When originally released, Dubnobass was interesting because it toyed with different instruments and styles.
In October, Underworld reissued a Super Deluxe Edition of its Dubnobasswithmyheadman album, which was originally released in 1994. Included in the SDE is a compact book with memorabilia and new artwork from Tomato, the art design collective behind the original album’s artwork, and five discs: remastered versions of the tracks from the original album; singles from 1991 through 1994; remixes from 1992 through 1994; previously unreleased recordings from 1991 through 1993; and unreleased live rehearsal recordings from 1993.
At the time Dubnobass was released, electronic dance music (EDM) was in a wildly experimental phase in the U.S., exploding into different styles, flirting with public consciousness through the increasing celebrity of DJs and Club Kids and presence in film scores, but not yet mainstream. Tracks of Dubnobass were played at clubs and in raves, but the album itself was not as influential in the U.S. as it was in the U.K., where it was at the forefront of a wave of electronic sound maturation. The group didn’t become prominent in America until the 1996 release of the film Trainspotting, which featured Underworld’s “Born Slippy.NUXX” and “Dark & Long (Dark Train).”
When originally released, Dubnobass was interesting because it toyed with different instruments and styles. Whether or not by design, it reflected the licentious underbelly of club culture pervasive in the mid-1990s: C-kids on fire, capable of moving life at sonic speed (gelling flash mob parties before texting was available), demanding everything, most of all experiences—via drugs, sex, love, or anything else—and willing to adventure into dark corners of humanity with zeal to seize what they want.
Due to the remastering, all tracks are now crystal clear and precise; although this causes melodies to stand out, other qualities have been lost. For example, while the trance-like qualities of “Spoonman” have been enhanced, the creepy, trilling synthesized voice is now less arresting. “Dirty Epic” sounds even more like it borrowed and stretched a musical riff from U2’s “With or Without You.” “Cowgirl” has lost the gritty quality that once gave it substance, and the chirps that had artificially heightened tempo are now drowned crickets in a field of melded sound.
All of the tracks in the SDE originate from the early- to mid-1990s. None have been updated to be relevant to today despite the bounty of sounds contained in the SDE, including a jaunty harmonica in Big Mouth (CD5), from which Dubnobass could be contemporized or new music constructed. As a result, the overall SDE is slow and unexciting. With the exception of “Tongue,” which sounds like it might have been composed today, and the timeless “Cowgirl” (“Rez”, often accompanying “Cowgirl,” will sound too much like a tune from an early video game to be timeless), the material sounds stale and unimaginative.
As the music directors of the opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England, the duo of Underworld demonstrated they can still be relevant. Hopefully, the group won’t miss the chance to do the same with their next SDE, which presumably will include the song that brought them to global prominence, “Born Slippy.” C+ | Ashby Walters