The Chemical Brothers, Come With Us (2002)

I came to the Chemical Brothers late, via Primal Scream, the Prodigy and the Propellerheads; liked 'Block Rockin' Beats' and even owned Exit Planet Dust, but found that a little went a long way. It wasn't until Surrender that I surrendered: a near-perfect album, looking to the future while summing up its late-1990s present.

So the luke-warm response to their new album from some critics doesn't worry me, because I wasn't necessarily looking for block rockin' repeats. If it seems something of a let-down, that's because they're coming off a career high; taken on its own terms, Come With Us is good 21st century electronic music.

There are weaker tracks, but I'll blaspheme at the Church of Bleep and say that that's true of any of their albums. It's more chilled out in places than their earlier offerings, but then they've been doing drifting neo-hippy stuff with Beth Orton for a long time now.

Come With Us is, in fact, a logical progression from Surrender in its willingness to sacrifice volume and beats to texture and the slow build. Actually, 'slow build' is the wrong way around: it doesn't build so much as fade, which might be why some are finding it unsatisfying. The transition from punchy openers 'Come With Us' and 'It Began in Afrika' (ka-ka-ka-ka) through to the hypnotic train-track rhythms of 'Star Guitar' and 'Pioneer Skies' is like one long coming-down from the relentless sirens and beats of the 1990s. At the end of it all, Richard Ashcroft sings 'Did I pass the test?', almost as if he's asking, 'Can I go home now? All this noise has given me a headache.'

Which is fair enough. Does everything have to lead to a climax? Fading can be satisfying too.

So what's next? The Chemical Brothers head into Air territory, I suppose. Not that that's a bad thing. If you want to keep living in the 1990s, where electronic music means beats per minute, then keep spinning Dig Your Own Hole; if you want to explore more of what electronic music can be, then Come With Us.

First published at Records Ad Nauseam, 31 January 2002.


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