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The Chemical Brothers: Surrender


The Chemical Brothers

Album: Surrender

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Conventional wisdom dictates that, in order to find mainstream success in electronic music, you'll have to traffic in something more crowd-pleasing than amorphous grinding, tripped-out bleeps and bloops, or endlessly repeated, hook-free rhythmic propulsion. And for the most part, you'd better have vocals, no matter how meaningless and/or insipid, to succeed beyond the dance floor. Of course, most of the genre's practitioners have ignored conventional wisdom and carried on undaunted, letting machines do their talking and continuing to please small, loyal niches. But what of those cover boys who aspire to world domination: the Prodigies and Fat Boy Slims and Chemical Brotherses of the world? With the aid of carefully selected samples, guest vocalists, and catch phrases—and, in the case of The Prodigy, fashionably snarling in-house clowns—their singles generally manage to fill the vocal quotas any way they can. The downside is that each has to more or less come up with a new, hitworthy novelty single ("Block Rockin' Beats," "The Rockafeller Skank," "Smack My Bitch Up," and so on) every time out of the gate, or get passed by. The Chemical Brothers' third album, and follow-up to 1997's overhyped Dig Your Own Hole, rarely finds what it's looking for in that regard, but it tries. Though it opens with the chattery, anonymous, forgettably plodding "Music: Response" and "Influenced," with their appropriately perfunctory vocal tracks, Surrender will likely be best known for its stunt-casting. The seven-minute "Out Of Control" features New Order's Bernard Sumner and Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie, but it's only a bit better than marginal. "Asleep From Day" doesn't do much with Hope Sandoval's sleepy vocal, and Noel Gallagher and Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue both headline high-profile tracks, but most of Surrender's remainder sounds like rote, uninspired filler. "The Sunshine Underground" works up a compellingly dreamlike clutter during the course of its eight and a half minutes, but such dull, ponderous instrumentals as "Got Glint?" and "Racing The Tide" actually make you long for the album's dopiest moment, the gag-inducingly cheesy single "Hey Boy Hey Girl." Once you've heard the song, you'll know that that's not a good sign.