Those We Have Loved- Shifters and Shapers
Released in March 1967-nearly a full year after its tumultuous recording- The Velvet Underground and Nico produced by Andy Warhol arrived on the threshold of the summer of love and was defiantly and gloriously extremely out of step with the times. With the trippy, dippy, hippy peace and love ethos a dominant force in pop culture songs wrapped up in themes such as heroin, transvestism ,sado-masochism, paranoia accompanied by dissonant, discordant and unconventional instrumentation were too much for a mainstream audience to assimilate. Indeed on the opening track the uncharacteristically lachrymose ‘Sunday Morning’ Lou Reed opined ‘Watch out the world’s behind you’ in an insidious reference to paranoia but could in fact be referring to the fact that they were ten steps ahead. More likely they were at least five years ahead of the competition as the birthing of both glam and punk rock can be found on this album.
As already mentioned the opening ‘Sunday Morning’ was a gentle paean not totally representative of the Velvets at this juncture. Sung in an effete, effeminate manner by Lou Reed who had refused to let Nico sing it he then went onto do more than an adequate impersonation of her unusual vocal stylings. It is a strange track to have chosen as an opener but typical of the wilful perverseness of the band it lulls the listener into a false sense of security. ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ then crashes out of the speakers and in contrast to its predecessor makes no attempt to assuage the listener but instead confronts them with a beautiful barrage of upbeat noise topped with Lou Reed’s sardonic couldn’t care less New York drawl. Never before or since has whoring and scoring sounded so real and so desirable. Next up is the first of the Nico selections ‘Femme Fatale- inspired by Warhol superstar and beauty Edie Sedgwick- that shows a gentler side to the band but still maintains their darker qualities whilst Nico swoons over the top with what sounds like a slowed down German accent with haughty froideur and a glacial beauty. ‘Venus in Furs’ introduces John Cale’s electric viola and together with Mo Tucker’s Neanderthal tub thumping creates a sonic interaction experience like no other. So much of the future can be heard in this track especially. A brief break in intensity arrives in the guise of ‘Run.Run,Run’ which showcases the bands live credentials and highlights Reed’s and guitarist Sterling Morrison’s intertwining guitar duelling chemistry. ‘All Tomorrows Parties’ brings Nico back into the fold and the swirling, circular, rhythmic soundscape perfectly encapsulates the never ending round of parties that lay at the core of Warhol’s retinue at this time. ‘Heroin’ the track which caused the most controversy at the time is one of Reed’s greatest compositions and it’s depiction of the life of a junkie is still disturbing and wholly convincing ‘And I feel just like Jesus’ son’ totally capturing the vibe of invincibility that addicts feel at the moment ‘the smack begins to flow’ An outstanding track wherein aural intensity matches the drug sated inertia of the narrator perfectly whilst Cale’s viola creates crescendos of nerve shattering intensity. ‘There She Goes Again’ is a strange comedown after such an intense high and probably the only track that sounds of its time. ‘I’ll be your Mirror’ is a twisted psychological love song by Lou for Nico and sung by her in a tone that is both wistful and detached. ‘The Black Angels Death Song’ re-introduces Cale’s screeching viola and an art-house re-imagining of a gypsy waltz to create something repellent but compelling. The closer ‘European Son’ eschews lyrics and vocals after the first minute-in deference to poet Delmore Schwartz who had taught Reed at Syracuse University and told him that lyrics in music were a no-no- before descending into a cacophonous freak out with a floor scraping chair, breaking glass and a band that is so tight they could only be separated by a blow torch. It is a fitting finale to a record whose impact would not be felt for several years yet.
