Review Summary: Monolithic.
mono·lith·ic | ˌmä-nə-ˈli-thik
1a : of, relating to, or resembling a monolith
2a : cast as a single piece
b : formed or composed of material without joints or seams
c : consisting of or constituting a single unit
3a : constituting a massive undifferentiated and often rigid whole
b : exhibiting or characterized by often rigidly fixed uniformity
(Taken from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary)
What is it that makes music monolithic? This adjective can be found describing a diverse range of objects such as natural rock formations (Uluru or Ayer’s rock, Australia), buildings (Bete Giyorgis, Ethiopia), prehistoric formations (Stonehenge, England), and man-made structures such as obelisks. Other very famous monoliths can be found in the books of Arthur C. Clarke, propelled into worldwide fame by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey
. These massive slabs of black rock convey spiritualism and power, much like many of the aforementioned objects, and in the novels and the movie they affect processes as big as evolution and technological development. Whichever way you look at it, monoliths are powerful symbols, conveying images of massiveness, solidity, and singularity.
For the world at large, Underworld are and forever will be remembered for their massive, iconic, and, dare I say it, monolithic hit Born Slippy
. Its isolated, straightforward, and repetitive beat surely is one of the most iconic in all of techno. It contrasts beautifully with the equally memorable sunny synth line found in the chorus, and to top it all off Karl Hyde’s lyrics make for a defining moment in electronic music in general, regardless of subgenre. This track, truly, is monolithic to the extreme. Underworld have released many other tracks that deserve the same description. Cowgirl
, by many fans considered to be one of their best tracks, has many of these same qualities. So do Nuxx
, Dark & Long
, Confusion The Waitress
, and Pearl’s Girl
This list can go on for quite a while. But despite all these monolithic bangers from the past, it is Beaucoup Fish, Underworld’s third techno outing (and fifth album in total, but let’s not talk about that) where the adjective is most applicable for an entire record. As can be seen immediately, it begins with the album cover. We see a singular, monochromous blue field with a single ring and a small line of text. It recalls Klein’s famous experiments with blue paintings, mirroring the French painter’s work in cover art that can easily be described as a single, undifferentiated unit, a rigid whole of fixed uniformity.
The same can be said for the music contained within. Just to get the biggest hit out of the way, let’s start with King Of Snake
. This remains one of their most popular crowd pleasers, and rightfully so. Its beat rivals the aforementioned Born Slippy
, and to anyone who knows little about the band, this track is almost equally as iconic. Beaucoup Fish contains other huge live favourites as well. Kittens
comes to mind, with its deceptively cuddly title strangely contrasting with the huge bass and beat that can shake every venue’s fundaments. Moaner
, the album’s closer, is equally gigantic, with one of Karl Hyde’s most pressing and urgent vocal performances of his entire career and a seriously addictive high note to close the album on. The album’s success is not solely based on big crowd-pleasers with monstrous beats either. The quieter moments shine strongly too, with the warmth of Jumbo
, and the moody quiet of Push Downstairs
making this into a complete experience. Even the album’s biggest side-step, Bruce Lee
, works. It foreshadows their more diverse future, and can be seen as the single moment where the album’s uniformity is shortly interrupted.
And we have not even discussed Cups
, the two-parted opener. All of Underworld's magic can be found within this twelve minute showcase of graceful melodies, groovy and playful use of rhythm, Hyde’s hypnotising flow, and enormous techno finale. It might just contain the most effective moment in their career as well, with the humorous way they trick you into believing you’ve figured out the beat, before they pull out the rug from underneath your feet when they introduce it in quite a different manner than you’d expect. To me, it works every time. A truly iconic way to start this monolith, you’re sucked in right away and the album doesn’t let go for one second.
dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworlds electronic rebirth, is seen as their best album by many. Its follow-up, Second Toughest In The Infants, gets much recognition as well. But Beaucoup Fish is undeservedly overlooked. And that is quite the feat for something as monolithic as this.