January 28, 2005

Shortcut - Chemical Brothers

I've never been one for most dance/techno/electronic music, but I've always liked the Chemical Brothers. The eighth-grade version of me was neither sucking on pacifiers nor tripping on E, but yet I immediately took to "Block Rockin' Beats" when I first heard it on the local alternative station. Looking back, it seems a fitting transition: The stellar electronic-rock fusion of Dig Your Own Hole bridged my tastes of middle school with those of high school. The album was dark and exhilarating, and foretold dangerous adolescent adventures.

Although my time at prep school was pretty hard and a lot of fun, I can't say that it was all that dark or dangerous. Fittingly, the two Manchester DJs have not captured those qualities since 1997. Granted, each of the three albums since (and one before) have been solid, including Push the Button, which was released this past Tuesday. But while Dig collapsed stylistic boundaries with its sheer boldness and ambition, the other LPs have been content to revisit past glories, not achieving anything that would make a rock kid consider a candy necklace.

Push the Button fails to meet my expectations in a number of ways, which is not completely fair on my part. First, only a couple of tracks ("The Boxer" being the best) are propulsive like those of Dig; these tracks, like many since that album, are too sunny or tame or bland. Second, Push deviates from the Chemical Brothers rut/routine (young English lad singing druggy song, young English lass singing ballad and/or delicate song) only by having more vocalists, which is not always good. Q-Tip is a welcome surprise, but the Brothers should just let the music (and maybe samples) speak for itself.

Third, I fell in love with the Chems through Dig, and so it will always be my favorite. However, all biases aside, I do believe that it will remain their crowning achievement. Despite their high quality, no other album of theirs can reach that high bar. As a post-script, maybe I just wish my life were a little more dark and dangerous.