Although they've only been releasing CDs since 1995, the Chemical Brothers have spent the better part of 12 years concocting dizzying electronic rhythms and euphoric block-rockin' beats. They've bridged the gap between synthesized techno and organic rock and roll, pioneered the big-beat scene with a skittering array of breakbeats and created pulsing pop songs with an insightful variety of guest vocalists including Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Tim Burgess (Charlatans UK), Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) and Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star).
Therein lies the problem. Having become such an influential force in the electronic music scene, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have become extremely judicious about what will and won't make the cut for a new song. Their cardinal rule is not to rehash anything. The only other edict is that whatever gets released has to pass their standards of quality which are high.
"It was quite difficult to get over the music we've made before," Rowlands said. "And that's just something you naturally do. You go, 'Oh, that worked that last time, let's do it again.' Every time we've made an album we've wanted to break new ground, and it gets more difficult the more records you make."
On the road to creating their fifth disc, Come With Us, the pair spent almost two years in the studio recording hours of loops and hundreds of mixes that wound up on the cutting room floor.
"There's lots of anthology material lying around," Simons joked. "But those are the ideas that didn't make it onto the record for a reason. What you hear is the stuff we liked."
More mature, personal and unpredictable than most electronic music, Come With Us is a striking blend of throbbing dance buoyancy and emotional heft. It's one of the group's most complex and varied projects, but it retains the necessary energy and repetition that entrance both ravers and rockers. Although the record was far from easy to create, the Chemical Brothers said they enjoyed the challenge.
"I think going into the studio for me is cool because it's sort of an escape from all the other things in your life," Rowlands said. "It's like a world where you just do what you want, really. And the fact that the record was made over such a long period of time meant it was a distillation of lots of different things going on in our lives. We don't usually go into the studio and cut a song in a couple of weeks. And the fact that we're writing constantly during that time probably affects it. One of the tracks could be in a hard disk in our computer and we'll keep adding to it and taking away from it for a long time so it's not one definite bit, it's a year and half of our lives put into it."
Like any Chemical Brothers disc, Come With Us is flush with full-on galactic dance tracks, like the exotic first single, "It Began in Afrika," which reached #1 on the Billboard club chart, and the mellower current single, "Star Guitar," which is at #3 in its third week on the chart. But the disc also includes more evocative cuts such as "Pioneer Skies," which is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and "The State We're In," a haunting, melancholy cut that features the group's third collaboration with Beth Orton (see "Chemical Brothers' Fourth Album To Feature Ashcroft, Orton").
"She's about the only person that I can trust to show her my lyrics and melody and not be too embarrassed to sing it to her in her ear," Rowlands said. "She's a friend and an amazing singer, and it's a deadly combination."
In addition to recruiting Orton, the Chemical Brothers worked with ex-Verve vocalist Richard Ashcroft on "The Test," an epic, spiritual track that sounds like the Orb sitting in with the Rolling Stones. As much chemistry as the singer exhibited with the Brothers, the two hadn't met before they started working together.
"We were admirers from afar, and he liked us as well," said Simons. "The words he came up with were so right. It was really cool to be in a studio and hear him sing these words over the music we made."
While they were fans of the Verve before the band's 1997 album, Urban Hymns, they became more enamored after the group's "Bittersweet Symphony" video, which depicted Ashcroft walking down a busy street and aggressively bumping into everyone he passed.
"We have a TV monitor outside the studio for security because it's on a bit of a dodgy street," Simons said. " And it was always quite funny seeing Richard walking down the road on the TV screen because of that video."