Monday, 22 June 2015

Life Is Sweet


Band: Chemical Brothers
Album: Exit Planet Dust
Year: 1995
Label: Junior Boy’s Own
Status: Still going
The Chemical Brothers are big beat specialists and masters of psychedelic electronic dance. This song is a collaboration with their friend Tim Burgess from The Charlatans. The muffled bassline is joined by their usual kicking dance beats, and holds its own; but coupled with Tim Burgess’ distorted voice we get something otherworldly, spacey, an aural trip punctuated by the band’s usual “Yeah!” and shriek samples. Madness, but it works. Oh boy, does it ever.

More madness in the video, where the Brothers run some kind of mental asylum and control people with music, making the unfortunates smile, shake, and bounce to the band’s will (just as the Chems do with us on the dancefloor). An institutionalised Tim Burgess is also trapped in their claustrophobic nightmare and the confusion of cables controlling things illustrates the bureaucratic truth of places of confinement: so complex they are untameable, errors inevitable, programming can break.
The lyrics are typically obtuse, fractured like a broken mind, so that we only understand fragments of the whole – something about leaving a home because there’s nothing to love there any more (coincidentally, the Chemical Brothers’ previous release was Leave Home); being far south and wanting love again. More mood than coherent story. Perhaps because of the influence of recreational chemicals (to enhance the dance), or medical chemicals. Take them away and we just have the brothers.


Not blood brothers though. And not Mancunians by blood, either. Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands were born in London, became school friends. They loved bands like New Order and The Smiths, and eventually both went to the University of Manchester, wanting to experience the Manchester music scene and The Ha├žienda. Inspired, they began to DJ and make their own music. They became well known remixers as well as creators, able to take other people’s work and create something new from it, a skill often requested by well-known bands such as The Charlatans and Manic Street Preachers. Thus began further collaborations, and the Chemical Brothers’ first #1 was Setting Sun, with Noel Gallagher singing (in the same year the Chemical Brothers supported Oasis at their massive Knebworth shows). They had another #1 with a track that used Bernard Sumner’s vocals in 1999. Later songs included collaborations with Richard Ashcroft and New Order.

Exit Planet Dust was their debut album. They wanted to create something to reflect the times, a whole experience, hence many of the tracks run into each other so you can play without breaks. The cover is part of their trend of using 1970s imagery: a young couple who seem free of everything, making their own way with only love and music, dressed in flares (a different kind of baggy). Did the Chemical Brothers succeed in capturing the Zeitgeist? Well, in January 2000 Konnie Huq’s selection for the Blue Peter time capsule was a CD of their third album. Now it’s preserved in amber. When the capsule is opened in 2029 what will people make of it?




Extract from page 306 of 2000 Tunes: A History of Manchester Music by M. H. Rees; used with permission. Read the whole series (25 extracts) here; or my summary post. Readers might be interested in my forthcoming novel about a man obsessed with Manchester music - confusingly, it is also called 2000 Tunes!
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