on 11 January 2002
Wow - this album really is stunning. I've been a Chemicals fan ever since the original release of 'Song To The Siren', and have largely enjoyed their output, but they've totally surpassed themselves with this album. If you've heard 'It Began In Afrika' - good as it is, it's probably the most conventional Chemicals track on the album - you may have thought that you'd heard it all before, but this album rewards you with so much more.
Leaving the big-beat sound far behind, and starting with the storming, swirling title track, this shows a level of class, production, and - yes - songwriting that is head and shoulders above the dance music competition. Moving on to 'It Began In Afrika' (the title sample is a dance music sample-library classic), you get some classic Chemicals, raging overdriven synths, tweaky 303, with a really great driving live conga player jamming over the top. The track ends up with a beautifully programmed scratch-breakdown section, before slowing the tempo down a little to drop you into the sample-slap-bass-funk of 'Galaxy Bounce', a great little number.
However, it's when we get into track 4, 'Star Guitar' that you know things are cookin' on gas with this album - it's a great wide open, sweeping, psychedelic number with the drifing looped vocal line "You should feel what I feel, you should take what I take".
As that tune drifts out to the cosmos, we come back down to Earth with probably my favourite track of the whole album - Hoops. Innocently starting with some fluffy reversed sitar loops, a great vocal sample, and some lovely acoustic guitar, the gentle 808 drum track in the background gradually picks up more and more momentum, like the small stones starting an avalanche, until a lovely scale played up the guitar brings us to the bassline, then the real meat of the track kicks in with a great 808 electro beat, and behold - a storming track that brings together an acoustic guitar and an 808 drum machine and gets them a hotel room to get down and dirty.
From peak to peak, we move on to "My Elastic Eye", a staccato intro takes us to a great wobbling analog bassline, building up to the star of the tune, a great, wide-open sample that sounds like an angel yodelling in space(!)
After all this action we are relieved by the Beth Orton Collaboration(TM), which is really rather beautiful, a slow, trippy, soulful number yet with all the little production wierdnesses you'd expect from the Chemicals - "The State We're In" is definitely a classic chill tune, until after five lovely minutes it starts accelerating the tempo, more and more movement, faster and faster, until we're properly back in House Music land, from whence we are tossed happily into the four to the floor "Denmark" - a nice little club number, with classily sampled slap bass riffs and hooky hooks.
The following track, "Pioneer Skies", a long, slowly building trippy, spacey wonder is (on your first listen) this album's most direct descendent of "The Private Psychedelic Reel", a really nice melodic fantasy that drifts off beautifully into the sunset, leaving you lying on the warm beach, satisfied.
However, Tom & Ed have one more trick up their sleeves - they kept the best till last - "The Test" (featuring Richard Ashcroft). This is a _killer_ tune, starting with eastern flutes and fading in synths as Ashcroft's distinctive voice welcomes us, beckons us in to his house, until slamming the front door behind us, bolting it, and busting out the track proper, a hands-in-the-air stormer, a delerious, joyful ode to partying.. "You know I almost lost my mind, but now I'm home, and I'm free".
The albums is without doubt an essential purchase, and will - I guarantee - feature in many people's "top 10 of 2002" lists.
Congratulations to Tom & Ed for continuing and furthering their career with such style.