Second Toughest In The Infants Double LP (1996)Underworld
First released in 1996.
How do you follow up a hugely lauded first album that’s been widely described as the best debut of its generation? A record that defied easy categorisation and catapulted its creators from playing anonymously from behind the sound desk of Ministry of Sound to the covers of the traditional rock weeklies? In Underworld’s case, you just go deeper. And when you get there, you go deeper again.
Second Toughest In The Infants’ opening track comes in three parts. And, at sixteen and a half minutes long, not one second is wasted. Although at times it’s progressive, thunderous, unrelenting, crystalline and ultimately ambient, it hangs together beautifully around a vocal that’s been reduced to a robotic mantra and a cascade of piano notes that collide with a single, momentary shard of angular guitar. Juanita/To Dream Of Love/Kiteless is a brilliantly audacious piece of music whatever the era.
Elsewhere, the sound of London’s pirate jungle stations feed through Banstyle, before giving way to a strange, Floydian trip named after an east London racing dog (Sappy’s Curry). Later, a circular techno track ping pongs through speakers (Rowla) while a broken blues riff (Blueski) gives way to a strung out, nocturnal wander through a mid ’90s version of Soho (Stagger).
Second Toughest In The Infants is the point where Underworld - already pretty much unique amongst their peers - head off on their own tangent. From this point on, they were truly in a field of their own.