Sharps and Flats

Salon magazine: With its hip-hop influenced hybrid of techno and rock, the Chemical Brothers' "Dig Your Own Hole" is dangerous enough to seduce all your sullen guitar diehards into crashing the all-night disco party

By Terri Sutton
May 9, 1997 11:00PM (UTC)
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at least from a Yankee perspective, England's Chemical Brothers seem to have hit on the perfect soundtrack for "swinging" London circa 1997. Addicted to old school hip-hop and orchestral rock, the two mixmasters have seduced all your sullen guitar die-hards and stubborn pop melody fiends into crashing the all-night disco party. It may be a little late, say just near dawn, but the laggards are finally dancing; and not only that, they're feeling deliciously au courant. Why? Because the Chemical Brothers' hybrid of techno and rock makes the latter sound more dangerous than it has in a while, juicing up rock 'n' roll into something that might well threaten a proper British radio announcer, all over again.

The track causing most of this excitement is, of course, "Setting Sun" (which was, yes, pulled from the air by a BBC DJ). With Noel Gallagher's foghorn vocals and a snaky riff that would fit right in on "The White Album's" gnarly third side, "Setting Sun" works the crossover angle without shame. The fact that you could read the song as a jab at Oasis' rockist nostalgia ("I like the way our visions are fading away") only adds to its blissfully idiotic apocalyptic rush. Halfway through, the combination of shrieking, dithering synthesizers and frenzied hip-hop drums starts to resemble nothing so much as an amphetamized take on the Edgar Winter war horse "Frankenstein" -- and, weirdly enough, folks, that's a good thing.


Unfortunately, "Setting Sun" stands leagues above the rest of the Chemical Brothers' second album, "Dig Your Own Hole." Not stinky for the most part, just not startling, the 10 other tracks are built with many of the tools the single incorporated: adrenalin-fed drum loops, insistent keyboard patterns, repetition escalating into combustion and breakdown, distorted, propulsive vocal samples. On both "Dig Your Own Hole" and its predecessor, "Exit Planet Dust," the Chemical Brothers have tended to use these techniques, born of hip-hop and acid house, the same way a rock band organizes drums, guitar riffs, momentum: They've made them electronic versions of rock clichis.

Terri Sutton

Terri Sutton is a Minneapolis writer whose work has appeared in Spin, the Village Voice and the Minneapolis City Pages.

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