As stated before the full impact of this album was not apparent on initial release but elements began to surface within a couple of years and a certain Mr. Bowie was certainly taking extensive notes that helped to launch his floundering early career to emerge as the brightest of their disciples. The band themselves went onto create ‘White Light/ White Heat’ a record so abrasive in its claustrophobic heat and blistering aural assault that when the last chord of 17 minute closer ‘Sister Ray’ arrives the listener is confronted with a sense of relief, disappointment and exhilaration simultaneously. Things quietened down dramatically after this due equally to Cale’s departure-instigated by Reed’s controlling overbearing approach- and the loss of most of their equipment. Their eponymous third album was,in comparison, a muted acoustic affair compared to its predecessors but still inhabited a genre of its own and many classic songs were contained therein. The follow up ‘Loaded’ was almost a conventional album but still housed two bona-fide classics ‘Sweet Jane’ and the auto-biographical ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’. After this Reed left the band and it was all but over.
Their debut, however, is essential to any record collection. It was the first album to create and inhabit a universe all its own. Their live shows at this time, the Warhol sponsored The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, were groundbreaking in that they incorporated strobes, lights, dancers and film all a totally new concept in rock music. Rock theatre and the rock show were created by this band and Warhol as previously bands just plugged in, played and then left. This was, in contrast, a multi-media performance. Every time the listener plays The Velvet Underground and Nico they cannot help but be transported back to the Factory loft in 1966 and the Velvets with chanteuse Nico accompanied by Gerard Malanga doing his whip dance in black leather- a look lifted wholesale by Jim Morrison much to Malanga’s chagrin- alongside Edie Sedgwick executing her infamous unique dance moves whilst the Passive Pope of Pop, Warhol , presided over the whole proceedings with a watchful, knowing eye and ear. The future began here.
Roxy Music- ‘Roxy Music’
Opening with the clinking of glasses and chit chat- ‘is this a cocktail party or recording session ?’ asked the original sleeve-notes’- ‘Roxy Music’ heralded the birth of a new era in rock music. Wrapped up in aesthetic cool, icy glamour, fifties doo wop, synthesized, synthetic futurism and fabulous tunes the band staked out a territory very much their own and their vision common place in music nowadays in 1972 positioned them as avatars of change. They were not alone however as a younger generation disappointed, disillusioned and bored with the hippy mindset-‘My brothers back at home with his Beatles and his Stones’ opined Mott the Hoople in 1972’s Bowie penned classic ‘All the Young Dudes’ itself a sideswipe at the previous generation- was waiting in the wings and being led to the centre stage by the bopping elf Marc Bolan. The cultural chameleon David Bowie was sidestage observing very closely, taking notes and preparing his scene stealing entry which came in June of ‘72 with the release of his epoch defining ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ opus and a life changing appearance on TOTP performing ‘Starman’. Having stolen most of Bolan’s thunder –and many of his fans- Bowie was now the undisputed king of Glam but despite the outrage his image and bisexuality created his music, at this stage, was still conventional pop/rock. Superior though it may have been it still had a slightly conservative polished edge. Roxy Music on the other hand produced music which in 1972 must have sounded like it was being beamed down from another planet and with strong visual foils in Bryan Ferry, sequinned biker jackets and sleazy lounge lizard cool positioned against Brian Eno all feathers, furs and emitting a strange series of whooshings and whirrings as he crouched over his synthesizer, showed themselves as strong contenders for the crown.
