Underworld solo projects appear to be like buses – you wait 33 years for one and then two arrive within the space of a month. Mere weeks after Rick Smith went it alone on the soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s mindbender Trance, his usual partner in crime, Karl Hyde, has also decided to take the plunge and release his debut album, Edgeland.
Produced by Leo Abrahams, with whom Hyde had previously worked in Brian Eno’s festival super-group, Pure Scenius, these nine tracks are a very different beast to the pulsing industrial techno of his bandmate’s recent cinematic work.
Apparently inspired by his 20-year love affair of cityscapes and the “tyre marks, crude graffiti and coffee bar epidemics” that come with it, Karl Hyde’s description of the record alone should also immediately signal that Edgeland is unlikely to have much in common with the progressive trance of Underworld’s last album, 2010’s Barking.
Instead, the 55-year-old has opted to embrace the comedown rather than the party with a string of ambient mood pieces. When Abrahams’ lushly-textured production is in full flow, it’s a new direction which works wonders. Opener “The Night Stops Us Smiling Underneath Its Dress” combines stately Nils Frahm-esque piano chords with shuffling train-track rhythms to produce the kind of majestic downbeat synth-pop that could have neatly fitted onto Depeche Mode’s recent comeback.
Elsewhere, Hyde combines his love of Williams Burroughs-style poetry with crunching electro beats and rousing synths to compelling effect on “The Boy With The Jigsaw Puzzle.” Meanwhile, the array of choir pads and underwater effects lends a certain disorientating charm to The Cure-inspired post-punk of “Angel Café.”
But Karl Hyde is a much better songwriter/producer than he is a vocalist, and although his everyman tones sound perfectly adequate when buried beneath walls of reverb, their monotonousness and dreariness are exposed for all to hear on the more stripped-back tracks such as the plodding doom-rock of “Shadow Boy” and the snail-paced sombre lullaby of “Cut Clouds.”
Edgeland, therefore, isn’t quite the triumph of Underworld’s magical contribution to the Olympics ceremony, but when compared to Smith’s solo venture, then the pair are just about even.