- The Chemical Brothers have spent nearly fifteen years as one of dance music’s most revered and recognized names, and yet little has changed about Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons besides their hairstyles. Rather than switching up their style to suit the times, 'We Are The Night' sees the Brothers still pushing their unique blend of ‘60s psychedelic rock with four-to-the-floor rhythms, scads of knob twirling and distorted vocals. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Hmm…might be time to dust up their sound a bit.
The obvious fault here are the tracks that would sound perfectly at home on Chemical Brothers albums long past: both the awful title track and the significantly better ‘Das Spiegel’ sound like instrumental B-sides from “Surrender” back in 1999. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that Rowlands and Simons are doing what they know best, but if you’ve worn their previous albums thin in the years between each, these tracks are in one ear and out the other, leaving little impression on the way through. ‘Saturate’ is the only instrumental to break the mold, a scratchy techno beat that repeatedly builds up to a wicked live drums breakdown before quieting everything down.
Tracks with guest vocalists fare much better on the whole. ‘All Rights Reversed’ featuring The Klaxons is an aggressive, pumping dance-rock tune. Everybody’s probably tired of ‘Do It Again’ and its various remixes by this time, but it’s easily been the most infectious pop dance tune this summer, narrowly edging Justice’s ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ for the honor. On their funniest track to date,‘The Salmon Dance,’ the Brothers made an inspired decision to invite former Pharcyde rapper Fatlip to the mic, his goofy style perfectly complemented by the stoned-out production and bland nature-show narration.
‘A Modern Midnight Conversation’ made me think 'We Are The Night' had neglected to include Beth Orton’s name on the guest vocalist roster, but alas – the ghostly female voice is just a sample from a ‘70s soul song. Still, it works almost as well as Orton’s previous collaborations with Tom & Ed, like the epic ‘One Too Many Mornings’ from 1998’s ‘Dig Your Own Hole.’ But it’s the album’s closing track, ‘The Pills Won’t Help You Now,’ that gets the best-of award and is easily one of the Brothers’ top ten to date. Ewan Pearson may have said it best on his “Enthusiasm” blog: “A proper collaboration with a great song at its heart, rather than a top-line stuck onto an existing track.” Vocalist Midlake’s haunting vocals perfectly fit the Brothers’ bedtime beats; this is kind of like The Postal Service but significantly less annoying.
The message of ‘The Pills Won’t Help You Now’ is fairly obvious from its title, and when looked at side-by-side with ‘Do It Again’ – the album’s other cautionary tale of drug abuse – it may appear Tom and Ed are fast becoming the Vanilla Brothers. But if kicking bad habits means they’ll discover a daring new sound, then I’ll clear the path to sobriety. The Chemical Brothers remain one of the few relevant acts from electronic music’s mid-‘90s heyday, but if they want to maintain that distinction they’ll have to flex more muscle than shown on 'We Are The Night'.
1 No Path to Follow
2 We Are the Night
3 All Rights Reversed [ft. Klaxons]
5 Do It Again [ft. Ali Love]
6 Das Spiegel
7 The Salmon Dance [ft. Fatlip]
8 Burst Generator
9 A Modern Midnight Conversation
10 Battle Scars [ft. Willy Mason]
12 The Pills Won't Help You Now [ft. Midlake]