The poster boys of big beat, that hip amalgam of electronica and rock that has dug it’s way into the national consciousness via Fatboy Slim’s “The Rockafeller Skank,” have been busy since their 1997 breakthrough Dig Your Own Hole. Maybe last year’s DJ mix album (Brothers Gonna Work It Out) should have been the clue, but Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have clearly been raiding a library-sized record collection since their last offering of “original” music.
Lead off track “Music: Response” starts like a ride on the Autobahn with Kraftwerk circa the mid 70s, with its analog synth blips and monotone computerwelt voices, before tossing in some ferocious beats to bring Krautrock into the new millennium. The mood carries through on “Under the Influence” with more Kraftwerk-styled noodlings. Meanwhile, their best instrumental effort is “The Sunshine Underground,” an eight and a half minute piece of chiming tones, wafting flute-like sounds, sputtering and gurgling synths that intertwine with the briefest of dreamy vocals. Actually, it wouldn’t have been out of place on the last Orbital album.
Surrender will receive a ton of hype based on its superstar guest appearances—none more historically relevant than “Out of Control” with New Order’s Bernard Sumner on lead vocals. Being electronic, dance music freaks from Manchester, New Order is like the holy grail to the Chemical Brothers and it’s easy to see why. The Chemicals share with their Manchester predecessors an obsession with hypnotic, melodic, dance beats. “Out of Control” works so well, it could be a lost track from Low Life. After his turn on “Setting Son” with the Chemicals in 1996, Noel Gallagher (Oasis) returns for another psychedelic, Beatlesque anthem on “Let Forever Be,” again snagging the rhythm track from “Tomorrow Never Knows” off Revolver.
All in all, Surrender is both the Chemical Brothers most immediately satisfying work and the, perhaps not coincidentally, the most like a rock album of their career. Unlike a fair share of techno, these songs feel like “songs,” not a collection of clever samples and a race to the fastest BPM on the planet.