I tried so hard to get away from Trainspotting. It belonged to my brother, my sisters, their friends. Somehow, I felt it couldn’t belong to me. I was at Cumbernauld High School, still trying to create myself, work out what I liked and what I didn’t like. Now, here’s the important detail: what I liked had to be mine. I didn’t like to share. Films, books, albums. They had to be my discoveries. In the end, this became impossible. That’s how I embraced Trainspotting, which I’d always loved. The book, that is. How could you not feel the truth in that book? The film came and with it…the soundtrack. What a moment. The song from the album was Born Slippy (NUXX) by Underworld. If you hadn’t heard of them, you would struggle to hear anything else. During that summer, this one song dominated everything. Later, I’d discover Underworld had been around since the ’80s. Thanks to Born Slippy, they’d be around for decades afterwards. Thanks to that song, I became a fan. Sometimes, I wonder if (like me) they tried to get away from Trainspotting. Some moments in pop culture can be incredibly domineering and it’s a tribute to Irvine Welsh’s mastery of his craft and Danny Boyle’s genius that they conquered the world in a book, a film, and a CD. Every band on that CD, every book Irvine wrote, all of Danny’s films…became my favourite things ever. A few years later, Beaucoup Fish is released.
What some people don’t realise about Underworld is how funny they are. Yes, their songs hit hard, but Beaucoup Fish is full of weird humour, gags thrown into the mix alongside the bass and the beats. Oh, and poetry too. Karl Hyde and Darren Emerson covered all possible corners in their songwriting partnership. I first heard the new single from Beaucoup Fish on Radio 1. It was Push Upstairs and it sounded like the best thing ever – skullcaving techno that made sense to a teenger in desperate need of noise. Also, the lyrics told stories. Tina lives in Berlin/her voice so seldom/on my machine/is here tonight/and I’m on the market/and when I’m on the market/words move faster/wire and clouds move thin between us/like a skin/like a salty skin. I like dance music with depth. That’s why I like Underworld. Bent’s Programmed To Love was Beaucoup Fish’s only real competition in that respect.
I bought the album from Our Price in Cumbernauld Town Centre and took it down to my friend’s house, where everyone was hanging out, none of them particularly into dance music. I tried to sell it to them, now in a stage where I wanted people to like what I liked – but they definitely didn’t care. So I listened on my own later that night in bed, where I’ve always enjoyed my favourite albums. Sometimes they become unofficial soundtracks to books.
Jumbo, another single (and my favourite Underworld song) is glacial and beautiful, full of silly moments too. It starts, Brother, there’s a little sale on a/On, on a vest at Walmart/9 dollar, oh yeah/8 something, yeah/Nice little vest, light. I laughed. Then it becomes something else, something…oblique and shapeless. The lyrics take you in that direction, at least. I need sugar/I need a little water sugar/I get thoughts about you/The night wants me like a little lost child.
Then there’s Cups, the most traditional ‘pop’ song on the album. My least favourite, weirdly. Push Downstairs is the dowmer cousin of Push Upstairs. Kittens sounds like it could be off the Run Lola Run soundtrack, except there was no scene of Lola not getting back up on her feet ever filmed. Just as well. Moaner closes the album. It’s loud and obnoxious but a perfect way to end the album. It sounds like how you’d imagine any Underworld song to sound if you’d only ever heard Born Slippy. I like it a lot.
Beaucoup Fish is the sound of a band covering their faces in the glare of a spotlight. It’s their biggest seller to date, but also strangely out of place if you aren’t in the dark or drunk. Oddly, it isn’t the sound of a nightclub for me, but my final year at school when I was over everything, including my boozy friends who didn’t like the same things I liked. Beaucoup Fish might never be the album critics wanted, a record that redefined techno. How could it be? Born Slippy happened against impossible odds, it’s success almost accidental. Beaucoup Fish was obtuse, catchy, and… sometimes a little stupid. All reasons to love this album, even now.