“It’s rare for an album everyone’s taking about to be this good”, to misquote John Peel at the time of ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’’s release bang start of 1994. He was right, of course, giving his approval to the fresh techno sounds and freaky, uneasy feel to the LP. (Surely this is one of the best debut albums of all time too. That bit hardly ever gets mentioned. Maybe because all three members Karl Hyde, Rick Smith and Darren Emerson had been around the music busines for a bunch of years prior to release).
One could say that Underworld were the first rock stars of the rave scene, their music demanding those students who got into ‘Screamdelica’ a year or two earlier now ready to go a step further down the dark, murky– and genuinely unwholesome celebrating– electro-rock road.
Indeed, this was a sort of psychedelic technological music for the post rave generation later merging with the britpop scene, sharing the Trainspotting motion picture soundtrack with such people as Elastica, Sleeper, and those other crossover techno pioneers Leftfield.
There’s a push-along hypnagogic feel throughout ‘Dubnobass….’, while vague nonsensical lyrics pepper the tracks, almost as though they’re tongue-in-cheek appeasing those people who didn’t much care for electronic instrumentals (and possibly still don’t). In fact, Hyde says of the lyrics, much of which are picked up whilst listening in to random people’s conversations in variously random public spaces, “Nothing is fixed. They’re just points for us to jump off of.”
There are moments here that recall the widescreen and tripped-out sounds of a Pink Floyd, as on Tongue, while those who prefer a bit more upfront action have such moments as the kicking, club-end lager lug buzz rave of Cowgirl, for example.
‘Dubnobass…’ still sounds fresh, and rarely has there been an LP as equal parts sexy, confusing, mellow, bonkers, and dripping full of blood-sweat-and tears as this ‘un. There’s variety to the texture and character on the LP, but it never once sounds awkward or forced. And therein lies the trick.
The group were to follow this record up with another corker a couple of years later entitled ‘Second Toughest In the Infants’, but that piece is for another day.