Opening with ‘Remake/Remodel’ a statement of intent as distorted instruments crash and collide with each other to create a glorious cacophonous noise wherein the band members each perform a brief solo- a parody of the virtuoso tendencies of prog rock-culminating with Eno eliciting what can only be termed a techno fart at the songs denouement as a fuck off finale to the past. This stunning opener is followed by ‘Ladytron’ opening with Eno’s lunar soundscapes as Andy Mackay’s wistful oboe articulates plaintively before Ferry’s vocal and Phil Manzanera’s heavily treated guitar make their anticipated entry. The whole thing reaches a crescendo of galloping hoof sounds and Paul Thomson’s drumming buoys a ship careering out of its own uncharted waters. ‘If There is Something’ starts off innocuously enough as an untypical country and western vignette before changing course and lurching into the future before backtracking to fifties rock and roll without pausing for breath. It is a riveting journey and an audacious work. ‘Virginia Plain’ the hit single which introduced the band to the public consciousness was not originally on the album but included on later editions. Roxy Music were cool and confident enough not to include singles on albums initially and brazen enough to dispense with choruses until much later in their career. Imbued with its own sense of cool- and an almost whispered come hither intro- this was the sound of the future but unfortunately in the midsts of time has been wrongly relegated to novelty value. Crashing in and bowing out with a beginning and end totally unheard of in music at this point it came with a TOTP appearance that arguably rivals Bowie’s for longevity impact. ‘2 H.B.’ their tribute to Bogart and his brand of cool, ‘notes could not spell out the score ‘ croons Ferry over a cinematic background featuring stunning basslines from Graeme Simpson, ‘Here’s looking at you kid’ indeed. ‘The Bob’ is an interesting showcase for the band but somehow feels like it has been pasted together and the glue is coming apart. No such qualms arise concerning ‘Chance Meeting’ though as it seamlessly blends Ferry’s vocal, piano, synthesizer and guitar to stunning effect. ‘Would you Believe’ is a saxophone shrouded fifties homage that rocks out to riotous effect. ‘Sea Breezes’ is a melancholic wistful paean to lost love and echoes the Shangri La’s ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’ in its evocative qualities. The clunky middle section however fells unnecessary and spoils the mood somewhat but this is minor quibbling. ‘Bitters End’ re-introduces the cocktail party theme, the bands humorous side and is short, sweet and pitch perfect.
‘Roxy Music’ then was very much not of its time but somehow reinventing it. Probably the most surprising thing about it is how willingly it was lapped up by both the critics and the public. This can only have been further enforced by the album’s cover art featuring Kari-Ann Moller in reclining fifties starlet pose injecting a unique ‘You’re so sheer, you’re so chic’ with ‘hipster jiving’ equilibrium into the mix. A whole world for the listener to escape into was being created here. Despite the fact the production by Pete Sinfield was sterile and unsympathetic Ferry’s songs and the bands virtuosity rose above this to create a classic album. The production on their second album ‘For Your Pleasure’ –Ferry’s personal favourite and mine also if truth be told- was far superior and the sound crystallised into something akin to dark frozen fires. The first side with classics like ‘Do the Strand’, ‘Editions of You. And ‘Beauty Queen’ were a step forward from the first album whilst the second sides musical adventures were a huge leap into the unknown. By the time of their third album ‘Stranded’ Ferry had ostensibly disposed of Eno and taken command of the band. The song-writing took a more conventional approach although the closing trio of ‘Song for Europe’,’Mother of Pearl’ and ‘Sunset’ rank amongst the bands best. ‘Country Life’ was essentially ‘Stranded 2’ in structure and creativity though the claustrophobic shrill of ‘The Thrill of it All’, ‘Casanova’ and ‘Prairie Rose’ still captivated even if complacency was creeping in. Roxy mark one bowed out with the white flag of surrender that was ‘Siren’ with only ‘Love is the Drug’ and a blistering, sweltering ‘Both Ends Burning’ capturing the bands initial promise. The band disbanded then on a long sabbatical whilst Ferry concentrated on his solo career only to return in 1979 remade and remodelled for greater commercial success matched with diminishing artistic results. Brian Eno meanwhile exerted his influence by nominally inventing ambient music, working with Bowie on ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ and playing a major role in Talking Heads’ development.
It was on their eponymous debut though that all the members of Roxy Music collaborated most successfully. Although the production does leave a lot to be desired this can be said of many classic albums –‘Raw Power’, ‘Velvet Underground and Nico’ ‘New York Dolls’- as perhaps the present had yet to catch up with the future. Oh and in answer to that perennial question of whether it is a recording session or a cocktail party, perhaps it is both and that is perhaps one of the more prescient qualities of this album.
