Born Slippy aside, I wasn't ever terribly impressed by Underworld. Even with Born Slippy, I’d say I liked the epic, anthemic synth wash of said song's introduction, and not the interminably monotonous drum coda that took up nearly four minutes of its ten-minute run time. I only decided to give them another chance because I needed to bridge the gap between the neanderthal pounding of big beat techno (The Prodigy and the like) and the downtempo sound (comatose in relation to the former, really) of Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. Bands I discovered along the way, like Hednoize and Propellerheads tended to blend beats with old-school hip-hop samples, while I was looking for something a bit more brooding.
The slow build-ups, hushed nuances (at times) and hypnotic drone samples of 1993's Dubnobasswithmyheadman convinced me that Underworld would be cool to watch at a club, but, 'Born Slippy' aside, they most certainly would not have been able to get anyone to dance at a concert venue. Their claustrophobic music accommodated the spastic moves of a a nerd's post-exam party mating call, not the bronzed torsos of Ibiza revelers. Then, I heard 2000's Everything, Everything, and finally got it.
The molly-laced head-bobbing commences immediately with 'Juanita/Kiteless', the opener to 1996's Second Toughest in the Infants. Karl Hyde's vocals, vocodered beyond recognition, mumble in a robotic monotone “You're rails/You're thin/Your thin paper wings” in the usual vein of Underworld's bizarre sexual allegory. Producer Darren Emerson and Rick Smith man the boards, pumping out thudding, ugly, gurgling bass and clean, shimmering keyboard synths simultaneously, giving the sound a gorgeously dark contrast. 7-8 minutes in, and the rising bass tempo takes the song out of its frigid shell, and makes it actually danceable, while Hyde's suddenly lucid lyrics layered over a gorgeous keyboard finishes it off.
A dramatically abridged version of 'Cups' is next. By slashing its original 12-minute length down to 3-1/2, its distorted loops and thick keyboard beeps act merely (but effectively) as a segue to the aggressive 'Push Upstairs', the lead single off 1998's Beaucoup Fish. The addition of delay effects on the thumping beats give it the sense of urban cool that they manage to effortlessly pull off, record after record.
'Pearl's Girl' is the sort of song that, in an ideal world, would bring the house down, gig after gig, and leave fans to return home to ponder the very definition of dance music. Icy electronic samples, thudding, rough breakbeats, and the hypnotic vocal loop of 'Crazy' introduces Karl Hyde's gloriously distorted vocals. The faux-electronic choir-like sound caps off a vintage Underworld club stomper; aggressive, pretty and dramatic all at once.
It wouldn't be a proper live show without the requisite crowd-pleasers, of course. 'Shudder/King of Snake' is first, in a 12-minute performance that cements its status as an Underworl classic. The skittering synths, coupled with the absolutely pummelling drums are rounded off perfectly with the drunkenly catchy chorus You drink, drink, drink/And you go ping. 'Born Slippy NUXX' of course, is next, building up to that utterly massive, and by now, globally familiar synth wash. It somehow manages to keep momentum for an exhausting 11 minutes by throwing in fascinating new samples mid-song. It's a veritable tour de force that loses none of its brilliance, drama and anthemic quality.
As the final track, 'Rez/Cowgirl' brought things to an end, I realized that, disappointingly, there was barely any material from Dubnobasswithmyheadman. I realize that it's difficult to squeeze in extra songs, as the best Underworld tracks regularly approach the ten-minute mark. There wouldn't be any space for the 10-minute monster 'Dirty Epic' on a 75-minute record like this, but subtracting the mellow, 9-minute Kraftwerk-hailing 'Jumbo' would have done it. As it stands, the record is predictably heavy on material from the commercially overlooked Beaucoup Fish. Given the alarming celerity with which dance music ages, I might have given the idea of keeping the freshest tracks on a 2000 release some credence. The thing is, Dubnobass-- sounds as forward-thinking today as it did in 1993. It wouldn't have been asking too much to at least have included 'Mmm...Skyscraper I Love You' on the set; I mean, it was included on the Web-only release of a live set in Tokyo, performed in November 2005.