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CHEMICAL BROTHERS - "Brotherhood"   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Thursday, 11 September 2008

Buy the limited edition for "Electronic Battle Weapon" or don't bother...,

Greatest Hits albums are for the kind of people who don't really like music. For them, music is that thing that makes a noise out of their tinny shitty mobile phone, or sits next to the nappies in MegaHyperGloboMart. These are the type of people who would buy a DVD called “The Best Of Star Wars” which contains only the battles, with all the dialogue taken out, in some kind of 2 hour orgiastic overdose of explosions.

“Brotherhood”, the Chemical Brothers second 'best of' album in fifteen years, now ensures that shoddy Greatest Hits compilations now account for one third of their official albums. Now, the Chemical Brothers are perhaps what I can describe as an exercise in hyper-adrenalised, mindlessly hedonistic minimalism : a monotonous, vibrating beat that changes in some infinitesmal element every 16 beats – much like those hyper-extended 12” Dub Remixes that lasted a quarter hour on New Order B-sides in the mid Eighties. Live at least, The Chemical Brothers (who I managed to see one and a quarter times : the quarter being whilst walking through a field to get away from them at the 2000 Apocalyse Now : Glastonbury Festival), are the equivalent of watching someone getting very enthusiastic about a punishingly loud and garish gigantic statue of a house whilst standing on the spot at midnight in a thunderstorm. For some people, I'm in no doubt that it is great fun, but for me, it's boring. Not only that, but to an extent, the music is of a very specific genre : Music Made By And For People Who Used To Be Poor When They Were A Bit Better.

Thanks to the impact of their collaborators, The Chemical Brothers have produced some very passable electronic pop songs, but largely this is by accident than design. When left to their own devices, they can and do produce glacial and pounding epics of instrumental cacophony that also manages to avoid anything resemble a sustained melody line. The songs are all assemblages of beats and instrumental riffs created like a skyscraper – one floor at a time with no real perception of a narrative aside from just to keep going on. They sound great, but like an action film, what does it all mean?

Some of the instrumental stuff is brilliant : “Star Guitar” and “Leave Home” are entertaining diversions, but some of it is just plain and dull. Where the best of their work comes into effect, it's largely where the guest contributor – Noel Gallagher, The Flaming Lips, Bernard Sumner, Beth Orton – bring a fully assembled song that The Chemical Brothers just turn into a vocal remix of the original, with hooj drums and mahoosive throbbing bass. This means that whilst the Chemical Brothers have a distinctive sound, they are in effect a superior production team with slight songwriting ability. The idea of a Greatest Hits is a bit of an anthema. It would be akin to having a “Best of Shep Pettibone 1983-1988” double vinyl album. Great to listen to, but what's the point?

That said, “Hey Boy / Hey Girl” is always going to sound fantastic coming out of a PA at 2am. Maybe not so amazing coming out of a mobile phone on the 47 bus at 7.14am. Then again, very little is amazing about 7.14am on any morning.

I obviously missed the point of this Greatest Hits as I already have “93-03” which is a fine and more artistically credible release. “Brotherhood” whiffs faintly of contractual obligation, with a largely minimal lack of effort in the packaging or the utterly random and baffling sequencing. About the only part of the “Brotherhood” release worth considering is the limited edition which contains a second CD, this time featuring the rare (and previously only-on vinyl) Electronic Battle Weapon series. The series is made up of prototype versions of many songs from across all periods of the band released on largely anonymous 12” singles in one-off limited pressings. It's good to finally have them released in a wider fashion, and these 10 tracks will be the large attraction of the set to a seasoned Chem. Bros. Fan, even if most of them have been more widley heard in different forms and styles over the years.

Most casual fans of the band would not have ever heard of the EBW series. People who buy everything they do will be pleased with the second disc, and somewhat bored of the first, whilst more general fans may use it aimlessly plug a gap in their collection they can enjoy whilst cooking or doing the housework. “Brotherhood” is by no means bad, but a bit redundant : if you like the band, you've probably got the previous compilation, and the band have not released enough material over the past five years to justify a new Hits compilation. If you haven't got the previous one, this is a great place to start. If you have the previous one, buy the double CD set for the “Electronic Battle Weapons” stuff or don't bother at all.

It's your choice. You could always buy food or or a donkey for a third world country or something.


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