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CD Reviews:  Chemical Brothers: Come With Us

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If I had a band that was looking for a drummer, the first call I'd place would be to the Chemical Brothers, and they don't even know how to play drums. Despite that small detail, brothers Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have routinely come up with the hardest, most slammin' drum beats dance music has ever seen, and they could give half of the current crop of rock drummers a run for their money. Their newest album, Come With Us, has a hint of that progressive rock streak that is the trendy influence -- think Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic," Air's 10,000 Hz Legend -- but a more obvious influence may be the late 1980s Manchester scene. Dance music purists, arguably the biggest group of elitists in all of pop music, are complaining about the backward-looking aspects of Come With Us, but they're missing the point. The fact is, this may be the most consistent record the Chemicals have ever done. 

The title track leads things off, and it's a killer, with a manic synthesizer intro leading into a barreling drum fill that wouldn't seem out of place on a Rush album. "It Began in Afrika" turned the clubs upside down last year, and it's easy to see why. A relentless beat propelled by congos, keyboards screeching like cougars and that unforgettable "Afrika-ka-ka-ka-ka" sample, this is one of the best songs they've ever done. New single "Star Guitar" already sounds like a lost Madchester classic, all psychedelics, drug references and hard-hitting percussion. "Hoops" has a noodle-ish acoustic guitar riff that's not far removed from Blur's song "Music is My Radar," of all things, floating over a Luther Campbell Miami beat. The jazzy-funky "Galaxy Bounce" is notable for its outro, a machine-gun edit fest that's reminiscent of the extended mixes Arthur Baker and his disciples made in the mid-80s. God, I loved those. 

When the Chemicals employ guest vocalists for their songs, however, the results sometimes wind up inferior to their own works (though nothing, and I mean nothing, will touch "Setting Sun," their 1996 collaboration with Oasis' Noel Gallagher). "The State We're In," which features folktronica chanteuse Beth Orton doing her best Dusty Springfield impression, is pretty in a post-ecstasy chill kind of way, but it pales in comparison to their last collaboration, 1997's stellar "Where Do I Begin." "The Test," featuring former Verve singer Richard Ashcroft, recalls the excellent Exit Planet Dust track "Life Is Sweet" but doesn't quite nail the mark like "Sweet" did. 

For my money, the Chemical Brothers have been the most innovative force in dance music the last five-plus years, and the fact that they're looking into dance music's past --or, to be fair, rock music's past -- does not prevent them from mining new gold for the future. It's interesting to note that the long-slagged world of progressive rock may be the savior of electronic music. Who knows, the Chemical Brothers just may be the new Rush, and their Moving Pictures is right around the corner. In the meantime, Come With Us is like their Permanent Waves. It's quite good, but they can and will get better. Stay tuned. 

~David Medsker 

Other The Chemical Brothers reviews:
Singles 93-03 
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