UK techno overlords Underworld have been twisting the dials and tweaking the EQs for 20-odd years now. To celebrate that fact, and to honor Rick Smith and Karl Hyde’s recent appointment as music directors for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, the band have released two new compilation albums.
1992-2012 is the more comprehensive of the two releases, being a multi-disc overarching collection of singles and rarities, with the songs presented in their epic glowstick-waving and pounding glory. A Collection serves as a single disc companion, whipping through the band’s career at a barreling pace, with tracks edited down to ‘single’ length.
I have to admit to being very dubious when I heard about the upcoming release of A Collection. Underworld are renowned for their gigantic pumping soundcapes, so the idea of a single cuts compilation, along with a few new collaborations included didn’t exactly sit well—it all sounded a bit too poppy and twee for me. Still, I’m happy to report I was completely wrong on that front, and the album’s brevity and pace makes for a right storming chunk of pristine electronica.
A Collection Kicks off with three admirable new tracks that don’t seem out of place in the slightest, which is a huge sigh of relief as that’s definitely not always the case with compilations featuring new material. Underworld then set to running through a true ‘best of’ collection. “Jumbo”, “Two Months Off”, “Pearl’s Girl”, and obviously “Born Slippy NUXX”, are all here— sounding crisp and downright frisky after being condensed down to their core exhilarating essence. And there are new 2011 edits for “Dark and Long (Dark Train)”, “Mmm Skyscraper I Love You” and “Rez”, as well as a bracing live version of “Cowgirl” that’ll have you shaking in your boots. At least it will if you play it at the maximum volume it deserves.
There’s always going to be tracks you’d like to see on a ‘best of’ that don’t make an appearance, but that’s excusable on a single disc set endeavoring to encompass a two decade long discography. As it is, A Collection is damn entertaining. Summing up Underworld’s extensive works was never going to be easy. But with 16 tracks and some exciting new collaborations, it’s a great primer for anyone who’s skipped the pioneering electronic act, and a fantastic reminder of the heady days when electronic music was concerned with plugging straight into the heart of sweaty rave culture.