U.K. production duo the Chemical Brothers are critically acclaimed for making electronic music that “rocks” instead of merely moving coolly to the beat. It’s an admirable approach – dance music could certainly use more stars and fewer stargazers. But excluding the cut-and-paste anarchy of their first single, “Song to the Siren,” or the closing swirl of sitars and space-age beats of “The Private Psychedelic Reel,” from their 1997 Dig Your Own Hole, they’ve rarely been as innovative as some of the more aggressive electronic progenitors like the Bomb Squad. The Chemical Brothers’ new album, Come With Us, is as varied as its predecessors – “It Began in Afrika” whips tribal house music into a slam-dance frenzy, “Star Guitar” melds electro with gauzy disco, and “The Test” features the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft singing euphorically over rough-hewn beats. Ironically, though, little on the album captures the imagination the way narrower genres like techno, house, or even hip-hop often do. Last year, the best and most-remixed dance song was a hip-hop track, Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On,” and electronic musicians like Felix Da Housecat and Fischerspooner captured the eccentricity and irreverence the Chemical Brothers once offered. Dig your own hole, indeed.
Sun Records for dance music and hip-hop, New York’s West End Records released dance-floor hits – “Heartbeat,” “Is It All Over My Face,” and “Give Your Body Up to the Music” among them – so canonical they’ve been repackaged almost as many times as Elvis. (See 1995’s Paradise Garage, 1999’s Larry Levan’s Classic West End Remixes (Made Famous at the Legendary Paradise Garage), 2000’s Larry Levan Live at the Paradise Garage.) Now the two-CD set Masters at Work Presents West End Records: The 25th Anniversary Edition Mastermix presents the label’s classic singles, as mixed – and occasionally remixed – by the New York D.J. duo Masters at Work. The beats should feel overly familiar, but they don’t, thanks to remixes that play up the outsized, off-kilter vocals of West End divas like Karen Young and Mahogany. But let’s hope this repackaging will truly be the last dance for this era.
Come With Us (Astralwerks)