February 3, 2005

Broad Beat

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Like Fatboy Slim, Prodigy and Moby, the Chemical Brothers have had their techno moment in the sun and now seem to be living the rest of their acid reflux turn-table days in the studio and out of the spotlight. Push The Button, their newest release, is essentially an art house tangent for the British duo as they explore and experiment with rawer rhythms, invite a handful of guests of varying notoriety and work with a divine patience that a fan wouldn’t expect but, as I’ve experienced with repeated listens, may appreciate.

Push The Button seems to suffer from multiple personality disorder, and like a desperate housewife, it is open and proud of its problems. But, if there is one band that can cause a diverse sound to create a uniform harmony over eleven tracks, it is the guys who were responsible for the “Big Beat” style that stemmed from their ’90s albums Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole. Suffice to say, listeners expecting another one of these albums will be gravely disappointed.

The only tracks that resemble the hard-edged and fastbeats they’re known for are “Galvanize” (which features Q-Tip from Tribe Called Quest) and “Believe.” Both are simultaneously the least catchy and most derivative of the bunch while sounding horrifyingly resemblant to Prodigy’s latest crap.

Since there are no “Block Rockin’ Beats” or “Staring at the Sun” tracks to listen to, the Brothers bring new flava to our ears. “Hold Tight London” is by far the marvel of the album. With a constant bongo drum playing in the background and a load of ambient noise, it is the techno attempt at world music. Imagine Paul Simon sampling and spinning Graceland twenty years later. Anna-Lynne Williams, who provides the beautiful vocals on this track, has a genuine suaveness in her voice that seems to be a combination of Enya and Kilo Riley. “Marvo Ging” is a sitar-laced dish where it is impossible not to think of George Harrison’s experimental work on Sgt. Pepper. These tracks, along with the Belle & Sebastian-meets-New Order closer “Surface to Air,” boasts the Brothers’ increasing knowledge of how to successfully create a song with multiple elements. Their new sound should be called “Broad Beat.”

In the end, I wish the album was released as a six song EP. Monday morning quarterbacking aside, the less ambitious tracks fall short. And the batch of songs that feature rappers seem to be simply challenging the recent Jay-Z / Linkin Park rap-metal collaboration … but it ends up sounding like Sugarhill Gang running a set for Herbie Hancock.

Yet somehow, the original half stands on its own two feet gloriously. With countless instruments and rhythms to work with, techno bands can always reinvent themselves although few ever do. What is the most intriguing thing about this album is that most fans won’t realize that this is the Chemical Brothers if not told in advance. For that, I commend them on their ability to bring us something different and, above all things, pushing the creative button.

3 Stars

Archived article by Dan Cohen
Sun Staff Writer