A REVIEW FROM 20 YEARS AGO

Here’s a very lazy new series, inspired by the fact that I was struggling for inspiration for new ideas for 2019.

Twenty years ago, we were on the cusp of a new millennium. It’s a period which already feels like a lifetime ago but, when you turn to the music, seems to have been just the day before yesterday.

This new series celebrates those circumstances by delving into the archives to re-post a review from the period, to be followed by some thoughts of my own a full two decades on.

#1 : SURRENDER by THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS (Q Magazine, July 1999 – Ian Gittins)

So it’s 1999 and the best music around, both chart and credible, is being made by hedonistic studio wizards and pop alchemists with nary a guitar or rhythm section in sight. Unsurprisingly, given their magic digits, they are also the most in-demand remixers currently extant. Their names are The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim and they are our indubitably perfect pre-millennial pop stars.

The Chemical Brothers are ace remixers because – as Manic Street Preachers, Prodigy, Primal Scream and Charlatans may testify – they bring the best out of everyone they work with. Now Surrender, their third album, sees them bringing the best out of themselves.

It’s a move away from the big beat frenzy and amyl nitrate-soaked party monster anthems of 1997’s thunderous Dig Your Own Hole towards more considered terrain. Amiable DJ/rave boffins Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands have woken up, shaken bleary heads, and realised there’s more to life than block rockin’ beats. Where most of Dig Your Own Hole evoked lager’n’pills messiness down the Heavenly Social, much of Surrender belongs in a chill-out room.

The piledriving, Kraftwerkian opener Music: Response shows they can still churn out big beat floorfillers by the yard, but the pair truly shine when they introduce poignancy and nuance to the mix, as on Out Of Control, which features Bernard Sumner, Bobby Gillespie, and a vintage disingenuous idiot savant Sumner lyric: “It could be that I’m losing my touch/Or do you think my moustache is too much?”

Noel Gallagher happens along to wonder aloud – somewhat ungrammatically – “How does it feel like to wake up in the sun?” on Let Forever Be, essentially an update on their joint 1996 Number 1 single Setting Sun, but then they hit comedown mode. The Sunshine Underground is melancholic and sparse, Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval lends spectral vocals to the haunting Asleep From Day and the broken lullaby Dream On, featuring Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue, is unspeakably lovely. Only the jaunty single Hey Boy Hey Girl reverts to their usual hi-energy jollity.

Surrender is The Chemical Brothers’ quantum leap into the wild blue yonder, away from their trademark slapstick delirium. It looks like there is life after big beat, after all.

JC writes……

Dig Your Own Hole had brought the duo to much wider attention. As is often the case, many of those who had been fans from the outset felt ‘betrayed’ by the move towards a more commercial sound but their numbers had been dwarfed by those whose first contact with The Chemical Brothers was thanks to a guest vocal by Noel Gallagher. There was a fair bit of intrigue as to which way things would go with the third album.

As the above review indicates, Surrender was no simple re-tread of Dig Your Own Hole as can be seen from the fact that the singles lifted from it reached #3. #9 and #21 respectively, as opposed to the two #1s and #17 hits from the previous album. Despite this, the sales of Surrender in the UK were double that of Dig Your Own Hole, which perhaps reflects that many radio DJs were playing a number of the album tracks on the basis of them sounding commercial enough for non-twilight shows. It wasn’t as if album sales were boosted by some sort of sensational and memorable Festival appearance which had been broadcast to the nation –The Chemical Brothers at Glastonbury in 1999 restricted themselves to a DJ-only set in the Dance Tent that year – so what you got was a dance album of immense appeal to many people who wouldn’t normally buy anything associated with the genre.

I’m happy to lump myself in with that description, but thinking back to 1999 I can also recall enjoying and buying albums by Fatboy Slim, Underworld and Basement Jaxx as well as a couple of compilations at the end of the year on the basis of having, at a late stage in my life, gone on a boys-only golf holiday to southern Spain for the first ever time and where I found myself falling head over heels for the beats I was hearing in night clubs. It was a time when Primal Scream had gone full-on with the hard hitting beats and even The Fall, with Touch Sensitive, were making dance music of sorts. But being in my mid-30s, my energy levels were such that I needed as much comedown music as I did the higher energy stuff, and so what Surrender offered seemed perfect being part of a wider landscape which I was thoroughly enjoying and in which The Chemical Brothers were masters of their art.

It’s still a piece of work that, 20 years on, I’m very happy to listen to from start to end without use of the skip button. In summary, it’s a late 20th century masterpiece.

