The Chemical Brothers
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Wondering what happened to the Rave New World? The Chemical Brothers answer the question three songs into Surrender, when Bernard Sumner shows up to sing "Out of Control," a brilliant seven-minute summation of his entire career with New Order. Turns out those marching forward are merely glancing over the shoulder, trying not to trip over someone else's boogie two-shoes. Something old is something new in the hands of DJs Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands, those Brit-beat, big-beat turntablists who made a fortune spinning records in the warehouse at 3 a.m. Hence, the future sounds a whole lot like Mazzy Star (whose Hope Sandival guests on "Asleep from Day"), Mercury Rev (Jonathan Donahue bids farewell on "Dream On"), and Oasis (Noel Gallagher again rears his ugly head). This thing's got more guest stars than The Love Boat or a 6ths album.
And the result is strikingly coherent, trance-techno for an audience whose idea of revolution is buying a new Volkswagen Beetle. No one will ever confuse the Chems with High Art; theirs is a disposable kind of genius, block-rockin' beats that fade when the sun comes up. But what separates this gem from the Chems' previous two outings is how the songs grow only more sumptuous with each listen. For every raver like "Music: Response" or the mesmerizing "Hey Boy Hey Girl," there's a minisymphony such as "The Sunshine Underground" that chills and thrills. Where Exit Planet Dust came marked with an expiration date, Surrender feels timeless: Finally, Rowlands and Simons have figured out how to move something other than your ass.
But they'll never be Moby, a man who can find God in a Casio. Play is the master's masterpiece, the ultimate piece of time-travel pop built atop the shallow graves of forgotten singers from eras long past. The album reveals what happens when a born-again buys Alan Lomax boxed sets of recordings made in the 1920s and '30s and pours gasoline on them. A dozen voices swirl around Play like ghosts in the CD player; black and white, male and female, they're summoned by Moby until the disc dances in the pew and turns secular pop into spiritual poetry. Imagine a disc where Spoonie Gee and the Treacherous Three share the pulpit with the Shining Light Gospel Choir, with a skinny white dude presiding over the whole affair; amen, and turn that shit up. It'll convert any nonbeliever.
-- Robert Wilonsky