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CD Reviews:  Review of Singles 93-03 by The Chemical Brothers

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In 1997, you were supposed to like eletronica. The labels and their marketing departments had decreed that 1997 was The Year of Electronica, which was a fancy (and ridiculous) word for club music. They were so delirious after riding the Grunge Express for so long that they were trying to tell us that Candlebox deserved to be uttered in the same breath as Soundgarden. Eventually, the public said nay, which left the labels scrambling for something new to crown the Next Big Thing. For some strange reason, they picked electronic music. God knows why. In retrospect, the Chemical Brothers may have been the sole reason why. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, who originally called themselves the Dust Brothers, thinking the real Dust Brothers (who produced Beck’s Odelay would never even know about them, have gone from unassuming club kids to one of the most influential bands in electronic music. They have no agenda, except for people to enjoy themselves (they play a loop of John Lennon singing “Love Is All” at their shows). If it means making a rock song, like the electro-prog “Come With Us” or the psychedelic piledriver “Setting Sun” (a collaboration with Noel Gallagher that will stand as the best thing he’s ever done), so be it. Sometimes, they just want to make a four-on-the-floor house jam, like “Star Guitar.” Usually, they just want to make bad-ass beat tracks, like the Grammy winning (you read that right, Grammy winning) “Block Rockin’ Beats” or the 2001 masterpiece “It Began in Afrika.” Wherever their muse takes them, they go. 

Pity, then, that Singles 93-03, their just-released compilation, doesn’t do them the justice they deserve. There are loads of great moments here, but too many better moments are missing. It is also missing that one element that makes Chemical Brothers albums so engaging: the seamless mix job. 

Singles plows through assorted moments in chronological and rather perfunctory fashion. Sure, we get “Song to the Siren” and “Chemical Beats,” from their 1995 debut Exit Planet Dust, but “Life Is Sweet,” the slammin’ duet with Tim Burgess, is absent. Likewise, 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole is represented by “Setting Sun” (though in edited form), “Block Rockin’ Beats” and “The Private Psychedelic Reel,” but “Where Do I Begin,” the duet with Beth Orton used in Vanilla Sky, is left off. Technically, it wasn’t a single, but it is one of their best songs, and no Chemicals compilation should be without it. 

Perhaps the most glaring omission is “It Began in Afrika,” the landmark 2001 club track that was hailed an instant classic on its first spin. There is a perfectly good reason for this one, though: the band hates the song now. However, since the band likely already has copies of all their work, perhaps this would be a good time to put the interests of the fans, whom they are hoping will buy their albums, ahead of their own, yes?

The album closes with two new songs. “Get Yourself High” is a nifty electro-beat hip hop track with rapper K-OS that sounds like their own take on “Planet Rock.” The other is “The Golden Path,” a duet with the Flaming Lips that sounds like an update of Echo & The Bunnymen, of all things. Sporting the vocal debut of Flaming Lip Steven Drozd, the narrator sing-speaks about being dead and the beings he meets along the way, with Wayne Coyne closing the song with his unmistakable tenor, begging, “Please forgive me/I never meant to hurt you.” 

There is one other aspect to Singles that causes it to suffer: the lack of sequencing. The band almost never goes from one song to another cold. In many instances, they’ll take whatever beat closes one song and change its speed accordingly so it will blend seamlessly into the next one. Sometimes those segue ways are more compelling than the songs themselves. Their absence here may not cause alarm for the uninitiated, but fans of the band will likely be disappointed by their absence. 

Singles 93-03 is very good representation of the Chemical Brothers’ astonishing work. However, it would have taken very little to make it a hell of a lot better. A good starting point, but by no means definitive.

David Medsker

Other The Chemical Brothers reviews:
Come With Us  (2002)

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