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Music:Response
mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Out Of Control
mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Asleep From Day
mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Dream On

JC

ICA #150 : A SHORT POSTSCRIPT

A few of the very welcome comments earlier today led to me doing a quick bit of number crunching.

150 ICAs – of which more than two-thirds have come via guest postings.

40 of you have made a guest appearance via the ICA at one time or another – SWC leads the way with 14.5 contributions, closely followed by The Robster (8) and Tim Badger (7.5). And they’ve come from all corners of the globe, although I’m still waiting on my first from Japan.

Full list of credits, in alphabetical order:-

Aidan Baker (1)
Alex G (2)
Brian Linear Lives (2)
C (1)
Charity Chic (2)
Comrade Colin (1)
Craig McAllister (1)
Dave Ashley (1)
Dave Glickmann (1)
Dave Martin (1)
Derek Howie (1)
Dirk Sexy Loser (3)
Drew Kitchen Table (1)
Echorich (4)
Eric (1)
Friend of Rachel Worth (1)
George Forsyth (5)
Gil Gillespie (1)
Jacques the Kipper (1.5)
Jen (1)
JC (46.5)
jimdoes (3)
Jonder (4)
Jonny the Friendly Lawyer (5)
Jules (1)
KC (as was, now KT) (1)
Martin New Amusements (1)
Martin Elliot (3)
Mike Melville (2)
Nik (1)
rhetor (2)
Rich Cundill (1)
Rol Hirst (2)
Strangeways (2)
Strictly Rockers (7)
SWC (14.5)
Swiss Adam (4)
The Crumpsall Correspondent (1)
The Robster (8)
The Swede (1)
Tim Badger (7.5)

Thank you so much. And keep ’em comin’

mp3 : Chemical Brothers – Music : Response

JC

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

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Mercury Rev
were, for quite a long time throughout the 90s, one of those bands who got a fair bit of critical acclaim in the music papers and magazines but who were often quite difficult to track down on radio. They were, to all intent and purposes, the perfect definition of a cult band.

Between 1991 and 1997, they churned out 3 LPs and 9 EPs/singles, none of which sold all that well in the UK. Back home in the USofA, they were even more unheralded, with the soft and high-pitched vocal style of Jonathan Donahue often being cited as the thing that most held them back at a time when rock with a slightly harder edge was in vogue.

But in 1998, the release of the LP Deserter’s Songs very briefly put the band firmly in the spotlight. It was a record seemingly not all that different in sound, mood and tone from 1995 work See You On The Other Side, but it just seemed to capture the hearts and minds of many music fans, including the staff at the NME who made it #1 LP of 1998.

I hadn’t paid any attention to the band until then but when I finally did it wasn’t down to the things being written about them. Instead, it was the power of television…..

This was the time when I first got satellite TV, and one of its initial attractions was the ability to surf across the music channels trying to find new and edgy music or videos that I would like, and for a while a lovely promo for a song called Goddess On A Hiway was on heavy rotation.

Come Xmas 1998, and it was the usual requests from friends and relatives about what was on my list to Santa in terms of music and books, and given the critical acclaim afforded to the album, I did add Deserter’s Songs and it subsequently was wrapped in glittery paper come 25th December.

It was, and remains, an LP that I don’t quite get what all the fuss was about, albeit it was pleasant enough in a non-offensive way. My favourite track on it was subsequently released as a single in January 1999 and in reaching #26, became the band’s first bona fide hit:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp

What is most interesting however from the CD single that I picked up for 99p a few weeks later after it had disappeared out of the charts is that the band and/or their label persuaded The Chemical Brothers to make a remix of the song which is near unrecognisable :-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp (Chemical Brothers remix)

The CD single also contained a really rootsy track which was in fact a live version of a Neil Young song that had originally been recorded for an XFM session in November 1998:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Vampire Blues (live)

Mercury Rev, The Chemical Brothers and Neil Young.  Three acts that you wouldn’t expect in one blog post far less on a CD single in the bargain bin.

THEY CAN MAKE GREAT SONGS WITHOUT GUEST VOCALISTS

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The best known and indeed best loved of the hit singles of The Chemical Brothers tend to be those that have featured guest vocalists.  Noel Gallacher on Setting Sun and Let Forever Be together with Bernard Sumner on Out of Control and Wayne Coyne on The Golden Path being the most obvious examples.

Even when it hasn’t been a guest singer – such as Hey Boy Hey Girl – it is the sampled vocal that has taken the song to the heights.

But in Star Guitar, a #8 hit from 2002, the boys demonstrated that songs that are near instrumental as imaginable could be a hit and memorable.

