Oblivion with Bells

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Like their heroes Kraftwerk, Underworld's Karl Hyde and Rick Smith appear to work in a completely sterile environment, unbothered by charts or sales projections or label concerns about their marketing abilities. They simply reemerge periodically with another full-length of precise but swinging techno, with vocals that somehow create a rather plaintive sense of detachment (Radiohead's similarity in this area should not be overlooked). More than 2002's A Hundred Days Off or 1998's Beaucoup Fish, Oblivion with Bells harks back to Underworld's 1993 rebirth with the epic Dubnobasswithmyheadman. (Even the cover design and accordion-style liner notes are similar.) The acid techno is firmly in place, with little or no regard for developments in the form after the '80s. Still, unlike other electronica mainstays who have occasionally revealed a little weariness -- either from trying to change or trying to stay the same -- Underworld never sound particularly tired on Oblivion with Bells. Granted, the music is less innovative than before, and also more quiet, which makes Hyde's vocals more critical than they've ever been. Unfortunately, however, they don't benefit from the scrutiny. "Ring Road" and "Holding the Moth" are particularly odd, utilizing Underworld's usual cut-and-paste phraseology, but with productions and performances that never come together like their classics "Dark & Long" or "Pearls Girl."

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