The third (or fifth) Underworld album was released in 1999, three years after the unexpected mega success of the Born Slippy .NUXX single. A look back at a dance classic, that still holds up very well today.
In 1979 Karl Hyde and Rick Smith formed the band The Screen Gemz, who were inspired by Kraftwerk and reggae. The band expanded, started making new wave synth pop, was renamed to Freur, signed to CBS, released their debut Doot-Doot and disbanded following CBS’s refusal to release their follow-up Get Us Out Of Here in other countries except The Netherlands and Germany. In 1985 the band contributed to the musical score of the horror movie Underworld (also known as Transmutations).
After disbanding Freur the band rebooted using the moniker Underworld. The band played funky electropop with the guitar playing a prominent role. The band was signed to Sire Records and made two albums: Underneath The Radar (1988) and Change The Weather (1989). In 1990 they disbanded.
After a period where Hyde and Smith focused on several art projects and released music in small numbers using names like “Lemon Interupt” and “Steppin’ Razor”, they enlisted DJ Darren Emerson and started making music using their former moniker Underworld. Because the new Underworld incarnation, as well as the musical direction, differed greatly from the first, the first (the band active until 1990) is referred to as ‘Underworld Mk1’. The current name Underworld actually refers to ‘Underworld Mk2’.
The musical focus was redirected to dance music, melting techno, house, drum and bass and more experimental music naturally into one. The first album dubnobasswithmyheadman was released in 1994 and was very well received, although mainly by critics. The second album, the brilliant Second Toughest In The Infants, turned into a moderate commercial success.
In 1996 the movie Trainspotting was released and became hugely successful. The song Dark & Long (Dark Train) was part of its soundtrack. But it was the second song Born Slippy .NUXX, which had been previously released as a B-side to the (instrumental single Born Slippy in 1995, that turned Underworld into a household name in 1996 (both of the single’s tracks were not part of the Second Toughest In The Infants tracklist). Born Slippy .NUXX is the best known Underworld song and is regarded as one of the best dance songs of the 1990’s.
Expectations for the new Underworld were sky high. Was the band able to match the artistic success of Second Toughest In The Infants and the commercial success of Born Slippy .NUXX as well? It was near impossible to answer that question with a ‘yes’, and still: I love the album.
Recording the album had its difficulties. Hyde struggled with an alcohol problem (which had been dealt with by the time the album was done, at least that’s what he himself said). The three band members barely worked as a unit, favoring communication through DAT tapes, which were filled with ideas and music recorded in each of the member’s individual studios. Despite the problems, the music didn’t suffer and even suggests that a lot more music was a real possibility. Clocking in at 74 minutes the album could not have lasted much longer, because that was the maximum capacity of the compact-disc at the time. Glowing songs show that inspiration was there in abundance and that dance was a definite enrichment of the musical spectrum. The old-fashioned notion that dance music was nothing more than pushing a few buttons and therefore could not generate great music was (once again) repudiated.
The cover design was done by art collective Tomato, of which Underworld was (and still is) a part. Each page in the liner notes portrays a stylish shape in a deep blue (ocean-like) field. The shapes refer to the format in which the album was available: a circle for the cd, a square for the vinyl and a rectangle for the MiniDisc and cassette.
Due to delays in the album’s release, the album cover inadvertently sates 1998 to the year of release.
The album title was decided upon fairly late in the process. Initially, the band planned on using Tonight Matthew, I’m Going To Be Underworld, named after a phrase that was used in the English TV show Stars In Their Eyes. Because of fears that the album title would be misunderstood abroad, the album title was changed to Beaucoup Fish, which was in turn used in a sample of spoken text in the song Jumbo, in which the term “bookoo fish” is used in a local American accent.
In a number of reviews Beaucoup Fish was referred to as the Dark Side Of The Moon of dance, which was meant to be a compliment. True, it really is a classic. The number of fantastic songs is incredibly high and the album contains Jumbo, one of the very best songs of all time and the most moving dance song I know. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but there is something to the song that moves me again and again. It is part of my 10 best songs of all time and my overview of the best Underworld singles for a reason.
As far as I’m concerned Beaucoup Fish has all the elements that make Underworld so irresistible to me. Warm, swinging electronic music with repetitive mantra like lyrics. It is, combined with its follow-up Everything, Everything (number 28 in my album top 50), my favorite Underworld/dance album. There are very few albums that open with four consecutive strong songs, that make up for over 30 minutes of perfection. After two more mellow tracks, the album is propelled forward once again with Bruce Lee (a great combination of rock and dance). The only song I don’t care for too much is Push Downstairs.
All songs written by Underworld (Darren Emerson, Karl Hyde en Rick Smith), except Shudder/King of Snake written by Underworld, Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte.
- Push Upstairs
- Shudder/King of Snake
- Bruce Lee
- Push Downstairs
- Something Like a Mama
Five singles were culled from the album. Moaner was released two years prior to the album’s release, in 1997 as part of the Batman & Robin movie soundtrack. The other four singles were all released in 1999: Push Upstairs, Jumbo, King Of Snake and Bruce Lee, of which the first two became hits and were played a lot in clubs.
In the United States and Canada all 1999 singles were compiled into a box-set, titled Beaucoup Fish Singles, also including all alternative mixes.
After Beaucoup Fish
Immediately following the release of Beaucoup Fish Underworld went on an elaborate tour. Ticket sales soared and the tour was very well received. In 2000 the tour was compiled on cd and dvd: Everything, Everything (number 28 in my album top 50).
But, the problems within Underworld weren’t completely done: Darren Emerson left the band, upon which Hyde and Smith decided to go on as a duo. In 2002 the album A Hundred Days Off was released, one year later followed by the career overview 1992–2002. After a couple of tours, special mixes and a limited edition live album, the band released the album Oblivion With Bellsin 2007, which was followed by Barking in 2010.
In 2011 Underworld were asked to provide music for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London 2012, for which they were awarded with the 2012 Q Award for Innovation in Sound.
In 2014 the band started with remastering and re-releasing their officially released albums. The first was dubnobasswithmyheadman, which the band promoted by doing a tour. Underworld came to Amsterdam and played two highly entertaining shows in a sold-out Paradiso. In the midst of the re-releases Underworld announced the release of a new album in 2016: Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future. The release was followed by yet another tour, that brought the band back to the Paradiso. As impossible as it sounds, these shows were even better than the shows the previous year. On August 25th, 2017, the expanded, remastered version of Beaucoup Fish was released.
Nowadays Underworld is halfway through a project called World of Underworld. The project looks back and forwards and allows the band to experiment with images and sounds.
What’s your opinion on Beaucoup Fish? Let me know!
Underworld image: popmatters.com
Freur (pre Underworld), Underworld – Born Slippy en Underworld – Beaucoup Fish – Singles images: discogs.com
Underworld – Beaucoup Fish image: underworldlive.com
Underworld – Beaucoup Fish – Ad image: amazon.com
Underworld image: residentadvisor.net