CD Review of Brotherhood by The Chemical Brothers
Recommended if you like
Prodigy, New Order, 808 State
The Chemical Brothers:

Reviewed by David Medsker


he logical, rational part of us knows without a doubt that it’s patently unfair to give any compilation of the Chemical Brothers a mere three and a half stars. These guys are studs, turning the concept of two men, a drum machine and a fill-in-the-blank (insert your own choice here: guest singer, guitar, soprano sax…but not a trumpet) and turning it completely on its ear. However, the fact that the Chemicals are releasing their second compilation in five years – two of their last four releases have been of the ‘hits’ variety – is curious, to say the least. Is this the last album in their deal with Astralwerks? If so, would they really consider leaving them for a larger label? Astralwerks is the perfect label for them; they’d be nuts to pull a Death Cab and sign with Atlantic or the like. And if they’re not looking to leave Astralwerks, then why are they releasing yet another compilation, only two albums removed from the last one?

Either way, it doesn’t make much sense for Brotherhood to exist, and as a single-disc collection, it’s far from definitive. The band’s recent output has been as solid overall as their earlier work, but in a completely different way; their early singles were jaw-dropping, trend-setting cornerstone moments in electronic music, and the album tracks were strong enough to keep the listener engaged. Lately, however, the singles have been some of the weaker moments on the albums that housed them, while the album tracks saved the day. Combining those awesome early singles with their lesser, latter-day singles just doesn’t work.

Chemical Brothers

Or should we say, combining the early singles with the latter singles chosen for this compilation just doesn’t work. Scrap “Believe,” the collaboration with Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke (his contribution to which was reduced to two lines), and the instantly irritating “Do It Again,” replace them with “The Boxer” and “The Salmon Dance,” and Brotherhood is a completely different album. Relegate one of the new tracks – take your pick, as neither is exactly earth-shattering – to B-side status, and add one of the following (“The Test,” “It Began in Afrika,” “Hoops,” “Come With Us,” “Elektrobank,” “Life Is Sweet,” “Song to the Siren”), and we’re talking about a five-star album.

Instead, we’re talking about Brotherhood, and while it contains several moments of unabashed brilliance (two words: “Setting Sun”), the overall package could have been radically improved with a few small changes. It looks as though the UK chart positions dictated which songs made the cut – though they get bonus points for including the stellar We Are the Night album track “Saturate” – which does not at all seem like the Chemical Brothers way of doing things. Indeed, the entire album feels as if it were assembled by someone with little knowledge of the band’s discography, which only goes to fuel our worst-nightmare conspiracy theory about Brotherhood: that it is a sign that Astralwerks is closing its doors, and its biggest bands are being swallowed up by Capitol. Heaven help us if that is true, and this is one of their last acts. The label, and the band, deserve much, much better.

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