Raw Power- Iggy and the Stooges
Three albums into their hectic career ‘Raw Power’ was the Stooges last ditch chance at mainstream success. Having relocated to London from a floundering career mired in heroin addiction and a debauched lifestyle in the demi-monde,Iggy Pop, under the protective wing of David Bowie and Tony Defries’s Mainman organisation, saw the jaws of success gaping open ready to receive him. Nonchalantly rejecting all the musicians offered to him by his new mentors Iggy set about surreptitiously importing his former Stooges cohorts and new wunderkind James Williamson who he positioned as the Keef to his Mick. A work ethic in place the band honed their material into a cohesive shape over many months. Unfortunately the plans for world domination never reached fruition partly due to the fact that DeFries had no idea how to present his new wayward charges to an unsuspecting public therefore their profile was restrained into one live London show-which included a certain John Lydon among its attendees- whilst the original tapes for ‘Raw Power’ languished in the vault for nearly a year whilst he worked out how to salvage them into some form of commercial product. He was also preoccupied with breaking Bowie, his brightest star, and was not so keen in promoting anyone so obviously a major influence on his great hope. The Stooges were to all intents and purposes shafted yet again though little did they know that the album that emerged from this quagmire generally dismissed on release would be hailed as a classic by the emerging punk scene. Paradoxically Bowie-desperate to make an album for the future- was drafted in at the last moment to mix the tapes handed in the band and inadvertently created an album that was very much of the future the only thing was no-one realsed this the time.
Opening with ‘Search and Destroy’ and capturing the aural equivalent of a sword fight, Iggy as ‘the world’s forgotten boy’ is ‘a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm’ very much lays his intentions out for all to bear witness to. This is blood thirsty rock and roll with snake eyed and snake hipped bravado. ‘Gimme Danger’ he malevolently drawls on the second track and promises ‘I’ll be your disease’. I, for one don’t want no cure! ‘ Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell’ is the Stones de-aged, speeded up and dragged down into the furthest slime pits of hell where being bad guarantees the best time of all. ‘Penetration’ does exactly that with a deep, dark, delicious groove that eats its way into your soul and doesn’t even want to look for an escape route. The title track rocks frantically whilst you ‘dance to the beat of the living dead’ and delight in thoughts of’ ‘falling in love in the underworld’. ‘I Need Somebody’ is bluesy and atmospheric as Iggy coils his way around the lyrics like a python strangling its prey. ‘Shake Appeal’ is poptastic and one wonders how DeFries could not see the potential of the band and promoted them accordingly. ‘Death Trip’, the closer, is exactly that and has the sound of a band who knows they are doomed and damned to hell. It is a bitter indictment and a prophetic omen.
‘Raw Power’ although the third album of the Stooges career was a departure from the bands two previous outings and with hindsight emerges a progression as inevitable as it was unexpected. Their eponymous debut was a buzz guitar drenched garage band outing with classics like ‘1969’ , ‘No Fun’ and ‘I Wanna be your Dog’ whilst 1970’s ‘Funhouse’ added saxophone and freeform jazz approaches into the mix best captured on ‘Dirt’ and ‘TV Eye’ all held together with the internal groove of a band who understand each others instincts perfectly. Despite being tight musically the band was disintegrating into a drug and alcohol fuelled spiral that culminated in them being dropped by their record company and it wasn’t until Bowie swept in like a glittering angel of mercy that Iggy was able to drag himself out of his narcotic mire. Things weren’t always amicable between Iggy and Ziggy however as on hearing Bowie’s mix of ‘Raw Power’ Iggy exploded with a ‘that fucking carrot top ruined my album’. This is an opinion that he has since modified and after a shot at remixing the album himself- an everything in the red mix stunning in intensity but hard going to listen to- chose Bowie’s mix for the recently released legacy edition.
