Thursday, September 10, 2009
"Born Slippy .NUXX" by Underworld (1996)
It’s a funny thing, memory. I was just listening the other day to Black Sabbath, to the Sex Pistols, to Nine Inch Nails. I even tried to listen to Led Zeppelin (couldn’t quite bear it, though). I was struck by the fact that songs that seem in our memories to be hard as nails turn out, listening again, to be soft little lumps of Jello. I mean, Ozzy Osbourne gurgling “I am Iron man!”? That’s comedy, not horror.
Which brings us to the present song, perhaps the only song in history to be harder than memory serves. Unlike so many songs that end by simulating dawn, this one starts in sunshine until the babbling words and thumping drums conspire to slowly drag you down.
Down where? Into hell? No, no, but at least into oblivion. This is a song that makes no sense pouring out of little computer speakers. It can only truly be observed on a crowded dance floor bathed in strobes and sweat. Apparently there are lyrics, though all I’ve ever heard is the words ‘boy’, ‘lager’ and ‘mega mega white thing’ over and over again. Of course, the lyrics aren’t the point at all.
Well, what is the point? Our boys in Underworld insist the song was all a joke. It’s apparently a remix of a song that I’ve never heard called “Born Slippy”. The remix was meant to be preposterous, its shouted vocals and relentless beats meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
Which goes to show you, of course, the truism that it is the people who create art who are least likely to be able to evaluate it. Additionally, it goes to show just how much Underworld themselves have stumbled aimlessly through their career like an escaped mental ward patient.
Underworld started in the early eighties in a group that, years before Prince did it, were known only as a squiggle, though they did relent and allow themselves to be called “Freur”. They then turned themselves into a crap band called Underworld, not to be confused with the middling band in question called Underworld. This one survived for precisely two albums., whose covers make them appear to have been Adam and the Ants or Sigue Sigue Sputnik or some nonsense.
Only after all that did Underworld, like the Bee-Gees before them, realize that they weren’t quite too old to start making the intelligent dance music that the kids were digging. Even at that, of course, though the music’s listenablility improved, they were still pretty much a failure. It took “Trainspotting”, the movie about Scottish junkies whose soundtrack was a defining feature of 90’s British musical ethos, to transform the two-year-old b-side of a flop single into an international hit and slice of ‘zeitgiest’.
Thank God for Scottish junkies.
It’s actually amazing in today’s more conservative musical climate to think that there was once a time when a song as extreme as this could even approach mainstream success. As it was, it was no Christmas number one, but it was ubiquitous enough that your grandmother might have spoke about ‘that strange song about lager’. Almost ten minutes long, largely amelodic thumping, it’s unlikely to inspire a Britney Spears cover. Yet there was a time when this is what radio sounded like.
That time was more than ten years ago now. And yet Underworld, active since the early eighties, are still soldiering on, unaware that they remain a 25-year one-hit-wonder.