Of all the big British dance acts to emerge in the ‘90s – and there were plenty – The Chemical Brothers have perhaps emerged as the victors. While contemporaries have tailed off with patchy recent releases, and others look back with retrospective tours, the Manchester duo have always had one direction: onwards.
Over their 25-year career, that mindset seems to have taken the pair, comprised of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, very far indeed, Big beats dominated their releases in the ’90s (‘Exit Planet Dust’, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ and ‘No Surrender’) while albums over the following two decades have seen the band embrace hip-hop stylings (2005’s ‘Push The Button’) and interpolate their film-scoring talents (2010’s underrated ‘Further’). Their last album, 2015’s ‘Born In The Echoes’, saw the duo release their most pop-ready songs to date, including the Q-Tip starring ‘Go’ and Beck’s ‘Wide Open’.
‘No Geography’ is another leap forward for the pair – it embraces new avenues of discovery and nods to the wider world, while having the feel of a victory lap and retrospective. Take the opening of ‘Eve Of Destruction’ which features a doomy opening statement about the end being nigh, but is soon seized by an elasticated bassline reminiscent of their 2002 song ‘Galaxy Bounce’. Similarly, this album’s previously released singles ‘Got To Keep On’ and ‘Mad As Hell’ reach the same euphoric heights of club-smashers ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’ and ‘Galvanise’, though take more adventurous journeys to get there.
The reduction of guests – and, as a result, and increase in ‘traditional’ songwriting structures – has prompted this unstoppable machine to experiment, and it appears they’re finding a bit of fun in doing so. There’s the frantic percussion that haunts ‘Bango’ before eerie vocals emerge, while ‘Gravity Drops’, which packs the droning beat of a techno-slapper, seeks more comfort in ambient surroundings in the song’s second half.
Fascinatingly, this is not even as good as ‘No Geography’ will get, as it spends the upcoming months being tinkered with and enhanced in a live setting as they conquer festivals for another summer. Inside the studio and out in the fields, they’re continuing to run rings around their rivals. But then again, it’s not a competition if you’re winning by this margin.