The thing about the Chemical Brothers’ albums is that what you hear is typically
what you get. There are no layers to peel back like there are with Radiohead or
Flaming Lips albums. No, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have always preferred to
take the direct path to your skull: Check out this big ass break beat, suckas!!!
At least, that was the point up until now. Their fifth and newest album, Push
the Button, is not as immediately accessible or beat-heavy as their previous
work. Rhythm definitely takes a back seat to melody here, and the results are
impressive. The influences are many and varied, from Detroit’s house music scene
to current hip-hop, late 70s funk to early 90s space techno, and even some Latin
sleaze thrown in for good measure. It’s quite a departure from the prog rock and
psychedelic flourishes of 2002’s
Come With Us , but repeat listens will yield substantial rewards.
“Galvanize” picks up where their last single “Get Yourself High,” from their
Singles album, left off. It’s a collaboration with Q-Tip with an Eastern
feel to it, along with a Daft Punk-like window shattering kick drum. The
breakdowns and build-ups are vintage Chemicals, though they would have been wise
to include an edited version of the track, as it has long worn out its welcome
at six and a half minutes. Tim Burgess, the Charlatans singer who graced the
Chemicals’ excellent “Life Is Sweet,” returns for “The Boxer,” a syncopated,
super-catchy slice of impossible-to-categorize dance pop. Bringing Burgess back
for a second turn was a good call, since he has abandoned the breathy singing
from his shoegazer days and turns in an altogether more confident performance.
The truly remarkable moments on Push the Button are the quieter ones. “Hold
Tight, London,” featuring Anna-Lynne Williams, recalls Sarah McLachlan’s
collaborations with Delirium, or more accurately, how McLachlan teaming up with
1993-era Future Sound of London might have sounded. It’s spacey, pretty and
seductive. “Close Your Eyes,” featuring newcomers the Magic Numbers, is an
extension of their “Golden Path” collaboration with the Flaming Lips. It’s also
spacey and pretty, yet in a completely different way.
None of this is to say that the Chemicals have forgotten how to write a good
booty-shaker. “Come Inside” and “The Big Jump” are striking takes on the vintage
Chemical Brothers m.o., the former a classic house-style track while the latter
contains the elements of a full-blown Parliament tribute. “Shake Break Bounce”
is good sleazy fun, complete with mariachi guitar.
The one moment that truly doesn’t work is “Left Right,” a rap track with Anwar
Superstar. Never mind how strangely political the song is – this from a band
whose strongest political statement to date was “All You Need Is Love” – but the
overall production seems beneath their abilities. Plus, the theme of the song,
how the brothers suffer the most casualties at the expense of rich white kids,
was done, and done better, by Public Enemy 15 years ago. A misstep for all
In an era where electronic music couldn’t be more dead, the Chemical Brothers
have found a way to not only survive (witness their debut at #1 on the UK album
chart) but evolve in the way that all great bands do. Push the Button doesn’t
have that leap-off-the-speakers moment like “Setting Sun” or “It Began In Afrika,”
but instead has that rare gift: a cohesive set of songs instead of a Hit TV
Jingle. We can only hope that others take note.