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Underworld & Iggy Pop - Teatime Dub Encounters (Album Review)

Tuesday, 31 July 2018 Written by Jacob Brookman

‘Teatime Dub Encounters’ is a new four track EP from art-rock icon Iggy Pop and British house surrealists Underworld. It’s a fun, joyous piece of escapism that reveals musicians in fine creative fettle, and also inconsistency when it comes to quality music craft.

Bells & Circles is the opener, with a galloping instrumental that builds intensity alongside an improvised monologue riffing on the concept of ‘smoking on the aeroplane’. The story Iggy tells is a nostalgic anecdote of rock star chaos in which he yearns for more feckless times. It’s glorious in its freeform poetry, anarchy and delivery. The 71-year-old singer’s voice holds bullish, if shaky, gravitas.

The backing is also awesome. Underworld have not really updated their sound since about 2002, and while that has a downside, it means that when certain tracks click, they explode with a sort of familiar brilliance.

As any dance music producer will tell you, one of the most time-consuming compositional elements is the selection of different voices for melodies. If the voicing is wrong for a line, it can confuse and upend the entire track. Bells & Circles’ balance is near-perfect.

Underworld - who have been in the game since 1980 - clearly know what works where, and this track is up there with anything they have produced over the past 15 years. It’s rich in comic imagery while retaining a narcotic - or perhaps hypnotic - intensity.

In comparison, the rest of the EP is underwhelming. One reason is that - as stated - Underworld haven’t updated their production much, so while their music retains integrity it can sound staid when they move away from their signature progressive hard house arrangements. Additionally, when considering some of the innovations of the current crop of dance producers (Jamie xx, Jon Hopkins et al) these tracks appear to lack invention.

But that first song is sublime and it elevates the entire EP. Actually, it recalls a (mostly forgotten) Iggy Pop collaboration: Aisha by Death in Vegas. Once again, the power of that track was in the balance and intensity of the backing alongside blistering improvisation. Ultimately, the challenge of consistency may be found in Iggy's gonzo approach to improv itself.

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