There was a point a few years ago when many of the biggest live dance-music acts of the 1990s took the same path that many rock bands go down: They started to sell tickets to their once-seminal concerts because of music from their past albums, not their current work.
Underworld are one of those acts. Having produced some of the most memorable electronic songs of the 1990s (“Born Slippy,” “Push Upstairs”), the U.K. act (less one-time member Darren Emerson) spent the 2000s releasing records to varying critical success.
On their new album, “Barking,” the duo — Karl Hyde and Rick Smith — seem to have come to a bit of a creative standstill. All but one of the 10 tracks are written or produced with other artists. Among the collaborators on the album are dubstep producer Appleblim, Welsh drum-and-bass artist High Contrast, former Deep Dish DJ Dubfire and Toolroom Records head Mark Knight. The overall feel is of an Underworld remix album, which is likely to disappoint all but the most die-hard fans.
That should not detract from the band’s live shows, however. Underworld have managed to sell out arenas over the last two decades because they are one of the best live acts of their generation. Their performances combine anthemic techno with Hyde’s unique vocal style and visuals from one of the band’s other projects, design outfit Tomato.
The band also pay attention to their audience: Underworld know the bigger hits from their back catalog will always be the ones that get the crowd, and themselves, into a frenzy. On the first single from “Barking,” “Always Loved A Film,” Hyde also seems to be talking about his love of the live circuit: “I don’t know if I love you more / Than the way you used to love me / And I don’t know if I need you more / Than the way you used to need me.”