The Chemical Brothers, Remixed Yet Again
Come With UsBy Dana Levine
Come With Us
By 1999, the Chemical Brothers had hit it big. Although their first two albums, Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole, aroused much more than just a cult following, their third album, Surrender, brought their unique electronic sound to the mainstream with such unforgettable (and overplayed) songs as “Hey Boy, Hey Girl” and “Out of Control.” Almost overnight, the Chemical Brothers became the next cool thing, and Surrender went platinum several times over.
Three years later, the London-based group’s fourth original CD (no, DJ mixes do not count), Come With Us, has finally hit the market. How does it stack up to their previous releases and the rest of what is out there on the electronic market?
The first thing that jumped out at me when I listened to this album is how polished and smooth the sound is. Everything on the CD sounds as if it has been carefully engineered, remixed, and filtered until only a careful selected subset of frequencies reach the listener’s ear. Unlike many electronic albums, which can be somewhat cacophonous at times, this is as close to easy listening as electronic music can get.
The next thing I noticed is that nothing on this album is actually new. Just about everything on the disc is directly or stylistically derived from something that I had heard before, whether one of the group’s earlier albums or the work of another artist. Even those passages that weren’t immediately familiar came across as being surprisingly similar to something that I had heard before. Yes, electronic artists tend to sample the work of other artists and pass the products off as something new, and this is even an accepted practice by this point, but this album is an exceptionally phenomenal remix of earlier efforts.
“Come With Us,” the album’s namesake, follows in the Chemical Brothers’ recent tradition of putting the worst song first on the album. It sounds like an experimental session gone awry, much as “Music: Response” did on Surrender. “Come With Us” probably should have ended up on the cutting room floor (unless the artists were going for something similar to what “The Art of Noise” did in the mid-90s).
Say “It Began in Afrika,” and repeat the syllable “ka” for about five more minutes, insert a few African-techno sounding beats (some of which bear striking resemblance to “Out of Control” from Surrender), and you pretty much have the second song on the album. “Hoops” also uses the old Chemical Brothers trick of taking a sample, repeating it for several minutes, and inserting some oddly familiar electronic drum beats. The effect almost worked the first few times, and it is tolerable here, but the Chemical Brothers are precariously close to falling into a stereotypical sound.
“Galaxy Bounce,” which follows as a logical successor to the previous song, “It Began In Afrika,” is very well mixed, but offers very little in the department of originality. “Star Guitar,” track number four, begins as a logical extension of “Galaxy Bounce,” but finally evolves some pleasant beats, segueing into the second major theme of the album. A pleasant voice sings along with the drum beats, smoothing everything out and providing a mellowing effect.
“My Elastic Eye” begins as a demo of the group’s drum machines, turning into a pleasant mix that follows from the end of “Galaxy Bounce.” The rest of the album continues in this vein, devolving into a quiet, mellow, and surprisingly pleasant techno lullaby. (Is “The State We’re In” something other than sobriety?)
And although it isn’t what you would expect, the extremely mellow final four songs are hands down the best of the album. “Denmark,” undoubtedly the best song on the album, works into a particularly mellow rhythm near its finale. “Pioneer Skies” continues upon this, and almost reminded me at points of the Beatles’ trip masterpiece “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” “The Test” is also a good song, although it reminds me quite a bit of BT’s ESCM, which did the organic techno sound somewhat better (although the Chemical Brothers do manage to add something, probably in the form of voiced over lyrics)
Come With Us is not a bad CD, but I’m sure that I have heard better. Although it has everything required of a good album, it somehow lacks that originality that we should all expect. Surrender by the Chemical Brothers was a large part of what made me a fan of electronic music, and although this album will appeal to many existing electronic enthusiasts, it is not going to win many new converts.