Brothers gonna workmanlike it out...
The Chemical Brothers know that the dancefloor is no place for half measures – you’re either on it or you’re not. But having exhorted us through their previous album titles to ‘Exit Planet Dust’, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ and (best of all) ‘Surrender’, the superstar DJs have a vaguer request.
‘Come With Us’ isn’t exactly ‘heeere we go!’ but it accurately reflects the mood of the Chemicals‘ fourth album. Having powered their sound with the trance turbine on 1999’s ‘Surrender’, Tom and Ed seem unsure about where to head next. Garage, R&B and electroclash having presumably all been tried and rejected, they’ve retreated back into themselves, tinkering with the templates that have served them so well in the past. So we get the Beth Orton one (‘The State We’re In’), the dirtily funky one (‘Denmark’), the psychedelic one (‘My Elastic Eye’) and the one that goes ka-BOOM! (last year’s single ‘It Began In Afrika’).
In other words, the urge to experiment has gone the way of Tom’s ‘Magic Roundabout’ hairstyle, the worst manifestation of this being the grand finale, ‘The Test’, which features vocals by Richard Ashcroft. Instead of proving that there’s still fire in his belly after the damp love-in of his solo album, Dickie delivers a complacent lyric about having [I]”passed the acid test”[/I] while the Chems back him with half-baked big beats. The Beth Orton track is far better, a heavily sedated ballad featuring Deaf giving it the Dusty Springfield treatment.
Enough of the indie. The reason that ‘Come With Us’ seems unsatisfying is that The Chemicals no longer seem rooted in club culture the way they were in their Heavenly Social days. Their album is the sound of international jet-setters who haven’t had to queue for a club in many a long year; who know their way round a studio so well that they no longer make intriguing mistakes; who make drug music despite having (no doubt) more or less given up drugs. Tracks like the Balearic ‘Star Guitar’, while lovely, audibly sigh with nostalgia about the days before the great unwashed invaded Ibiza while ‘Hoops’ sports Stone Roses guitars. There’s not much engagement with the now – a cardinal sin in pop, never mind dance music.
Last year was by no means a vintage year in dance culture so perhaps the Chemicals can’t be blamed for sounding uninspired. And it’s unfortunate for them that this is their first album not to be light years better than the one before. If you’d never heard a Chemicals record, you’d think it was pretty thrilling, especially when the rock drums, riffing violins and sirens pile up on the title track. But if you stand still on the dancefloor, you’re apt to get pushed to the sidelines.