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar (edit)

It is like a modern descendant of the great synth pop/disco of Giorgio Moroder but with added guitars. It’s a track that demands to be played very loudly and if you listen through headphones it feels mindblowing.

Here’s yer two additional tracks on the CD single:-

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Base 6
mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar (Pete Heller’s Expanded Mix)

These are a lot more clubby in feel and sound and interestingly Pete Heller brings the vocal sample to the forefront when in the original it is very much in the background. What he does is make into a totally different song but one that I’m far less charmed by.

Oh and you should check out the promo video to Star Guitar.

One of the most clever and intriguing promos I’ve ever seen….I’m glad wiki is around to enable director Michel Gondry to explain how it was done.

The music video  features a continuous shot filmed from the window of a speeding train passing through towns and countryside. However, the buildings and objects passing by appear exactly in time with the various beats and musical elements of the track. The video is based on DV footage Gondry shot while on vacation in France; the train ride between Nîmes and Valence was shot ten different times during the day to get different light gradients. The Pont du Robinet as well as Pierrelatte’s station can be seen. Gondry had experimented with a different version of the same effect in his video for Daft Punk’s “Around the World”, where he had represented each element of the music with a dancer.

Gondry actually plotted out the synchronization of the song on graph paper before creating the video, eventually “modelling” the scenery with oranges, forks, tapes, books, glasses and tennis shoes.

Enjoy.

WHEN ED AND TOM MET BARNEY AND BOBBY

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So I’m guessing that Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands were messing around in the studio of a day, twiddling and fiddling with their knobs in an effort to create some classic new sounds. They’ve gone through their extensive list of contacts for folk to sing lead vocals, but are still on the hunt for that something different. So they get in touch with Bobby Gillespie having worked with him on some recent Primal Scream stuff.

But to their horror, Bobby turns them down. And even worse, he suggests they haul in Bernard Sumner as Bobby has been working with him on some fresh material that New Order are recording….

That’s really a bit unfair. Barney might not possess the greatest vocal talent in the world, but he’s nowhere near as bad as many like to make out.

Whatever the circumstances, and how it came about, I reckon this is a brilliant piece of indie-dance-pop:-

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Out Of Control

It’s a song credited to Rowlands/Simons/Sumner, so Barney must have contributed a fair bit to the collaboration. Oh and Bobby does provide some back-up vocals….

This was the third and final single lifted from the truly outstanding LP Surrender, It was released in October 1999 but only reached a rather disappointing #21. But then again, I’m guessing that most folk already had it on the LP as it had already been in the shops for five months. But that meant missing out on a new song and a dapper remix:-

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Power Move
mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Out Of Control (Sasha remix)

Happy Listening. And Dancing.

A FEW HOURS LATER THAN SCHEDULED..

A

The daily posts normally appear at a certain time every day as I’ve the habit of writing up to a week’s worth in one sitting and then putting them into a schedule. However, should something unexpected emerge, such as a trip to the hospital which results in the diagnosis of an infected knee that has to be kept straight at all times this preventing me sitting at the PC for 5 days, then things can go wrong.

Last week’s sudden inflammation underneath my right kneecap was both painful and scary – I was genuinely worried that I was developing some sort of clot.  I went to my local hospital on the south side of Glasgow at 9am last Thursday morning and over the next 90 minutes received the care, attention and treatment that money just could not buy making me again grateful for the National Health Service here in the UK.   There was an initial diagnosis which turned out to be correct but I was also given x-rays and seen by a specialist just to make sure for there was no explanation as to why I should be suffering from Prepatellar Busitis – or as it is more commonly known, Housemaid’s Knee.

A strong dose of antibiotics and a lot of rest, particularly keeping the knee straight, was the recommended cure.  Four days later and I’m a lot better but still not 100%, but at least I feel I can take a few minutes to drop in here today.

I heard a snatch of a song on an advert on the telly over the weekend which reminded me of how great a particular song was:-

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun

Released all of seventeen years ago this month.  The Chemical Brothers had been getting a lot of attention both on the back of the release of the LP Exit Planet Dust the the previous summer for for seeming to often steal the show with the live performances at various outdoor festivals.  The fact that The Chemical Brothers were to collaborate with one of the Gallagher brothers caused huge excitement in the music press  – Oasis at this point were at their critical peak as well as having what seemed a fan in every household in the country.  The result didn’t disappoint and deservedly went to #1 in the singles chart.  Noel Gallagher hasn’t done anything nearly as good since….(some would say he hadn’t done anything decent beforehand but that’s extremely harsh).

Here’s the other tracks on the single just in case you’re interested :-

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun (radio edit)

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Buzz Tracks

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun (instrumental)

Enjoy.