Underworld – Anthology 1992-2002

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

Although this seems to have taken a year to come out, a ten-year retrospective of Underworld’s contribution to everything from dance floors to movie soundtracks is more than deserved.

The all-conquering Underworld we know now took a while to emerge. Its early incarnation was as a four piece multimedia collective, including Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, and resulted in a funk rock debut album produced by former Thomson Twin Tom Bailey, but it wasn’t until DJ Darren Emerson joined, the group stripped down to its core sequencer-driven components and delivered a storming improvised set at Glastonbury 1992, that things started to take shape.

ANTHOLOGY runs in (almost) chronological order across two CDs, and considering most tracks come in around the ten-minute mark, that’s a lot of beats for your buck. The first CD concentrates on the early singles and the DUBNOBASSWITHMYHEADMAN album, starting with the Lemon Interrupt release BIG MOUTH and following through with classics like REZ, DARK AND LONG and MMM…SKYSCRAPER I LOVE YOU. You also get early singles DIRTY and SPIKEE – both rare tracks and well worth having.

The second CD starts out of sync with 2000’s COWGIRL single, before re-visiting one track from SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS (but it’s a corker – PEARL’S GIRL) and then the band’s biggest hit (and inevitable millstone) BORN SLIPPY, here in its revamped NUXX 2003 version. The new version has divided die hard fans, but it’s still a brilliant, landmark dance track: stretched over 11½ minutes, those classic opening chords seem tighter and less echoey, but the beats are harder and faster, spiralling into wonderfully controlled chaos. It’s somehow longer, but more focused, a feat only a band like Underworld can pull off.

After that, you get a whopping four tracks from the brilliantly trancey BEAUCOUP FISH (JUMBO, PUSH UP, MOANER and KING OF SNAKE) and then the mellow 8 BALL and now anthemic Ibiza floor-filler TWO MONTHS OFF from last year’s post-Darren Emerson album A HUNDRED DAYS OFF.

Given that most fans will already own the majority of tracks here, especially the later ones, it is tempting to look upon ANTHOLOGY as a far from essential “best of”. But the inclusion of some early rarities and the spanking new BORN SLIPPY may change some minds. Plus, these songs still sound as vital and dynamic as when they were first released, and with Underworld, quality has never been in short supply.

5 stars