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Album review: Underworld’s ‘Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future’

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Three and a half stars

Underworld Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future

Before there was big-room EDM, there was Underworld. Its dance music made actual dancing difficult because there were performers like vocalist Karl Hyde to watch, and its signature sound compelled one to react as if a favorite sporting team had just won a crucial game. Witnessing it live was (and still is) a reminder of what commercial club fare lacks: artful music, songcraft depth, original rhythms and genuine emotion.

After the dance-tent vets reissued and toured their 1994 breakthrough, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, they took their enthusiasm and channeled it into this ninth studio album. Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future is less celebratory and more introverted than 2010’s Barking, though it’s hardly restrained. It equally reveals references to the duo’s past (the Krautrockian “I Exhale” dips back into its more guitar-centric past), inspiration from other artists (“If Rah” recalls a less coy LCD Soundsystem) and studio experimentation (the flamenco-flavored throwaway “Santiago Cuatro”). While this means Barbara is sonically all over the place, its spirit and artistry is consistently and undeniably Underworld. Nowhere is this more evident than on stunning closer “Nylon Strung,” which boasts peak-hour hooks, beats and feels minus the EDM hackery. More than two decades later, Hyde and Smith remain the electronic music standard-bearers.

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