Has it really been 4 years since Underworld released an album? If you want to count their excellent live document Everything, Everything as a release, I guess it's only been 2, but it still seems like quite awhile. It was also just after the release of said disc that rumors started flying about the group breaking up, with no answers to come for quite some time. As it happened, member Darren Emerson left the group to pursue DJing full time, but Karl Hyde and Rick Smith stayed on, kept the name, and chugged away, bound to deliver another release into the world.
Those who have been following the group for a long time know that it was the two above members who were actually the original incarnation of the group anyway, way back when they formed in the late 80s and very early 90s. It was at this time that the group released several albums (Change The Weather and Underneath The Radar) which basically sounded like watered-down Depeche Mode, complete with the group members wearing pretty questionable fashion. Fortunately, the two have mainly stayed the course that everyone has known to grow and love the group for, and the good ship Underworld sails on with A Hundred Days Off.
I should mention that there are a few minor differences, some of which may be slightly off-putting to those who have been with them from what most people recognize as their first 'real' album as a trio (Dubnobasswithmyheadman). The first is that the 'clubbier' feel that started peeking through more with their Beaucoup Fish release has definitely continued onward. Although there are some slightly slower numbers on the disc, DJs are going to have a heyday with the majority of the release, as it flows along with nice BPM's and smooth beats. Another thing to notice is that the group isn't quite as moody before. Whereas their first two releases delved a lot more into the darker side of things, it was also on the aforementioned Beaucoup Fish that they lightened up a lot in terms of overall mood.
Not wasting any time in getting the 10 track, 60-plus minute release rolling, the album bursts out of the gate right off the bat with "MoMove," a fast-paced dancefloor throbber that features the ubiquitous vocals of Hyde drifting through almost atmospherically while the track steadily builds. "Two Months Off," (the first single from the album) keeps things rolling with another pulsing beat and starts out with a sample of a woman speaking before it really tears into things. The beat is very reminiscent of that of "Moaner" from the last release, except the group piles shimmering synth sounds on top of things instead of going aggro. The track still builds into a nice crescendo, but as seems to be the case with most of the album, lighter sounds are favored rather than more harsh ones.
If you're a fan of the darker energy that the group brought to their earlier releases (like Dubnobasswithmyheadman), you may find this release a little soft in the middle. In addition to the less psycho sensual mood, the beat programming is slightly less complex (the hugely varied beat progressions and structures of Second Toughest In The Infants are nowhere to be found), but the group still manages to keep things varied by throwing in some less dancey tracks. "Solo Sistim" lurks along with a mid-tempo pace and some super-thick gurgling synth stabs, while "Trim" arrives as one of the best tracks on the disc, putting a bit of twang into both the beat and vocal filters, giving the track sort of an off-kilter futuro western feel that provides a welcome breath about midway through the album. "Ess Gee" takes things down even more, delivering a pretty, instrumental track of only filtered, quiet electric guitar.
If some of the earlier tracks were designed for the dancefloor, a couple more tracks arrive later in the album that completely smoke things down. "Dinosaur Adventure 3D" cranks things up to the highest BPM on the album and filters a streamlined beat down while layering on steadily building synths and churning hi-hats. Hyde's vocals are twisted and bent to fit accordingly, and the whole thing adds up to one of the better dance tracks the group has ever done. In the end, if you're a fan of the group, you're probably going to enjoy the album. Although I've mentioned several differences above between this release and their old fare, none of them are drastic enough that those who have been following the progression of the group will probably find too overbearing. A Hundred Days Off is simply the next step in the evolving group, and it's another excellent one.