Underworld’s Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future
On their ninth album Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future, Underworld have made some of their most vital work without compromising any of the aspects of their sound that a modern audience might scan as dated. All of these songs sound like they could have been made in 1997, perhaps even earlier. The drum sounds haven’t been in vogue since the first Clinton administration, and Karl Hyde—who spends most of this record speaking rather than singing—sounds like every cartoon of the aging British raver still prattling on about wankers and acid.
But Barbara is also a bracing example of the power of these sounds, still yet to be revived (though, as the great ‘90s dance albums turn 20 or 25 and get reissued, this may happen). The songs here are long, dramatic, forceful, and linear in their motion. You don’t groove to something like “I Exhale” so much as get swept away in it. Barbara Barbara asks the listener to surrender, and the hypnotic force of Rick Smith’s beats makes it easy to comply.
To call these tracks “violent” would be inaccurate. The drums here sound like they can do some damage. But there’s a tenderness to these songs, the same sweetness that runs through the band’s epochal early albums Dubnobasswithmyheadman and Second Toughest in the Infants. Most of the platitudes Hyde barks are utopian, though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise due to the smarm in his voice. “Everything is golden.” “Be beautiful.” That title’s not ironic.
This is more obvious on the album’s second half, when the band achieves liftoff. “Motorhome”, “Ova Nova”, and “Nylon Strung” sound like they’re made of clouds rather than iron, and they’re rife with angelic choirs (courtesy of Smith and Hyde’s daughters) and melodic guitar and synth leads. On “Ova Nova”, Hyde switches to a silky croon Underworld newbies might not have seen coming. These tracks don’t feel futuristic, but they shine with a blinding light, capping one of the most impressive arcs of any album so far this year. A MINUS
Iggy Pop's Post Pop Depression
Josh Homme and Iggy Pop. Rock’s most single-minded torch-bearer with arguably the genre’s greatest frontman ever—what could be better? But if you’re expecting a volcanic collision of the old and the new, Post Pop Depression isn’t it. Rather, this is a tired, midtempo modern rock album that’s generally listenable, great in seconds-long flashes, and often execrable.
Homme’s production and riffs are relatively restrained, which would be OK if Iggy weren’t the same way. For most of the record, the singer sounds bored. There are tantalizing hints of a more energized Iggy, as when he rants with great gusto on “Gardenia” or lets his voice cut briefly into the red on “In The Lobby”. But he mostly sounds like a crooner running at half power.
He’s most engaged on the rant that closes “Paraguay”. Except what he’s saying is odious tripe about moving somewhere “where people are still human beings” to be free of... laptops, I guess, seeing as he tells us to shove ours down our throats. It’s get-off-my-lawn bullshit mixed with Kipling exotica; he wants to eat tamales (foreign to Paraguay) and live with a bunch of servants. He clearly didn’t get the memo about decolonization.
The lyrics are this egregious only on one other occasion, namely the Hot Topic fauxetry of “Vulture”. But Homme and band indulge in the musical equivalent thereof on several occasions. “German Days” is section-shifting math metal that mostly seems to exist for gearheads to goggle at; even Pop can’t keep up with it. At least three of these songs tack on superfluous codas, and “American Valhalla” features a marimba that might have been an attempt at evoking the celesta on Raw Power’s “Penetration” but ends up sounding like a ringtone.
The only songs where Pop and the band gel are “Gardenia,” where he rides an ominous Raw Power stomp, and the sprawling “Sunday,” whose choirs and horns suggest excess might be a good route for Pop’s next album. Seeing as Pop hates electronic music, excess is pretty much the only route he has left to explore. He’s tried bringing back the fire and fury of the Stooges, but their last two albums left a lot to be desired. With Post Pop Depression, it seems he was just trying to make a good old rock album. It’s dripping with oldness, but it’s far from good. D PLUS