Underworld, Second Toughest in the Infants (Superdeluxe edition)
Last week Underworld reissued their excellent second album “Second Toughest In The Infants” in various formats including a four disc super deluxe edition. I wrote about this album in my understated classics series and I want to share some thoughts on the reissue. I love this album so I was excited to hear the remaster and the additional material.
I can’t comment on the physical version of the release as I can’t afford it at the moment. I also had to wait to buy the gorgeous yellow reissue of “Dubnobasswithmyheadman” but the “Second Toughest In The Infants” box is on the list. Underworld do a really good job on the boxes with interesting artwork to accompany the large volume of material. If the “Dubnobasswithmyheadman” box is anything to go by, the new one will be pretty hefty on the coffee table.
The super deluxe edition comes as four discs. The first disc is the original album remastered. The second collects B-sides and remixes. The third disc comprises unreleased tracks and demos. The fourth disc is devoted to collecting demos and live performances of “Born Slippy (NUXX)”. The idea is to demonstrate how the track evolved from demo to finished track. Since “Born Slippy (NUXX)” is Underworld’s best known track, this makes sense.
“Dubnobasswithmyheadman” sounded cleaner and clearer after its audio polish. But the remaster doesn’t seem to change “Second Toughest In The Infants” quite so much. I think this is because it was recorded in a better studio with better gear. Identifying the effect of remastering on electronic music is difficult anyway. How do you improve sounds that only exist on hard drives and optical discs? I’m no audiophile, but the album does seem a little brighter. I noticed more detail in the end section of “Sappy’s Curry”. The competing keyboard lines are more distinct from one another, creating a dizzying effect. Elsewhere the remaster reminded me how much guitar there is on this album, which I’d not noticed before.
I own the “Pearl’s Girl” single so I know its four B-sides like the back of my hand. They sound good remastered, in particular “Oich Oich”. It’s exciting to hear one of my favourite Underworld songs so improved. Also included are the original instrumental version of “Born Slippy” and the “NUXX deep pan” version. I’ll talk about those when discussing disc four. Rounding out disc two are the B-sides and alternate mixes from the reissued version of “Pearl’s Girl”. It is disappointing that these reissues include so few third-party remixes: for example, the Alex Reece version of “Banstyle” from the NUXX singles is missing. It is a shame that there is no room for the “carp dreams… koi” mix of “Pearl’s Girl” which is also a personal favourite of mine. There is a lot of good material for people who haven’t collected this stuff over the years.
The third disc is of most interest to fans and collectors. The great thing about the “Dubnobasswithmyheadman” remaster was how it made you privy to the different versions and directions that various songs took. There were demos of abandoned songs. There were versions of classic tracks like “Dirty” and “MMM Skyscraper I Love You” that demonstrated how the different components of those songs were cast into their final versions. Unfortunately there is less of that sort of material here. Although a few of the tracks have the same name as they do on the album, you will recognise most of them as components of tracks that made the final cut. There are only a few blind alleys and offcuts to enjoy here.
One is “Bug” which is an abandoned track that sounds like “River of Bass”. I guess it was discarded because it didn’t fit on to the album and “Stagger” is a far superior song. Very little of the material on these CDs is this mellow so it makes for a nice addition to “Sappy’s Curry”, “Stagger” and “Deep Arch”. “D’Arbly Street” is the instrumental sketch of “Stagger” and serves to show just how much Karl’s vocals take that song into a completely different place. This is my main problem, there’s just not enough of Karl, and without him the demos and sketches just seem perfunctory. “Rowla A1806” is the most interesting demo here, it has vocals that were dropped and the venom of the instrumental version is absent. “Pearls (Version 2)” is an intense hardcore version of the original that is very enjoyable.
“Bloody 1” is a sixteen minute outline of what would become “Juanita: Kiteless: To Dream Of Love”. It features very little of what I’d recognise of “Juanita” (very frustrating that none of these demos do) but it’s immense. At the start it feels like the “Dark Train” mix of “Dark & Long” and it features lyrics from “To Dream Of Love” that are clearer than the album version. When you listen to it you realise that they must have had the great idea of a great big long intro track pretty early on. You also get an impression of just how much work they did to make “Juanita: Kiteless: To Dream Of Love” so awesome.
On to the fourth disc of NUXX demos. The first thing that struck me is just how well-formed “Nuxx” was in the first demo presented here (“Nuxx A1796”). Most of the lyric is ready and most of that fantastic drumbeat is there too. What’s missing are the amazing drops and some of the performance of the vocal. At this stage they aren’t really sure about the vocal as some sections get smothered in unnecessary reverb including a line or two reciting a fried breakfast order. “Nuxx A2221” is very weird and they’re looking for a killer sound to couple with that drum beat. For the first few minutes they try the synth sound from “Texas Cowboys” by The Grid. However this version is 12 minutes long and by the end they have figured out the strange helicopter-like noises that made it on to the final version.
“Nuxx A4712” is where they hit on that choral bit that makes the slow bits of “Born Slippy” so hair-raising. Unfortunately they’re also still playing that “Texas Cowboys” riff as well. “Nuxx A4733” is “Nuxx” done in the same vein as “Dark Train” with a propulsive riff underpinning the track but the vocal suffers as it can no longer keep up with backing. The “Lager lager lager” line sounds particularly unconvincing. “Nuxx A2254” returns to the drums, postponing the “Dark Train”-style bits to the end with an interesting riff around the nine minute mark. “Nuxx A1825” has the vocal and the down tempo choral bits nailed but it veers off close to drum’n’bass territory at points: whenever they use the original drum line it sounds magnificent. Then to cap it off, you get the original and it is a testament to the track that even after six other versions you can still listen to it all the way through.
To conclude, this remaster is not quite as good as the “Dubnobasswithmyheadman” one but only because “Second Toughest In The Infants” is a better album and there isn’t the abundance of rare material to stuff the extra discs with. The incremental versions of “Born Slippy (NUXX)” are interesting though with the limited replay value. Let’s just hope they manage to find more material for the “Beaucoup Fish” reissue next year.