A Hundred Days Off

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As if they didn't have to prove they're still viable as a commercial and artistic outfit, Underworld's Rick Smith and Karl Hyde faced an additional challenge for A Hundred Days Off -- prove to the dance cognoscenti they could withstand the loss of Darren Emerson, the producer who kick-started the band when he joined in 1992. Unfortunately, the results prove only that Emerson most likely did contribute a certain something, now lacking, to the three LPs he graced. Underworld's trademarked sound, however, is mostly a creation of Smith and Hyde, and present from the opener, "Mo Move," wherein a dizzying cycle of gurgling bass, crepe paper percussion, and sequencers set off Hyde's lonely, adrift vocals. The album also reaches an early peak on "Two Months Off," with a repeated synthesizer riff playing off a brilliant succession of harmonies and basslines, with a hypnotizing performance by Hyde over the top. From there, the album heads off into a succession of overly familiar tracks, either po-mo acid house blues à la Dubnobasswithmyheadman ("Sola Sistim," "Trim," "Ballet Lane") or minimalist, pinpoint techno ("Dinosaur Adventure 3D," "Luetin"). Surprisingly, counter to expectations after the brash youngster leaves the fold, A Hundred Days Off doesn't suffer from the oldster syndrome; the production is edgy and up-to-date as usual, but the songs lack the energy, the feeling, and even the melody of Underworld's classic records.

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