Last year’s Olympic opening ceremony affirmed what a select band of people had known for a long time: there was so much more to Underworld than Born Slippy, their 1996 No 2 hit; though, unlike most groups, their freak hit wasn’t atypical of their work. It introduced Karl Hyde as a cataloguer of the underbelly, with poetic imagery recounting the Hogarthian scenes he surveyed.
Working with Leo Abrahams, who’s been discreetly adding textures to both Brian Eno and David Holmes’ work for years, Hyde’s first solo album, Edgeland, is a full realisation of his lyrical imagery. In exploring the fringes of the city, he conveys that feeling of restless, all-night motion while others are safely tucked-up: territory that Hyde has visited many times, from characters with flaming 8-balls tattooed on their arms to miscreants out by the ring road.
Though at first you long for Rick Smith’s Underworld beats to kick in, the feeling soon abates. From the touching refrain of “Holding the light of the world at bay” in Your Perfume Was The Best Thing, to Cut Clouds’ evocation of John Martyn’s Small Hours or the rousing synthesiser riff in The Boy With The Jigsaw Puzzle Fingers, this is sweetly strange and often emotional music – an album of disquieting tone poems and outlandish lullabies. It’s the rainbow glimpsed in a puddle of oil; it’s rather beautiful.