After an agonising wait The Chemical Brothers’ six previously unavailable records return to vinyl. John Earls reports…
For an outfit who are so closely associated with vinyl culture, The Chemical Brothers have been served remarkably poorly by the format. Apart from their compilation set, Brotherhood, and last year’s Born In The Echoes, only 1999’s Surrender (the one with Hey Boy Hey Girl and Let Forever Be on) are currently available on vinyl.
That’s something which Universal has solved with the minimum of fuss. All six of the Chems’ other original albums have now arrived back on vinyl, as part of Universal’s recent, and eminently sensible, campaign to get overpriced rarities back into the racks, in a no-messing form, featuring the original packaging and a download code on heavyweight wax, at a price comparable to a regular new vinyl release. In The Chemical Brothers’ case, it means that each album is a double set.
These reissues also offer the chance to assess just how consistent their career has been. Of these half-dozen albums, only 2007’s formulaic We Are The Night lets the standards slip. By then, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons were rigidly sticking to having a (then vogue-ish) alt-folk singer, a poorly-used Willy Mason in this instance, and hip Chemicals-influenced arrivistes (Klaxons, Ali Love), before former Midlake vocalist Tim Smith closes the album, attempting to repeat the majesty of Mercury Rev’s frontman Jonathan Donahue’s guest spot on The Private Psychedelic Reel. Sadly, and no-one can pretend that The Pills Won’t Help You Now is a classic Chemical Brothers album-closer. Still, even We Are The Night features a memorable cameo from The Pharcyde’s Fatlip on the cartoon-y Salmon Dance, which pre-dates The Avalanches’ Noisy Eater by a decade.
Before We Are The Night, there was simply no-one to touch Rowlands and Simons. If Orbital had made headlining festivals a possibility for dance acts, then The Chemical Brothers made it feel dance music’s natural home. As a genre, big beat is solely the preserve of I Heart The Nineties comedy nostalgia, but there is undeniably a swagger to their early albums. Exit Planet Dust both defined the genre and introduced the band in just 50 minutes, while Dig Your Own Hole propelled the still fairly anonymous dance stars into pop’s limelight with Block Rockin’ Beats and the Noel Gallagher-fronted Setting Sun. If the reserved duo made unlikely rock stars off stage, on it they were wonderful cheerleaders for the exuberance of their music. Rowlands in particular looked as if he was having even more fun than anyone in the crowd while dancing to his own infectious creations like Leave Home and Elektrobank.
By the turn of the century, it was as if the albums were there to soundtrack the hedonism of their live show, which reached a peak on Push The Button. From the machine-tooled power of its lead single Galvanize through the self-explanatory Shake Break Bounce to the hysteria of Bloc Party singer Kele Okereke’s turn on Believe, Push The Button is the ultimate Chemical Brothers album.
A different approach
After We Are The Night came the duo’s most unusual album, Further. A reaction against its predecessor’s obvious moves, there are no guests apart from uncredited alt-country singer Stephanie Dosen. In true Brian Pern fashion, Rowlands himself sings a couple of songs. Further is certainly much more low-key than the Chems’ stereotype, but it’s a fascinating, spectral listen that deserves reappraisal. So too does We Are The Echoes, a return to more familiar Chemicals stylings that’s far too urgent to be dismissed as ‘comfortable’.
Now the complete catalogue is available on vinyl, there’s really no excuse not to fall in love with one of the most consistently imperious bands of the past 20 years.