The first track on evidence was “Dark + Long.” It was an elegant piece of Europulse trance. The ambient house vibe played its cards very close to its vest with a subtle, low-energy attack. The relatively slow b.p.m. marked it as a dance track that also had a chill-out factor for those who wanted to lounge while listening. The melodic and rhythmic development on the track made certain that there were new twists every four bars or so. This is critical for me to come to grips with dance music of the last 25 years or so! I am really bored by a loop running for many bars with no evolution or development. Mere repetition loses me quickly as an engaged listener. As I suspected, this was more redolent of what occurred when musicians dabble in machine music as opposed to tourists. I immediately loved the track, which had a lovely vocal presence from Karl Hyde throughout its 7:36 length, which didn’t feel padded out at all. Nice.
I heard the first guitars of the album on the next track, in the long, shimmering intro to “Mmm Skyscraper I Love You.” There were also environmental sounds, until the song’s sturdy, relentless beat commenced at 0:50 and didn’t abate for quite some time. The vocal here from Hyde revealed that he’d lost none of his inscrutable lyrical verve that I had come to know and love in Freur. The lyrics here were a series of abstract couplets that strove for a vivid gestalt rather than coherence. The track had a groove that would not quit with overlays of dubbed out drum machine fillips and occasional guitars rubbing shoulders with the synth and rhythm loops. By the 7:30 point, the fever began peaking with an insistent synth hook juxtaposed against Hyde’s increasingly forceful delivery of the lyrics. The fever broke at the 9:15 mark to mutate into a chilled out coda that really, functioned as the next track segued into “Skyscraper” as far as I saw it. The coda almost had a dub reggae feel with a serpentine guitar lick used most rhythmically. This 13:09 track earned its playing time pretty effectively. So far, so good.
I can’t say the same for “Surfboy,” which felt padded out at 7:34. This could be the B-side of any anonymous progressive trance 12″ pulled at random from a milk crate in a DJ specialist shop. Completely lacking in character, it was a real come down from the very distinct and vivid artistic point of view on evidence on the first two tracks. Letting Emerson run riot without Hyde to add the necessary element X to the mix here was a bad idea, in my opinion. This was exactly what I was afraid of hearing from Underworld MK II.
“Unfortunately, “Spoonman” didn’t make up for it. I really hated the ring modulator abuse on the vocal intro. It reminded me of one of my least favorite techno cuts in my Record Cell, The Guy Called Gerald mix of Bowie’s”Telling Lies.” The repetitive and manipulated vocals strove to make me disengage from this track. After 2:30 Hyde made his appearance on vox, and that worked better for me. But the track was still shot through with Hyde moaning through a ring modulator filter. That really grated with me. The track just didn’t seem to attain the integrity that the first two tracks effortlessly achieved. This could have been cut down to five minutes with most of the first third edited out, and I might have liked it more.
Then, the fifth cut [“Tongue”] appeared and it was definitely the pivot point for the album. Gone were any loops, or even rhythms. This was just Hyde singing with his spaced out guitar, with some foley effects added for atmosphere. It was a real break with everything that had come before and a great midway point for the album. If anything, it sounded like the long lost track left off of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Just scant hints of synths were there in the background until the song’s midpoint, where a rhythmic synth hook appeared. This one was a real left field winner with me. Five blissful minutes of this just made up for the previous 15 minutes of the album.
Next: …Epic length productions