After the initial failure of ‘Raw Power’ the Stooges and, in particular, Iggy descended into mayhem and addiction yet again. This time Iggy checked into a mental institution and on weekend breaks collaborated with Williamson on the underrated and overlooked ‘Kill City’ album. At this juncture Iggy really was the worlds forgotten boy and functioned as little more than a pin up boy for the international trash-can set. It was Bowie to the rescue again however as taking his friend and erstwhile rival under his wing and on tour he helped Iggy to rebuild his life and career. Relocating to Berlin to wean themselves off various drug habits the pair created a brace of masterpieces- four in all- with Iggy’s name on two of them that again helped to shape the future. By 1977 the world had caught up with The Stooges output and the world’s not so forgotten boy was being hailed as the Godfather of Punk. ‘The Idiot’ the first of the Bowie collaborations presented some dark twisted early electro experiments including ‘Nightclubbing’ and the definitive version of ‘China Girl’- later a global hit for Bowie who recorded it partly as a measure to keep the IRS off his friends back and to prevent him going to jail. ‘Lust for Life’ kicks itself into gear with Iggy’s verve restored and the title track and ‘The Passenger’have become bona-fide standards. After this the pair parted ways and Pop’s output became patchy. ‘New Values’ and ‘Soldier’ had something to recommend them but 1981’s ‘Party’ was a shambles. ‘Zombie Birdhouse’ offered up a redemptive respite but Iggy’s career never really gained and footing until he teamed up with Bowie on1986’s ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’ and his only top ten hit so far, ‘Real Wild Child’. After this Iggy’s recorded output took second place to his newfound career as rock legend. His live performances had always outshone his records so it is fitting that this is the route he should choose to take. Constantly name-checked and voted as no.1 rock performer anyone who has not seen Iggy live in concert might be forgiven for wondering what the fuss is about. To those people I suggest they visit Youtube and check out his live in Cincinatti pop festival performing ‘1970’ wherein he jumps into a crown only to disappear for a minute before appearing smeared in Peanut butter and walking across a sea of hands as a newly proclaimed Messiah. This is the eternal essence of the legend that is Iggy Pop.
Opening with the unapologetic, irreverent line ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine’ Patti Smith’s debut ‘Horses’ laid its intentions and claims bare and set the tone for 1976 as a new year zero for rock music providing the, soon to be named, Blank Generation their next angry fix. It was a great year for opening lines fellow New Yorkers the Ramones introduced themselves with the perfectly cretinous ‘Hey Ho! Let’s Go’ whilst on the other side of the Atlantic the Sex Pistols crashed in at years end with Johnny Rotten’s sneering, snarling sardonic ‘Right Now!’ followed by a salacious, vitriolic cackle that awoke a generation of teenagers inciting furore and a barrage of outraged headlines whilst giving the fledgling movement its name- Punk Rock.
‘Horses’ though despite housing some of this new attitude – Smith was 29 and obviously no angry teen- created an attitude all its own. Previous attempts at merging rock with poetry were not wholly successful- Dylan and Cohen aside- and its most famous instigator Jim Morrison often delved into overblown theatrics and 6th form poetry alongside some genuinely inspiring efforts. At the end of his life and career he was a bloated, corpulent unrecognisable, over indulgent wreck a similar state to the one that rock music found itself in during the mid seventies. ‘Horses’ was the album that allowed rock music to redeem itself and re-embrace the initial excitement that birthed different generations from the late ‘50’s onward.
The opening salvo of Smiths declamatory line merged effortlessly into Van Morrison’s beat garage classic ‘Gloria’ but arranged and adapted in a way its composer could never have envisioned. Here was a female pushing the sexual boundaries and blurring gender by covering a song from a male perspective with a defiantly strong female perspective. Shot through with bravado the vocal and backing spiral into a primal crescendo to twist and turn then burn and explode in equal measure. It is an astounding track that loses none of its energy through the passing of time. It is raw, untamed rock and roll music. ‘Redondo Beach’ up next provides an aural decompression chamber that allows the listener to gather themselves and its slinky reggae-lite rhythms house a tale of lesbian suicide itself nailing two taboo subjects simultaneously. It makes way for what is Smith’s boldest attempt herein to merge poetry and music ‘Birdland’. Accompanied by Richard Sohl on piano Smith details a tale of a father and son abducted by aliens and at points Sohl follows the singers words with literary motifs that capture her meaning perfectly. Dripping piano arpeggios accompany images of ‘butter on all the finer points of the stars’ exquisitely. Guitars fade in and out and merge into a sonic freak out with Smith inventing rant-ology eventually submitting to the soothing whims of an alien lullaby ‘sha da doo wop da shaman do way’ obviously picked up on intergalactic frequencies. ‘Free Money’ has a hard act to follow but does so admirably with a swirling cacophony surrounding dreams of winning the lottery and the misguided belief of how ‘our troubles will be gone’ as there is no such thing as being able to ‘free’ money likewise there is no such thing as ‘free money’.
