Chemical Brothers Block Rockin' Pop
Published Feb 01, 2000Despite their block rockin' sound and hip-hop sampling technique, the Chemical Brothers' million-selling albums have also contained a peculiar strain of pop. Their debut, Exit Planet Dust, squeezed in vocals by the Charlatans' Tim Burgess and trip-hop chanteuse Beth Orton. And their doubly successful second album, Dig Your Own Hole , skyrocketed with Oasis's Noel Gallagher's contributions to the Beatle-y "Setting Sun."
Now amidst the expected hip-hop, electro and funk sounds of their third full-length release, Surrender , is an even larger pop quotient - as if their Grammy for "Best Rock Instrumental Performance" had gained them entrance to a new snack bracket of music industry contacts.
Noel is back again with another slice of blissed-out Beatles-style psych-pop, "Let Forever Be," singing like a born-again flower child wanting to "shine on everyone." Further Yellow Submarine outtakes assume the shape of the trumpeting "Sunshine Underground" and the flute-ish album closer "Dream On." Add the barely awake performance by Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval on the drowsy "Asleep From Day" and you've got a potential side-project EP of very un-chemical beats.
"The way that we look at is not that we're trying to ape the late '60s psychedelic music in the way that, say, someone like Kula Shaker does," says the very tall brother, Tom Rowland. "They want to just replicate the sound of some record and get the same phasing. We take the idea of being adventurous in sound, especially from those records that were combining pop structures with sounds that were very alien to people. I like that ethic of psychedelic. And when psychedelia and funk collided in early Funkadelic, you had mind-expanding music very rooted in the floor and the body. That's what our music is about really."
If the Chemical Brothers want funk and mind expansion, they should be working with George "loved the LSD" Clinton, not New Order's monotone Bernard Sumner. After being fans of New Order between teenage doses of Afrika Bambaataa and Public Enemy, the Chemical's first contact with their heroes was made a few years ago when they were asked to remix "Everything's Gone Green." The Chemicals didn't feel a remix of the classic was warranted and declined (The Advent did it instead). More recently, they came up with a rhythm sound that reminded them of New Order and the idea for a collaboration with Sumner was hatched.
"We had this track where the snare sounded like a New Order beat. We thought it would be good with a vocal on it and we just called him up. He was very receptive about it because his teenage son's a big fan of what we do. He likes the same music as his son."
No dad rock for this hip dad, although, perversely enough, the tune that Tom and Ed ultimately prepared for Bernard to sing over, "Out of Control," had a '70s style Giorgio "Underworld ripped me off recently also" Moroder-ish disco beat.
"He was into it. That was one of the big discussions that we were having in the studio. It was interesting working with him because he's had such experience in the amount of records he's made. We were talking conceptually about the music, like we have this brilliant idea for a pumping beat and then we ape this 'Native Love,' Donna Summer kind of riff going on. We used to have it running through the whole track and then he was going, 'Well, I like the idea but sometimes you've just got to forget the idea and see what sounds best.' And that is why we just use it for a bit, and then cut to another line."
What Tom is referring to is the sudden switch to a New Order/Electronic-ish guitar section in the midst of this bumping "I Feel Love"-styled dance track. It seems the "older and wiser" Barnie laid some Eno-type oblique strategies on the duo for the sake of the song's structure. Hey boys, never trust a man who's taken Prozac just for fun and ruined many a good New Order rhythm track with a pop middle eight or a ditzy chorus.
Still you can't blame them for wanting to record with one of their idols, especially one from a group who became a model for working with cutting-edge technology while still making accessible music.
People talk of rock and dance music meeting. That question was answered when New Order's "Blue Monday" was released.
"I think that definitely informed the way Ed and I see music. That you can be innovative and adventurous and still do well. Especially when our first records didn't seem to fit anywhere. Even DJs thought they couldn't really program them into their sets of seamless techno. People speak today of rock and dance music meeting - the two big monolithic things coming together. I think that question was tackled and answered when 'Blue Monday' was released. New Order seemed like a brilliant synthesis of electronic music and your more kind of traditional song. 'Blue Monday' is still arranged like the most perfect marriage of those. It is strange that people still talk these big weighty concepts when the discussion was over then."