Ahead of its 20th anniversary next year, Underworld re-release their masterpiece, Second Toughest In The Infants as a deluxe re-mastered reissue in several formats via Universal on 20th November
(What’s The Story) Morning Glory may well have been the biggest selling album of the 1990s. But for me, Underworld’s Second Toughest In The Infants was the most interesting, timely and ultimately, my favourite album of the decade. It caught Underworld at their most creative and diverse – exploring themes and rhythms unlike any of their contemporaries, and in the processing stretching boundaries and genre-defining boxes. Similar to the mock metal band Bad News, with Second Toughest in the Infants, Underworld wasn’t sitting on the fence. They were trying to burn the fence down; and who wants to sit on a burning fence? I think that says a lot!
Following on from the groundbreaking Dubnobasswithmyheadman, their debut album as a three-piece, with Darren Emerson joining Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, and following their new musical explorations, Second Toughest In The Infants takes giant leaps forward in every way.
My working definition of a ‘classic album‘ is a complete album with ‘all thrillers & no fillers!‘, timeless and one I never tire of listening to. For all those reasons, Underworld’s Second Toughest In The Infants is a classic album; one of my favourite all-time favourites of all-time.
The album begins with a rush, ‘Juanita: Kiteless: To Dream Of Love‘, a 16 minute song that takes you on a fast and furious journey without hesitation. Rather like ‘Dark & Long‘ (opening track on Dubnobasswithmyheadman) on cocaine, if you will. The pounding beat gets stronger, heavier as it drives forward with each layer of rhythm as Karl Hyde’s filtered spoken words take a step back ‘Resonator, resonator, resonator, resonator‘. The track builds for six minutes before relenting. From here on, the track explores different rhythms akin to its own 12″ remix. All the time the power and driving beats keep ‘Juanita: Kiteless‘ alive and pulsing with adrenalin rush.
Listening to this re-mastered version of ‘Juanita: Kiteless: To Dream Of Love‘ leaves me with a feeling of exhaustion and shell-shocked delight, as it did 19 years ago.
Next up is ‘Banstyle / Sappys Curry‘ and a change in style. Mellow with a skipping uptempo beat, taking a tip from the jazz ‘n bass style of the time, led by the likes of Roni Size & Reprazent. ‘Banstyle / Sappys Curry‘ is a great rest bite after the impact and power of ‘Juanita: Kiteless’. If this is a concept album, then we have already entered a chillout zone. The frantic beat gives way to a heavy heavy dub bass drop, and if the first journey was speed-induced, the room is subsequently filled with smoke!
Weighing in at over 31 minutes long, the opening two tracks have time to breathe and explore. Rather than being suffocated by hampering thoughts of radio airplay or commercial verse/chorus verse/chorus pop structures that swallowed up some of their contemporaries.
‘Confusion the Waitress‘ continues in a lighter frame of mind. Which only enhances the arrival of ‘Rowla‘. Sequencer loop acts like a roll call to introduce a stomping four-to-the-floor beat and acid trance that filters and grows as it pulsates from the speakers into your head. ‘Rowla‘ is a simple tune compared to the other tracks on the album. But each time it builds you find yourself being dragged by its gravitational pull. Simple and effective.
After being completely mesmerised by earlier tracks ‘Cowgirl‘, ‘Rez‘ and yes of course, the original 11 minute (NUXX) version of ‘Born Slippy‘, it was difficult to comprehend that, within such a great album there would still be one track that, above all others would still manage to send shivers down my spine and simply blow my mind. I still remember listening to ‘Pearl’s Girl‘ for the first time. But unlike other songs I loved of the same period, the power of this song remains the same and still completely resonates with me, today. From its initial darker, moody intro, the track develops, building and opening, until that beat hits you full on for the first time. Hands down, at that moment, it was the most amazing sound ever to fill my head. CRAZY!CRAZY! CRAZY! CRAZY!
‘Air Towel‘ follows in the wake of ‘Pearl’s Girl‘. For a track that is the equivalent of following Alex Ferguson as manager of Manchester United or auditioning as lead singer of Joy Division after the suicide of Ian Curtis, the track works by moving the album in yet another direction. Lighter, trippy and spacious; and with ‘Blueski‘ we are taken completely away from the dancefloor, electronic sequencers and beats. Ramblings on an acoustic guitar sampled, filtered and looped in a dream-like sequence akin to a mantra for mindfulness; and finally we arrive at the final track. ‘Stagger’ errs towards experimental. Piano and Karl Hyde’s vocals are drenched in echo to give a dreamy synth pop, closer to Hyde and Smith’s earlier 1980s incarnation.
With Second Toughest In The Infants, Underworld managed to explore new electronic landscapes and create a timeless album. It was undoubtedly the pinnacle of their many glories; and at the same time they managed to develop and produce one of the best dance songs of all-time in ‘Born Slippy‘. Originally released in March 1996, Second Toughest In The Infants is Underworld’s masterpiece. It is the perfect hybrid of man and machine. It’s a record that crackles with the frantic energy of pirate stations half tuned on FM dials; one that strolls through grimy cities at night and ducks between dog tracks and neon-lit all-night stores. Lyrically, it’s Karl Hyde at his voyeuristic most ingenious; and although informed by the nascent drum ’n’ bass scene, minimalist composition and the European techno underground, Second Toughest In The Infants only ends up sounding like Underworld. It’s a truly unique album – the sound of Rick Smith, Karl Hyde and Darren Emerson working at the height of their powers, utterly unaffected by the prevailing trends of the time and creating effortlessly peerless music.
The deluxe editions come packed with remixes, non-album B-sides, and unreleased tracks. The fourth disc of the super deluxe edition traces the evolution of the group’s 1995 single ‘Born Slippy (Nuxx)‘ from early recordings through to the finished studio version. The super deluxe edition also comes with a 60-page book of artwork by Karl Hyde & Rick Smith’s design company, Tomato. The book also includes notes by Jon Savage.
Underworld – Second Toughest In The Infants
Super Deluxe 4 CD Tracklisting
CD1 (Orinigal Album)
1. Juanita: Kiteless: To Dream Of Love
2. Banstyle / Sappys Curry
3. Confusion the Waitress
5. Pearl’s Girl
6. Air Towel
CD2: singles, B sides, remixes
1. Cherry Pie
2. Oich Oich
5. Deep Arch
6. Pearl’s Girl (Tin There)
7. Pearl’s Girl (14996 Version)
8. Born Slippy (Original Instrumental Version)
9. Born Slippy Nuxx (Deep Pan)
CD3: previously unreleased material
2. Confusion The Waitress (She Said)
3. D+B Thing
4. D’Arbly St
5. 4 Crowns
6. Rowla A1806
7. Bing Here
8. Techno Thang
9. Pearls Ver2
10. Bloody 1
CD4: Born Slippy (Nuxx) – previously unreleased demos, live recordings, mixes
1. Nuxx A1796
2. Nuxx A2221 UW live (2 sets) Leicester M Dog 94
3. Nuxx A4712 Live @ Zap club Brighton Feb94
4. Nuxx A4733 UW live Amsterdam Apr94
5. Nuxx Liquid Room 94 A2254 UW Live Liquid Room 2 Tokyo
6. Nuxx from A1825
7. Born Slippy (Nuxx)
Underworld – The Second Toughest In The Infants Deluxe Edition was re-mastered at Abbey Road and will be released as a CD, a 2xCD deluxe edition, a double LP, and as a 4xCD super deluxe edition on 20th November, 2015 via Universal.