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Music Review: The Chemical Brothers – Brotherhood

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The Chemical Brothers have been filling up clubs with sweaty people for quite some time, first bursting on to the scene as The Dust Brothers with a few singles in the early 90s.

Once they ditched the dusty name, Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands released 1995’s Exit Planet Dust. The debut was a critical smash and produced hits like “Leave Home” and “Life is Sweet.”

It was 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole that really brought the Brothers out into the mainstream, though. Q magazine readers voted it as the 42nd best British Album Ever in 2000. The hits were all over the record, with the still-popular “Block Rockin’ Beats” leading the way. Noel Gallagher was featured on “Setting Sun” and Beth Orton made an appearance on “Where Do I Begin.”

1999’s Surrender was up next, once again garnering substantial critical praise and solid sales. Noel Gallagher made another appearance, singing on the terrific “Let Forever Be.” New Order’s Bernard Sumner was featured on “Out of Control” and Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval appeared on “Asleep from Day.”

Come with Us, from 2002, was a bit of a step off the ladder for The Chemical Brothers. Despite an appearance by Richard Ashcroft on “The Test,” the album really didn’t do too well after debuting in the top spot on the UK Albums Chart. It was not as well received as the duo’s previous work by critics, either.

Their fifth album, Push the Button, saw a 2005 release and brought with it a step in the right direction. Q-Tip featured in the loop-heavy “Galvanize” and brought the band back to the dance floor. The record won The Chemical Brothers a Grammy, too.

We Are the Night found a 2007 release and actually won a Grammy, making The Chemical Brothers the only artists to win the Best Electronic Dance Album award twice.

And within the gaps of their standard album releases, the duo released a hefty constituency of other singles, side-projects, and compilations. With September 2008’s Brotherhood, they’ve done it again.

This compilation record is available as a double album and as a single album.

For the purposes of this review, I received the single album. The double album expands upon the duo’s second compilation of greatest hits after 2003’s Singles 93-03 with a selection of “Electronic Battle Weapons.” The ten tracks act as the groundwork for some of the group’s most exciting musical experiments.

In comparison to the Singles 93-03 album, nine of the 13 tracks appear on both discs. This notion naturally begs the question as to the purpose of Brotherhood. Mainly, is there one?

Well, newer fans of The Chemical Brothers may be drawn in by some of the band’s more recent work. The presence of “Galvanize” is welcome, for instance, and opens the door to some of the group’s most popular and exhilarating pieces.

But the presence of the new tracks also displays a bit of a problem. The Chemical Brothers’ new material seems rather profoundly reliant on guest spots and collaborations. Q-Tip’s appearance on “Galvanize” is one, while “Do It Again” from We Are the Night features Ali Love. That’s not to say that the guest spots don’t work, but rather to point out a possible reluctance (?) for the duo in terms of going it alone. And yes, I’m aware that “Star Guitar” is the obvious exception to the rule.

Older, more tested fans of The Chemical Brothers have few reasons to pick up this set.

The new track, “Keep My Composure,” features Baltimore’s Spank Rock delivering a pretty solid MC segment over a twirling and tweeting backdrop. And “Midnight Madness” is a digital single that is contagious and joyous.

But those two tracks don’t really sweeten the deal. There’s no question that The Chemical Brothers are dance pop pioneers and that their work is above reproach, but the true nature behind this compilation is somewhat empty. The songs are good and new fans will enjoy themselves, especially if they spring for the two-disc (I assume).

On the whole, however, a better bet is to simply pick up a few standard TCB albums. Dig Your Own Hole comes to mind for a start.

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About Jordan Richardson

  • I picked up the Singles 93-03 when it was released strictly for the bonus disc but I won’t be doing that again for Brotherhood.

    As for the use of guest stars, I wonder if that’s their way of “staying relevant” in a music landscape that has seen some of their contemporaries fall by the wayside.