Side 2 – it is important to consider this album contextually- opens with ‘Kimberley’ a paean to Smith’s younger sibling with ‘balls of jade’ ‘lightning, tightening’ and planets that stop wrapped up, not, in ‘swaddling clothes’ but a delicious melody that should have been number one all over the world. As Smith swoons over the closing refrain of ‘The palm trees fall into the sea/it doesn’t matter much to me as long as you’re safe Kimberley’ a state of bliss can be achieved. ‘Break it Up’ came to Smith in a dream about Jim Morrison whilst Tom Verlaine-of Television another New York band making waves at this time- shares a writers credit and the spotlight with a guitar that articulates powerfully alongside the vocal. The big one is up next as Smith whispers the intro to ‘Land’ summoning up images of locker room male rape alongside the pulsating rhythms of ‘horses, horses, horses coming in in all directions’ before launching into a total re-imagining of ‘Land of a Thousand Dances’ where free form musical soundscapes merge with poetry and stream of consciousness coming in from all directions. ‘Seize the possibilities’ becomes ‘the sea’s the possibilities’ to one who ‘sees the possibilities’ until the listener is completely consumed and overwhelmed much like Johnny the male protagonist at the songs opening. ‘Go Rimbaud/ Go Johnny Go’ exhorts Smith on a rollercoaster aural adventure that is primal in extremis. Melting into’ Elegie’ a beautiful hymnal conclusion ‘Horses’ bows out leaving its listener numb and moved simultaneously.
Although the album was produced by ex Velvet Underground member John Cale this is very much Smith’s vision and indeed the sessions were reportedly fraught with friction. However the best rock music is usually borne out of tension. It was very much a complete package as the cover itself has remained iconic presenting a monochrome background featuring a strident, androgynous Smith striking a nonchalant pose in a suit with her jacket draped over her shoulder emulating Frank Sinatra. It is effortless, studied cool captured by Robert Mapplethorpe – a former paramour of Smith’s- himself about to gain recognition in the photography world as an innovator. Smith’s pose and demeanour captured the emerging attitude succinctly and created a place for women in rock music that previously didn’t exist. Poor Janis Joplin tried but in her times the male reigned supreme resulting in her being overwhelmed and making ill advised and misguided attempts to feminise herself with the outcome she merely resembled a tragic drag queen, all satin and tat. Smith’s iconic pose, however, was challenging and made no apologies for being so.
Smith’s moment never shone brighter however and her follow up ‘Radio Ethiopia’ was plagued with accusations of over indulgence. In hindsight it is still a great album with only the over extended closing title track being worthy of this criticism. ‘Easter’ was to follow with a more conventional sound that gave Smith her only chart hit the co-written by Springsteen ‘Because the Night’. The fourth album ‘Wave’ is a bland uninspired mess that collapsed after the third track, fittingly a cover of The Byrds’ ‘So you Want to be a Rock and Roll Star’ itself a description of the disillusion of being in the music industry. ‘Wave’ signalled some form of artistic collapse and emerged as Smith’s adieu to a form that seemingly no longer inspired her. By this juncture she had ceased being a poet playing at being a rock star and had become a rock star playing at being a poet and probably realised this dichotomy and ostensibly retired from the music business to get married, raise a family and hopefully re-ignite her muse. It was many years before she was to record again and she never reached the un-scaleable heights of her debut. Then again very few ever did.
