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The Lowdown: Proto-punk provocateur Iggy Pop first crossed paths with Underworld on the opposite end of Trainspotting, Danny Boyle’s 1996 film about heroin addicts living in Edinburgh. Pop’s “Lust for Life” and Underworld’s “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” neatly bookend the film, each lending a different color to the drug-addled euphoria unfolding onscreen. Credit Boyle for identifying the common thread that unites Pop’s fuzzed-out, angular guitar rock with Underworld’s eclectic electronic palette, but the two artists weren’t content to remain a mere study in contrasts. Arising from a chance encounter in a London hotel room, Teatime Dub Encounters finds Pop and Underworld collaborating for the first time on record. The four-track EP is a battle waged between Pop’s spontaneity and Underworld’s polished restraint, with the result considerably less than the sum of its parts.
The Good: Underworld’s Karl Hyde and Rick Smith aren’t the types to trash a hotel room, and their 2016 album, Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future, approaches electronica with a patient maturity that belies the duo’s underground club origins. The most alluring moments on Teatime Dub Encounters play to their strengths rather than to Pop’s outsized personality, which occasionally threatens to overwhelm and undermine the majesty of their compositions. “I See Big” picks up where moody, impressionistic tracks like “Santiago Cuatro” and “Motorhome” left off, floating Pop’s voice across a sea of gentle guitars and synths. Rather than revel in his past excesses — something that’s grown a bit tiresome by this point, if we’re being perfectly honest — the iconoclastic rocker muses about the friendships he’s lost and gained along the way. Whereas at other points on the EP he rambles to the point of distraction, here he seems as if he’s sitting in the room beside the listener, peeling back his aged skin to reveal a life twinged with humor and regret.
The Bad: Recorded in the immediate wake of Post Pop Depression and Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future, Teatime Dub Encounters plays more like a palate cleanser for both parties than a proper collaboration. Always a better showman than lyricist, Pop is forced outside his element here and responds to the challenge with a mixed bag of hackneyed aphorisms and rambly old-man stories that seem desperate to provoke. He muddies up the grandeur of opening track “Bells & Circles” with an asinine story about getting high and trying to pick up an airline stewardess, which must have sounded a lot cooler when he first told it 40 years ago. Pop is too charming a personality to not land a few zingers, but his general lyrical themes of being trapped in post-modernity and lamenting punk’s golden age don’t vibe with the genuine vitality that courses through Underworld’s compositions.
The Verdict: Not all art demands a considered approach. One need only refer back to The Stooges banging out the back half of their 1969 self-titled debut practically overnight to appreciate the raw power of spontaneity. And yet something about the tossed-off quality of Teatime Dub Encounters feels like a missed opportunity. On Post Pop Depression, Pop drifted far enough outside his comfort zone to reassure us he can still deliver the goods. But rather than push the envelope further and engage in a dialogue with Underworld’s evolved brand of electronica, he retreats to a monologue of cautionary tales and episodes from the good, old days. It’s fine, but “fine” reads as damning praise when this caliber of legend is involved.
Essential Tracks: “Trapped” and “I See Big”