You got to hand it to the Chemical Brothers. After being at the forefront of “big beat” scene in the mid-to-late ’90s when Fatboy Slim was still selling units by the truckload – they changed tact at their peak (circa 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole) to try ‘something different’. The resulting album Surrender was a stomper but it tied the brothers down for the next decade – they had found their new template and stuck with it. Here the British duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simmons are trying something different. Gone, for the most part, are the celebrity vocals and with it tunes based around them, giving Tom and Ed room to explore on Further, their seventh studio album.
The fresh-to-their-sound-but-forgettable dream pop of ‘Snow’ opens Further, a collection of computer bleeps and white noise backed by Stephanie Dawson’s Cocteau Twins-esque vocals that grows and rises into ‘Escape Velocity’, the eleven minute-plus epic that kicks off the album proper. A track of Underworld proportions, ‘Escape Velocity’ perpetually changes gears, morphing into something else before switching back; by the close it’s a combination of everything that’s gone before and it can leave the listener dizzy. In a good way. That is followed by ‘Another World’, another switch in tone for The Chemicals – this Daft Punk/Phoenix polished French pop number doesn’t have the bassline and is too stop/start to induce a charge to the dancefloor but it’s not meant to: Tom Rowland’s haunting vocals (the first of three he lends his voice to) ensure this is a dance tune to be enjoyed from the armchair.
After its 90-second where-is-this-going intro, ‘Dissolve’ sees the brothers return, sort of, to their big beat era but isn’t content to stay there. Typical of Further as a whole, there’s a lot of chopping and changing during its six minute running time, including another unexpectedly-pleasant Rowlands vocal contribution slap bang in the middle. ‘Horse Power’ with its repetitive titular sample and harsh rave stylings ensures it won’t go by unnoticed. Then comes the first official single, ‘Swoon’. A tad incestuous in that it brings to mind Orbital’s ‘Lush’, it’s testament to the brothers’ inventiveness that they make the tune their own.
Then come the album’s closers (yep, only eight tracks here) – ‘K+D+B’ and ‘Wonders of the Deep’ – two tunes that will make the listener check twice if this is actually the Chemical Brothers they are listening to. Almost indie pop in vibe and shorn of noisy beats that have gone before, these two tracks are destined for some lucky movie’s end credits. Wonderful stuff.
It might not be cutting edge but Further enjoys its freedom to throw everything at the listener and see that sticks. It’s a busy album and Tom and Ed are striving in every track to make it sound interesting. It is a bridging album – their next album could be something truly special if they build on what they have here.