The Chemical Brothers
We Are the Night
don’t know if they’re aware of this or not, but Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands are the Weird Al of the U.K. Culturally speaking. North American stars don’t talk about the aspiration much these days, but Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and countless others knew they’d made it when Weird Al could bank his next career move safely on spoofing their timely hipness. Excepting Greg Kihn, being parodied by Weird Al has proven a surefire way to get oneself into the history books. Chamillionaire, Presidents of the United States of America, your legacy is secure. Even T-Pain sneaked in with Al’s recent “I’m in Love with the Skipper.”
The Chems’ brand of fame works almost the same way. Pretty much goners in my country, I can’t say for sure what kind of entities they remain in the U.K. But they do continue to attract current blockbusters—Klaxons, Bloc Party, the Magic Numbers—to their projects, the same way they did with Oasis and Beth Orton a decade ago. Surely Midlake must have felt giddy after that phone call: “Guys, I told you we were destined for more than just glowing reviews!” The only difference is that Weird Al is constantly having hip moments because he’s always adapting to the times (Did I hear last year’s Straight Outta Lynwood was his highest charter ever? Who is this guy, Santana?), and the Chemical Brothers’ moment is long gone; they need these guest bands just as bad as the newbs need the Eurocred.
And they’re holding onto that gimmick bad. Now that electronica has receded back to into a politely sealed subculture rather than OMG Mass Onslaught of the Industry (dust off yr chartreuse UFOs!), those practitioners who rose above the traditional anonymity of the genre and sought iconic fame and fortune have mostly been punished for their hubris. Prodigy rested on their laurels until the laurels fell off, Fatboy Slim annoyed his way up and then back down the charts, and even critical darlings Daft Punk had trouble sitting on their reddened robot arses after the whipping Human After All took in 2005. It’s probably for the best the duo’s made a routine of repeating the Dig Your Own Hole’s formula ever since. Take a few timely atmospheric rock bands, snatch a token rapper who needs work, and except for that never-fail secret weapon, the perfect slightly psychedelic raver on Side B, the album practically writes itself.
We Are the Night isn’t awful, but you can hear the rigidity of its formula, like the motorik title tune that burps up its eponymy every few seconds along a signless, moody highway. If these guys were ever anyone’s night, they ain’t anymore. The amateurish Justice wannabe “Das Spiegal” makes sure of that. The guests aren’t even that special. Klaxons contribute some cave-people moaning to “All Rights Reversed” and where-is-he-now Pharcyde refugee Fatlip tries his Sugarhill Gang best to make “The Salmon Dance,” fun—or funny. Midlake waters “The Pills Won’t Help You Now,” with a touch of grandiosity, but the synth-sunshine becomes too bright to bear. Only the Prince-damaged “A Modern Midnight Conversation” coughs up something close to danceable.
2005’s Push the Button accidentally stepped into a fluke for this rather uninspired recipe for professionalism: it was a great album. “Galvanize,” make excellent use of well-sawed “exotic” strings and Q-Tip playing hypeman for something big and unknown, “Marvo Ging,” made curling swooshes of audio sing while the Field was still just the Patch of Grass. It was the rare album that earned its affected nostalgia, pining forcefully for an era with a better president and fewer inhibitions about bald-faced genre mixploitation. Unfortunately, We Are the Night doesn’t sound like that. It sounds like an album that wrote itself.
Reviewed by: Dan Weiss
Reviewed on: 2007-08-06