The thing that immediately strikes you looking at the cover of Oblivion With Bells is its similarity to the classic Dubnobasswithmyheadman – all high contrast monochrome. There are also echoes of the debut album (I know it wasn’t their debut – but who counts the first two?) in the music, particularly the more laidback grooves of that record’s “Dirty Epic”, “mmm Skyscraper I Love You” and “M E”. But there also passages that are closer to the ambience of the recent soundtracks to Breaking And Entering and Sunshine.
Oblivion has a generally understated, melancholy atmosphere. The title of the second track, “Beautiful Burnout”, is as apt a summary of the record as any you could pen in a couple of words. The sound is rich, with some truly gorgeous passages, but there is also a sense of a general weariness hanging over the record. “Beautiful Burnout” is a stunning track – an epic that gets to the heart of that post-club weariness and the yearning for some breakfast, some quiet and some sleep. “To Heal” is a beautiful, sweeping ambient interlude. It’s one of several instrumentals that see Underworld heading into pure electronica: “Cuddle Bunny” would sit happily on a Wire magazine compilation. There are some other new developments, with live drums to the fore on several tracks, including “Boy, Boy, Boy” – an almost eighties sounding synth-pop epic. And Karl Hyde doesn’t half sound like Mike Skinner on “Ring Road”. The title may well be a sly acknowledgement of that.
Fans of banging techno may be a little disappointed. Even the single “Crocodile” is fairly muted, and the nine minute “Best Mamgu Ever” is a mid tempo shuffle. Anyone looking for a new “King Of Snake” or “Moaner” won’t find it here. What they will find is an hour of rich, textured and varied electronic music with both heart and soul. It may be tinged in sadness, but it is Underworld’s most cohesive collection since they grabbed the techno crown with “Rez”, “Dark and Long” and the rest.
1 Crocodile (6:32)
2 Beautiful Burnout (8:11)
3 Holding The Moth (5:31)
4 To Heal (2:38)
5 Ring Road (4:33)
6 Glam Bucket (5:48)
7 Boy, Boy, Boy (6:07)
8 Cuddle Bunny vs Celtic Villages (2:24)
9 Faxed Invitation (4:46)
10 Good Morning Cockerel (2:30)
11 Best Mamgu Ever (9:12)