Underworld & Iggy Pop’s ‘Teatime Dub Encounters’ Is a Compelling Meeting of Minds
Danny Boyle’s 1996 blockbuster “Trainspotting” came with one of the most fanatically celebrated soundtracks in modern history, one that truly put its finger on a pulse, and effectively captured an elusive feeling. Among the illustrious artists featured were punk icon Iggy Pop and legendary UK electronic duo Underworld. In anticipation of the movie’s sequel “T2,” Underworld’s Rick Smith and Iggy met for afternoon tea at The Savoy hotel in London. Although a track never came together for the film, a collaboration did occur, and a release is finally out. The result is “Teatime Dub Encounters,” a four-song EP that will very likely prove a treat to fans of either artist.
“Bells & Circles” starts things off with a frenetic, monotonous techno stomp, immediately prepping you for an Underworld undertaking, whereupon Pop opens with the declaration, “If I had wings, I wouldn’t do anything beautiful and transcendent.” What follows is a stream-of-consciousness ramble in which Pop recalls the days of yore. He talks of chasing stewardesses on cocaine and nicotine-fueled flights in his distinctive, loony, madcap manner, sounding just about halfway tongue-in-cheek. The farcical chorus of “sunlight on my wings” comes with backing vocals courtesy of Smith’s daughter Esme, with echoes of Happy Mondays, and it all builds up to the assertion, “There will be no revolution / And that’s why it won’t be televised.” If Gil Scott Heron’s original sentiment was punk in spirit, this seems even more so — to hell with the revolution altogether. Let’s remember, Pop belongs to the “blank generation” in which nihilism reigns supreme. Such wry surveyal of matters is very in line with the spirit of “Trainspotting,” and is quite likely to paint wide grins across the faces of devotees worldwide.
“Trapped” is driven by a Krautrock-like, tin box beat, sounding like the very example of “electronic punk.” Pop croons in his signature, rough-hewn deranged blues over screeching jets of feedback. The relentlessness of the drums, taken with the repeated cries of “I’m trapped,” hint at a sense of being out of step. Roughly a third of the way in, a torrent of raunchy, serrated noise launches the track far out leftfield, with Pop taunting, “Goodbye little boy!” It’s an exhilaratingly awesome moment, and things build steadily thereafter. Esme’s vocal contributions here, at times, recall the protest music revivalist styles of Ian Svenonius’ Chain & the Gang. There are moments when Pop’s snarl escalates into a raging scream, and he isn’t one bit shy with it. Again, the song expresses the same jaded disillusionment captured in Mark Renton’s famous “Choose Life” speech in “Trainspotting.” Here, it comes in lines like “Let’s hear it for Johnny… He’s got a mortgage… He’s got a house.” Johnny from Pop’s classic “Lust for Life,” it seems, is still battling it out.
“I’ll See Big” is the old timers’ reflective moment of the record. There’s a scene in the Miami episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” in which Bourdain meets Iggy Pop at a South Beach diner for a cool, but rather bittersweet conversation. The tone here is very much the same. Worlds away from the raucous bursts of the preceding track, the somewhat awkward instrumentals here are pop of the department store radio variety — a bit of a strange choice, but actually consistent with the rest at play. Pop is in his candid speaking voice, that incomprehensibly raspy drawal of his. He reminisces drifting in and out of various social circles, building up to the realization, “Friends need to be demanding.” He sounds absolutely, unguardedly sincere, while Karl Hyde’s backing vocals are equal parts Kraftwerk and choir boy, and it’s the closest the album gets to “motivational” fare. It’s not quite the cue for stargazing and prancing though, as Pop eventually takes it upon himself to clarify, “You don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling.” Still, he goes on to add, “But you get what you gotta have to get along.”
The final track, “Get Your Shirt” starts off as videogame rave fare, with Pop’s playful utterances bouncing off the rhythms sensationally. The music unravels, layer by layer, developing into a lush soundscape and making for a thoroughly effective climax. Vaguely operatic, blissful “da da da” vocals from Esme are a unique and especially memorable touch. Pop draws parallels between contractual and romantic relationships, with the common denominator being ultimately getting ripped off. In this context, the refrain, “Get your shirt,” seems a call for resilience. On the other hand, one can’t help but consider the act that this is Iggy Pop, whose iconic look has always been a shirtless one. Could this possibly be a swan song, of sorts? The line “It’s getting harder to be me” lends some credence to the idea, but it’s still a longshot.
Collaborative efforts from veteran artists of highly divergent genres should naturally be met with skepticism, as they typically turn out forced, halfhearted, or downright pathetic efforts. This makes the rare instances in which they actually succeed all the more delightful. While it would be fair to call Underworld’s sound “dated,” it seems an excellent choice for them to stick to their guns, rather than pander to evolving popular taste, and risk making massive asses out of themselves. It especially works because the sound has been immortalized by the Trainspotting soundtrack, a record so close to so many hearts that the excavation of its aesthetic brings with it a momentous, emotive surge. As for Pop, he’s still raging, at age seventy-one, never sounding for a moment on this record as if he’s atrophied at all. Overall, “Teatime Dub Encounters” is a remarkably successful collaboration, a fresh and feisty manifestation of unrelenting creative energy.
“Teatime Dub Encounters” is available July 27 on Apple Music.