With the buzz almost completely died down from "Born Slippy," Underworld's Trainspotting hit of over two years before, Beaucoup Fish emerged to a distinctly uncaring public. And though it is a disappointing record compared to the group's high-flying previous albums, it displays Underworld's talents well -- the trio is still the best at welding obtuse songcraft onto an uncompromising techno framework and making both sound great. Karl Hyde's nasally vocals are a bit more obtrusive on tracks like the trance-rant "Moaner" and first single "Push Upstairs," but as before, impeccable production saves the day. While Second Toughest in the Infants showed Underworld were no mere novices at introducing super-tough breakbeats, here the focus is on throwback acid-house and trance. The effect is that Underworld have refused to compromise their artistic vision to anyone's view of commercialism; as such, the few excesses on Beaucoup Fish can be forgiven.
Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato was composed in 1740, and musically it shares much with Messiah, from a couple of years later. It has been comparatively neglected because, in several ways, it does not hang together as well as the later work. Based on a pair of poems by John Milton, L'Allegro (The Joyful One) and Il Penseroso (The Thoughtful One), with a third middle-of-the-road type added by Messiah librettist Charles Jennens (whom one satirist dubbed "Il Moderatissimo"), the work has been called an oratorio, a semi-oratorio, a pastoral ode, and more. It has no plot to speak of, and Handel kept revising the work to suit new performance demands, with the result that its performance tradition has accumulated a large number of random arias. This performance by conductor Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort & Players represents an attempt to reconstruct what Handel intended for the original performance, and far from being an exercise, this results in a concise work with a persuasive alternation of big, Messiah-like choruses and arias that embody the qualities depicted in the poems. For those who love Messiah and have never heard this work, sample the opening chorus-and-bass number on CD 2, "Populous cities please me then," with its big musical spaces. McCreesh introduces each of the work's three sections with an instrumental concerto, something well attested to in the original sources, and he benefits from an exceptionally strong group of soloists who capture the moods essential to what logic the work has. Strongly recommended for anyone interested in going beyond the Handelian basics.
Taking his mixtape skills to another level, Tony Touch shepherds a sprawling guest list deep into his world of hip-hop underground beats and spicy Latin flavors, with excellent results. Touch blends the diverse styles of Sean Paul, Slick Rick, Rubén Blades, and some Wu-Tang-ers by keeping his beats very New York Hispanic, and very real. Most tracks feel like stream of consciousness freestyles -- especially when Touch grabs the mike -- but here and there Piece Maker, Vol. 2 offers up a song. A direct tale of trouble in the hood, Slick Rick's "Trouble on the Westside Hwy" returns the rapper to his rightful place as king of the gruesomely humorous.
Sean Paul's cut is welcome reggaeton rather than limp crossover, and N.
E.'s swaggering Spanglish bridges the gap between Fat Joe and Juju's hard raps and Touch's salsa breaks. The skits are actually funny, the ghost of the S.O.S. Band turns up, and it's all blended so well the album feels more effortless than ambitious. It's the album's biggest problem, and one wishes the producer had come up with that extra track that would have turned Piece Maker, Vol. 2 into a classic. But for a casual and languid ride through the downtown, you can always turn to Touch.