Give it up for the Chemical Brothers. Genres and trends come and go, festival gods rise and fall. Yet Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons stay eternally true to their block rocking vision. The duo has now outlasted two stupidly-named marketing gimmicks designed to sell dance music to normals: electronica (which they sort of helped invent in the Nineties) and EDM (which they’ve admirably ignored throughout the last decade). Their last album, 2016’s Born in the Echoes, stuck with a formula that’s worked for them for a quarter century: dancefloor bangers plus psychedelia plus big-name cameos (in this case Q-Tip, Beck and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark). Their ninth LP clears out the guest stars to go in a ravier, heavier direction, while also suggesting a stock-taking introspect and angst worthy of their august status and our precarious times.
Titles like “Eve of Destruction” and “Mad As Hell” underscore an awareness on their part that peace, love, unity and respect are in short supply in the Trump/Brexit era. But the album’s feel and sound is resiliently explosive, especially on the three-song mini mega-mix of sorts that kicks things off, a big beat suite following a narrative arc from apocalypse (“Eve of Destruction”) to defiance (“Bango,” which contains the vocal hook “I won’t back down / Give me my thunder”) to wide-open borderless promise (the bell-ringing rouser “No Geography”).
The rest of the album feels a little more perfunctory, never quite being of a piece a la their euphoric 2010 return-to-form Further, or offering uniquely memorable high-points a la Born in the Echoes’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”-tinged face-melter “I’ll See You There.” While recording No Geography, the duo broke out the same gear they used to create Nineties classics Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole, but tracks like the classic acid throwdown “Free Yourself” and the Seventies soul-sampling electro-squelch-fest “We’ve Got To Try,” while synapse-nuking fun, echo past greatness without feeling revelatory in their own right. The album ends with the setting-sun distress and golden dissonance of “Catch Me I’m Falling,” a ballad about loss demonstrating that even when they’re merely taking care of business, they can capture a classic pop emotion better than pretty much all of their peers of followers. Here’s to 25 years of chasing the next one.