‘Horses’ is a perennial classic that always rewards repeated listings due to the values contained within. Johnny Rotten may have at the time dismissed it as ‘Horse Shit’ but its pretensions are real and rooted in trying to awaken a generation into finding the essence of rock and roll, giving it a voice all its own, much like the Sex Pistols. Its musicality – Lenny Kaye’s basic three chord guitar riffs, Jay Dee Daugherty’s solid drumming, Richard Sohl’s piano flourishes- and Smith’s vision wrapped up in Cale’s sympathetic production ensure that it remains an enduring classic that whilst a product of its time is not entrenched there.
Released in January 1994 Underworld created an album of dark house music that you would want to play at home. Up until this point only Orbital had really weighed in with anything resembling a dance style album. As the movement relied on speed of sound, new styles being adapted and wrapped up quickly to capture the weekend’s zeitgeist as it happened, singles and various mixes of said singles were the method of choice. Having been around in various guises since the late ‘80’s Underworld had so far had an undistinguished career trajectory thus far but this was about to change. The introduction of club DJ de jour Darren Emerson who joined Karl Hyde and Rick Smith with the intent of supplying some youthful kudos to their experience provided the edge which had so far eluded them. Where they managed to differentiate themselves from Orbital and most other dance acts was the inclusion of Hyde’s vocals which though technically none too proficient lent them a rock and roll edge their contempories lacked and this granted them some crossover appeal. The time was also right. The lack of vocals and lyrics on the dance scene was starting to dehumanise the music and their audience hadn’t even realised what they were missing until this album swept in to remind them. They instantaneously became the band that even those who regarded dance music with haughty disdain would admit to liking.
Opening with the throbbing bass of the perfectly titled ‘Dark and Long’ it becomes clear that this is more than a song it is a journey- quite an epic journey in fact as there is a companion extended single of further mixes each one enthralling though the 20 minute ‘Thing in a Book Mix’ version steals the show- as it bounces and pulsates to its own inevitable conclusion. ‘Mmmm Skyscraper I Love You’ is the big one here encapsulating the spirit of the band perfectly. Lyrics referring to Elvis and hearing ‘God on the phone’ lend it a grandiose epic feel that perfectly suits its 13 minute running time whilst not wasting a second. ‘Surfboy’ sounds as if it was recorded underwater and brings to mind latter day Yello. ‘Spoonman’ is like an aural equivalent of the William Burroughs cut up method. All drifting in and out voices over polyrhythmic beats intoning snatches of barely decipherable lyrics it trances its listener into a state of robotic bliss. This track then cleverly degenerates into the ambient strains of ‘Tongue’ and a very clever move it is to slow things down after the intense levels achieved thus far. ‘Dirty Epic’ restores the pace slightly as the band show off musical inventiveness with lyrical capability and interpretation. ‘Cowgirl’ still ranks as one of the best going out songs ever and along with its single counterpart ‘Rez’- still a dancefloor filler like no other 18 years hence- was probably the best single of 1993 of any genre. ‘River of Bass’ is all slinky rhythms and heavy basslines that show the band are able to adapt their abilities to more than the dancefloor whilst retaining both their integrity and identity. ‘M.E.’ closes the album on a high sense of euphoria that is as light as it is heavy.
This album really brought Underworld to the publics attention and they improved upon the themes, rhythms and stylings on 1996’s follow up ‘Second Toughest in the Infants’. Though it was a forgotten B-side from 1995 it was ‘Born Slippy’ that launched them into the charts and onto the nations lips with its chorus of ‘Lager, Lager, Lager’ in the summer of that year after it was included on the soundtrack of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. ‘Beaucoup Fish’ found the band over extending themselves though still had many inspired and inspiring moments. After this Emerson parted ways with Smith and Hyde who continued as a duo. They never reached the same highs as they had previously and only 2007’s ‘Oblivion with Bells’ echoed the standards they reached in those heady early to mid nineties when they were ahead of the pack. Many individual tracks still stand out but ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ soundtracked so many after parties at its time of release that this ensured that they would never have so much influence ever again. But at the time, well what a swell party it was.