Underworld: Beaucoup Fish

Underworld: Beaucoup Fish

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Underworld

Album: Beaucoup Fish
Label: V2

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Just as quickly as Underworld emerged at the forefront of the media-constructed electronica movement with the unlikely hit "Born Slippy [Nuxx]" (from the Trainspotting soundtrack), the techno trio shirked its unwitting responsibility as the leader of the new digital school and, for all intents and purposes, vanished. In the band's absence, the electronica firecracker fizzled—though Underworld's second album, Second Toughest In The Infants, would sell a respectable 100,000 copies—and the radio stations that played "Born Slippy" reverted to rock-focused business as usual. The much-anticipated Beaucoup Fish, therefore, is bound to be either a masterful return to the scene or a bit of an anticlimax. After all, with its subtle hints of drum-and-bass, accessible arrangements, and marketable catch phrases—in the realm of pop music, singing still equals songs, and no matter how stream-of-consciousness Karl Hyde's vocals may be, in the ears of programmers they're still better than nothing—Underworld was set to explode. Instead, the band chose the quieter, more challenging route. It's very likely that Underworld missed its window of opportunity for chart domination, as three years is an eternity between albums, especially in a genre as temporal as dance music. So Beaucoup Fish is in some sense a fresh start: No longer propelled by a certain cultural inertia, Underworld must convince its fans and sort-of-fans that its new album was worth the wait. The album does feature a couple of stunningly mutable techno anthems: The 12-minute "Cups" and the 10-minute Eurodisco tribute "Shudder/King Of Snake" change with every measure and offer new surprises with each listen. Meanwhile, funky, house-driven pop nuggets like "Push Upstairs" and "Bruce Lee" actually resonate as songs. Like its predecessor, though, Beaucoup Fish is too unfocused to prove consistently potent. Those willing to dedicate the headphone time needed to pick out the best moments will be rewarded with supple song structures and subtle touches, but those still unconvinced by the power of the beat will in all likelihood remain unconvinced.

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