By this point in their career, Underworld have become such mainstays of electronic music that reviewing them almost feels like an exercise in futility. Since their third album dubnobasswithmyheadman, each of their records has been solid and experimental in equal measure, and Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future is no different.
Opening track I Exhale begins with drums playing a rock groove, before ominous synthesiser waves wash over them, and it eventually evolves into a techno track played in part with rock instruments. The closest contemporary comparison is actually Swans, with their repetitive menace becoming mesmerising through sheer persistence. Karl Hyde’s vocals are largely spoken world, and the track is an excellent introduction to the varied sounds of the album proper.
The rest of the album is suitably varied. The slow pulsating ballad Motorhome contrasts dramatically with the throbbing club beats of Low Burn. Low Burn is particularly interesting, with mournful horns ringing out over techno bass, and yearning vocals echoing in the background. The track feels like grief as dance music, and it perfectly balances its many elements throughout its near-7 minutes. Ova Nova mixes strummed guitar chords with a house beat, and vocals that almost resemble Thom Yorke. It sounds markedly more optimistic than any of the other tracks, with keyboard stabs playing major chords, and a sing-song vocal melody.
The closing track Nylon Strung shows what Underworld do best. The slow build from a 4/4 kick drum to an exuberant and glittering finale, with a keyboard melody that resembles Kraftwerk’s Computer Love, surrounded by oscillating bass and vocoded vocals. The sense of drama is palpable, and demonstrates the mix of styles the band excels at.
At the end of the day Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future is another Underworld album, with all that entails. It mixes various genres of electronic music with alternative rock in a way that is organic and creative, and the tracks included range from tender, to menacing, to exuberant. It’s a strong collection of songs, and cements Underworld’s place at the top of their game.