Hyde recorded a solo album and two well-reviewed projects with Brian Eno, while Smith reteamed with Boyle to score the Trainspotting auteur’s Trance on his own. All told, Barbara is their first proper album in over half a decade.
Opening track and lead single "I Exhale," then, establishes the pair's reunion as a party-in-progress. The two-note synth-bass riff and stomping glitter-rock rhythm provide Hyde with a solid foundation for a madcap spoken-word romp whose introductory lines—"Life / It’s a touch / Everything is golden / Open"—set a tone as upbeat as the album’s utopian title. The second song, "If Rah," features Hyde's absurd proclamation that "the origin of numbers is a questionable hypothesis." Not many acts could recover from an opening gambit that ridiculous, but Smith (working here as throughout the record with co-producer High Contrast) constructs a groove relentless enough to contextualize that non sequitur as just another outburst from a fellow reveler, dimly heard over the din of the speakers.
The celebratory vibe takes a somber but sensual turn with "Low Burn." A pulsing throwback to the soundscapes of early albums dubnobasswithmyheadman and Second Toughest in the Infants, its lyrics are a cyclic incantation—"time / first time / blush / be bold / be beautiful / free"—that call to mind landmark moments of initial liberation, whether on the dancefloor or in the bedroom. The song makes a strong enough impression that the pair of comparatively slight downtempo tracks that follow it, the acoustic guitar interlude "Santiago Cuatro" and "Motorhome" (a gentle plea to "keep away from the dark side" marked by a "Baba O’Riley"esque synthesized highland reel in the background) can be forgiven as a necessary comedown.
They also provide a breather before closing tracks "Ova Nova" and "Nylon Strung," the strongest one-two punch in the band’s catalog since "Dirty Epic" faded into "Cowgirl" on dubnobasswithmyheadman 22 years ago. Strikingly, "Ova Nova" is the first time on Barbara that Hyde sings more than a single sentence at a time, and beautifully at that. Smith gives his high lilting tenor a digital shimmer, making the refrain of "change your mind" sound less about decision-making than actual transformation. But the emergence of bonafide back-up vocals—provided by Esme Smith and Tyler Hyde, the duo’s daughters—set "Ova" off not just from the blunt singing of the rest of the album, but from the band’s entire oeuvre.
Fittingly for an album that looks to the future in its very title, Barbara saves the best for last. The rhapsodic "Nylon Strung" starts with a hint of urban decay, with Hyde’s voice echoing "Sliding between the dust of a scorched earth." But the sadness doesn’t last in the face of what’s to come. The voices of Karl and Tyler Hyde and Esme Smith weave around the lines "Open me up / I want to hold you, laughing," over and over and over, with Smith’s classical soprano soaring high above. The repetition, long the most frequently employed tool in Underworld’s lyrical arsenal, is powerfully moving: Each iteration of the line brings you closer to the absolute vulnerability inherent in loving another person, whether a parent or a partner, a lover or a daughter or a son. The effect is stunning, the kind of music that makes you sob happysad tears in your car in the Sunday afternoon sunlight as you think about the people you wish were riding with you. Underworld’s never had trouble getting listeners to their feet. This gorgeously love-drunk finale makes Barbara a record that can bring them to their knees. --Sean T. Collins, Pitchfork
1 I Exhale 08:11
2 If Rah 07:13
3 Low Burn 06:45
4 Santiago Cuatro 04:01
5 Motorhome 06:24
6 Ova Nova 05:32
7 Nylon Strung 06:48
Bonus Track for Japan:
8 Twenty Three Blue 06:44
Karl Hyde - vocals, guitars
Rick Smith - keyboards, mixing, vocals
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