Underworld - Oblivion With Bells
Review by Jack Foley
THE fifth studio album from Underworld duo Rick Smith and Karl Hyde marks a return to the trance-like ambience of their earliest work rather than the thumping club influence of landmark tracks Born Slippy and Pearl’s Girl.
It’s a soulful, often contemplative record that’s much more intimate than lead track Crocodile leads you to expect. But it’s also a little too restrained and lacks a really killer track that lets you in and warm to what it has to offer.
For their fifth outing, Smith and Hyde have tapped into some sculptural orchestration, some ambient soundscaping and increased live instrumental output. It’s Underworld for sure, but not quite as we’ve come to know them.
The album kicks off in familiar style with Crocodile, a piece of psychadelic techno that thrives on haunted vocals and brisk beats. It’s reminiscent of their Born Slippy era and sets the listener up for another potential dancefloor filling classic.
But the beats largely play second fiddle to the ambience as the album settles into a more reflective place. Some tracks never catch light, such as Beautiful Burnout or Holding The Moth – great track titles that give way to dull, even monotonous records.
There’s a cinematic beauty to the deeply ambient To Heal that could place it at the centre of a Michael Mann movie or a nature documentary – it’s actually quite wondrous but short. And Ring Road embraces some urban qualities and weaves a hard-hitting tale of fear around a fairly stomping beat. It’s one of a couple of occasions when the album elevates itself above the merely curious to the utterly enthralling.
Another is Boy, Boy, Boy, which interweaves some shimmering electronic loops around a clinical back beat and some very effective vocals from Larry Mullen Jr. It’s arguably the album highlight and leaves you longing for more of the same.
The ambience returns for the obscurely named Cuddle Bunny Vs Celtic Villages, which is broken up with mechanical thumps every now and again, but Faxed Invitation sets the album back a little again with its robotic vocals and wishy-washy beats.
That said, there’s some really nice piano on the vaguely beautiful Good Morning Cockerel that provides chillout fans with a suitably calming, albeit brief moment of relaxation therapy and final track Best Mamgu Ever rounds things off nicely with some bright electronic loops and a fairly brisk beat.
But the overall impression leaves you distinctly underwhelmed. Oblivion With Bells chimes brightly in places but it leaves you with the suspicion that Underworld’s better days are behind them.
Download picks: Crocodile, To Heal, Ring Road, Boy Boy Boy, Good Morning Cockerel