A masterclass from Romford’s finest in how to do a 20th anniversary reissue
“What’s he saying?” has long been the cry ever since I’ve been playing Underworld in earshot of the offspring. “Something about a Greek hat? And salty something? Was that fish man? It gets wet? Like an angel?”
In our house, Underworld are known as Skullface, a reference to the cover of their 2002 ‘A Hundred Days Off’ album that looks like, well, a skull. To this day, they remain pretty much the only thing up my sleeve the progeny will tolerate. Why? Because no one does it quite like Underworld. No one builds tracks like they do, no one drops a beat quite like them and no one else does white-knuckle doolaalee techno shizz as good as Skullface. It’s such a basic thrill that even those with cloth ears get it.
Originally released in March 1996, ‘Second Toughest In The Infants’ was the follow-up to ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’, a debut album so brilliant that if Smith, Hyde and Emerson had packed up and become chartered accounts no one would have blamed them. Their work here was done, surely. Trying to follow that record was Stereo MCs hard. Stone Roses difficult.
Of course, we all know what happened. ‘Born Slippy (Nuxx)’ happened. Thanks to a slot in Danny Boyle’s ‘Trainspotting’, the former B-side and non-album single sold over a million copies in the UK, spent 41 weeks on the charts, topped out at number two and ended up Single of the Year in both NME and Melody Maker.
And then they followed that up with this. THIS.
‘Second Toughest…’ is Underworld’s finest hour, or one hour, 13 minutes and 12 seconds if you’re counting. And you should be, because not one second is time wasted. What’s more, the 20th anniversary is marked with so much more than an obligatory remastering and reissue.
The frankly irresistible super-deluxe four-disc edition is the only serious option as it features the album itself (remastered at Abbey Road) along with a disc of singles, B-sides and remixes, one of previously unreleased cuts and a fourth slab of demos, live takes and mixes of just one track. Which one? You really have to ask?
The album itself we know about. You don’t? Stop reading immediately. You need to head it. We’ll wait. Back? Pretty good eh? It’s a total ground zero album from which much of the last 20 years of electronic music has catapulted itself. The opening segue of ‘Juanita: Kiteless: To Dream Of Love’, followed by ‘Banstyle/Sappys Curry’ is a truly marvellous way to spend half an hour. And that’s just the first two cuts. This collection offers up over four hours of further delights.
CD2, featuring singles, B-sides and remixes, is better than many first choice standalone albums. ‘Cherry Pie’ is a total heart-stopper, re-rubbing as it does the epic swirl of ‘Rowla’; ‘Oich Oich’ is a hoot with Rick on delicious confusing word duty. CD3 meanwhile, the previously unreleased material set, is a fascinating glimpse into the creative process behind a stone-cold classic album, with early versions of ‘Confusion The Waitress’, ‘Rowla’ and ‘Pearl’s Girl’ among a mountain of ideas others can only dream of. The final disc charts the genesis of ‘(Nuxx)’ with seven versions – demos, lives, mixes – topped off with the breathtaking full-length, remastered 11 minute 46 second version of ‘Born Slippy (Nuxx)’.
Like the eight tracks on the original release weren’t enough on their own. With your boxset Skullface, you are spoiling us. It really is a complete treat. What’s he saying? “Rust on the rails”?