March 22, 2005

The Chemical Brothers "Push the Button"

Has it really been a decade since the brothers decided they were gonna work it out? It doesn't seem like it. Over the past decade, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, the British duo better known as The Chemical Brothers, have done quite a lot for music. They invented a formula for dance music, called The Big Beat, and over the past ten years, they've innovated and imitated their sound, releasing record after record built around that formula. Some of the records have been great; others have been mediocre. Though their role in the dance world has never been denied, the past few years seemingly haven't been so kind; between the imitators, the innovators, the evolving nature of their music, the fickle nature of the dance world and their adherence to the Big Beat, it's easy to understand how The Chemical Brothers might have lost their way.

Push the Button, their first new record in three years, is a clear return to form. It's as if they've remembered the rewarding formula that created Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole; the beats sound brighter and more upbeat, the rhythms are intense and strong and everything else just seems The quality of Push the Button is somewhat inexplicable; it's not that they've improved or altered their sound, it's a metaphysical feeling, as if they have repaired their magical aura. It's something that's noticeable from the first seconds of album opener "Galvanize," featuring Q-Tip. With a slightly Eastern rhythm, Q-Tip and the Brothers issue a loud and clear clarion call, announcing that They Have Returned.

A cynical mind might suggest that this is a smoke-and-mirrors trick, that the Brothers have merely saved the best track for first, but that's not the case with Push the Button. Every song is blessed with that same brilliant touch that makes it special; whether it's the anti-war cadence-call of "Left Right" to the sexy "White Lines"-meets-"Baba O'Riley" beat of "Come Inside" or the slightly Britpop "The Boxer" (with vocals by Tim Burgess), Push the Button never fails to let the listener down. Instead, it's easy to get lost within the album's numerous grooves. Repetitive listens are a given; considering their previous albums, who'd have thunk it? They save the best for last, though; "Surface to Air" is a wonderful blast of mid-80s post punk and new wave; it sounds like it was touched by the hand of Peter Hook, and it clearly blows away ALL imitators to the throne. So convincing was its sound, you'll be tempted to check and see if New Order put in a guest appearance. (They didn't.)

As it stands, Push the Button should not necessarily be considered a 'comeback' as much as a 'return to form.' Heck, it shouldn't even be called that. If anything, Push the Button is simply a new chapter in the Chemical Brothers' already stellar history, and if their next release can make this excellent record sound mediocre, then it only goes to show you exactly how talented these two nonchalant fellows really are.

--Joseph Kyle

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