The music of the Chemical Brothers, a pair of DJs who helped popularize the "Big Beat" electronic subgenre in the '90s, has the heft of rock, the groove of club music, and the spirit of experimentation that lifts all boats. Through their collaborations with rockers both massive (the Gallagher brothers of Oasis) and vaguely avant-garde (Mercury Rev), Tom Rowland and Ed Simons have helped break down the walls between rock and dance music. On "Setting Sun," one of their biggest hits, the Chemical Brothers fused elements straight out of the Beatles with electronic dance music's sonic dimensions to create something powerful and timeless, groundbreaking yet accessible.
Surrender kicks off with a nervous, vibrating whine that brings to mind the first three seconds of Hendrix''s "Foxy Lady." But it''s just a tease; on their third album, techno''s Chemical Brothers have all but turned their back on the rock muscle that earned 1997''s Dig Your Own Hole gold status in the U.S. Oh, there are guest rock vocalists galore--New Order''s Bernard Sumner, Mazzy Star''s Hope Sandoval, and Oasis''s Noel Gallagher--but only the latter brings out the crunching big beats that the Chems all but invented. The rest of Surrender hews closer to the thinner, synthesized textures of the electro revival that''s swept the dance-music world. Much of the time that''s just swell. The leadoff track, "Music: Response," is a seamless trip back to 1985, complete with vocoderized singing and Morse-code beeps. And Sumner''s "Out of Control" replicates the thrill of hearing the gloomy Joy Division morph into a swell synthpop band. But without the propulsion that their trademark aggression usually provides, the Chems just barely come up with enough ideas to carry the listener all the way through an album, much less rock a dance floor for an hour at a time. --Jeff Salamon
If You Enjoy "Surrender (CD)", May We Also Recommend: