After five consecutive number one studio albums, The Chemical Brothers have earned the right to rest on their considerable laurels.
Except seventh set ‘Further’ is an ambitious audio-visual double whammy, and, concurrently, mighty good news for anybody longing for 1990s club-levelling glory days before dance music’s most famed unrelated siblings became pop crossover masters…
In person, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons don’t exactly exude multi-million-selling star status. Even in a West London gastropub, far removed from The Chemical Brothers’ perspiration-soaked natural habitat, they’re utterly inconspicuous, both sporting sweaters and considered demeanours. ‘Further’, though, is a record that puts the spotlight firmly back on them.
Since classic debut ‘Exit Planet Dust’, the pair have evolved into prolific hit makers with a guest vocalist address book fit to pique Hello! magazine readers’ interests – Noel Gallagher, Richard Ashcroft, you know the names. ‘Further’ breaks that tradition in favour of liberally applied samples driving eight stripped-back tracks. Its accompanying DVD shares the limelight, meanwhile, featuring a full-length video for each tune created by long-time visual collaborators Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall.
Less ‘Push The Button’, more push the envelope, with strong emphasis on synths and psychedelics at times – take ‘Snow’ or ‘Another World’ – it’s dreamily ethereal. The relentless motorised march of ‘Horse Power’ or snaking twelve-minute monster ‘Escape Velocity’ portray a contrasting tale, however, haunted by the ghost of their lauded ‘Electronic Battle Weapon’ white label series. Understandably, Ed and Tom – today comparatively surly and amiable respectively – have their own take on the whole transformation…
Was it a conscious decision to avoid the vocal collaboration route on ‘Further’?
Ed: We’ve made some great records with other people, but it got to the stage where it was characterising people’s assumptions about how a record would sound. It just felt liberating. It’s the first time we’ve ever had any real guiding starting point. But if it got to the stage where we felt we hadn’t made a record that was enjoyable and absorbing without vocals then we’d have been free to use them.
Tom: The music always comes first. We make the songs, then it’s whether it feels singing could fit. When we work with other people it’s never a very different mindset. But with this, taking a sample that only said two lines was enough to communicate what we wanted to get across. Sometimes less is definitely more for us with vocals. It wasn’t trying to make a ‘song’ song; it was trying to make a feeling. Going into the studio is like a big puzzle, but you don’t really know what of. When you get to the end it’s like ‘That’s what we were trying to do’.
You’ve regularly collaborated with Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall, but creating videos for every track on ‘Further’ must have been a more challenging process than their work on live visuals or one-off music videos?
Tom: A lot more challenging. Usually Adam comes to do the visuals for a tour. Those visuals are only seen live on a big screen, with lights, people, smoke. It’s difficult to put that into a Quicktime movie. It’s images to accompany music as opposed to a film with music. The album is the central thing. The album exists without the videos.
Some fans assumed that ‘Further’ was an EP, as there are only eight tracks…
Ed: Yeah. Someone was saying, ‘Surely they’ve got an hour and ten minutes of music’. Of course we have. We’ve got hours and hours we could give to the world, but this is fifty minutes that belongs together, that we want to perform live. It feels good to have something that you can ‘get’ beginning to end. It flows. And I’ve got very low concentration, so fifty minutes is about as good as I can do!
There’s a fairly euphoric aura throughout much of the record. Were you aiming for a more straight-ahead club impact?
Ed: It’s not necessarily aimed at club DJs. We’ve made music that we perceive as being much more tailored to clubs. But this record, whilst it’s aimed to be played live – which inevitably means people will be together, dancing, in that moment of surrender – it’s not rigidly made for the dancefloor.
There’s a definite ‘Electronic Battle Weapon’ vibe in places, though…
Tom: ‘Electronic Battle Weapon’ was specifically for clubs. This takes something from those records, in that it we weren’t so obsessed with condensing things. If we wanted something to go on and on, because that’s the feeling we wanted from the repetition, we’d do that. And this record has that. It’s not so concerned about being the perfectly structured pop arrangement. Like ‘Escape Velocity’: it’s a club record, but still has a four-minute introduction. If that was an ‘Electronic Battle Weapon’ it would have a very different intro.
After five UK number one albums, can ‘Further’ replicate that success?
Tom: It’s not even going to be chart eligible, because it comes with a DVD.
Really? Does that bother you?
Ed [dryly deadpanning]: There’s only so many number one albums you can make.
Tom: (Laughs) We’ve made records that have that duality, where they can be a big club record but have something more for a casual listener. A lot of our other albums move around and do lots of different things. This album does one thing to its highest point. And if you like that thing, that’s the record for you.
What did the label make of it?
Ed: Chart schmart. I get this sense that people are more interested in us doing something a bit different this time. But then there’s still quite a lot of people who’d like us to do the same thing again and again.
Are you going to reprise the ‘Electronic Battle Weapon’ series?
Tom: We got to ten and that felt nice and rounded and complete. There’ll definitely be tracks that we want to get to DJs. But we haven’t got a record deal come a couple of months…
So ‘Further’ fulfils your current contract?
Tom: Yeah. Seventh album: commercial suicide. (Laughs)
Is the independent route an option?
Ed: For us being on a major label has been quite free, people have let us just do whatever we like. I can’t imagine we’d find it hugely different.
Tom: We’ve been lucky that from the start we’ve just said, ‘Here’s our record’. It’s never been someone trying to steer us.
So would you sign another major deal?
Tom: I don’t know. It would depend on who.
Ed: The future’s unwritten.
Words by Adam Anonymous
Clash Magazine Issue 51