No Geography (EMI)
Fun without dumb? Getting the moves on without shutting off the heart? Linking to your past while feeling like you’re still seeing a future?
The Presets showed it could be done last year: to go directly, go harder, go simply, without the need to be simple. On album number nine, Chemical Brothers confirm it’s a trend worth pursuing, if you’re smart enough to pull it off.
No Geography is an album that starts at full tilt, like a smack to the chops to wake you from any chance of slumber, and stays on that pace pretty much the full course of its 10 tracks. It is simultaneously a record for open fields/open skies, and exactly what will bend out the walls of your room, or car, when cranked up.
Blasting off, Eve Of Destruction overrides android voices with a building-on-itself Detroit keyboard riff that drops away for a blend of gut-pushing funk bass, allsorts samples and a quintessential House vocal. The flow into the Latin percussion-and-squealing throb of Bango, which tilts towards Euro filmscape and Euro techno, and the title track, where tumbling psychedelic drums and rising ambient synths suggest monks on acid, is seamless and a sustained high.
This 1-2-3 punch makes the Soul Train disco of Got To Keep On feel like a chance to catch your breath, though in truth it just moves you in different ways, turning your day-glo shirt into glowing white jackets, your sneakers into chunky leather pumps. The bassline here is a suspension bridge over a killer ravine, the whoops, bells and variegated guitars swinging you, the punishing industrial sounds about three minutes in dislocating you, the chanted vocals reconnecting you for the final minute of the journey.
It’s been fun – really, Got To Keep On is just out and out old school pleasure - and it’s been hectic. Furthermore, by this stage it may be coming into focus that Ed Simon and Tom Rowlands aren’t mucking about with guests, either vocally or instrumentally, but taking this to genuine first Chemical Brothers principles. That’s clear in the practically word-free Gravity Drops, which clatters and swirls in alternate takes, eschewing sample vocals and their melodic escapes for a ground sweeping interlude that is more the breath-taker than Got To Keep On ever was.
From there, The Universe Sent Me (hard lobs and ascending lines), We’ve Got To Try (which feels like Avalanches let loose on both The Jackson 5 and Kool Herc’s record crate), and Free Yourself (a euphoric rave that tricks up its beats to keep you off kilter) may not capture you as successfully as those tracks preceding them, but still work you over with something like grim determination. You don’t walk away from this part of the record without sweating, and maybe even hurting a bit.
Even then, they serve as the warm up guys for the album’s penultimate track, Mad As Hell, which is a succession of barely separated waves - of assertion, then aggression, then almost gleeful agitation - that kick your legs from under you and let you tumble in their wash. It’s simple in a way, sure, but a powerful reminder that Rowlands and Simon have the tools for now, not just yesterday.
It is only then, as they send us away with Catch Me I’m Falling - which is bruised soul man intersecting with head-down boffin - that the Brothers ease back, letting a lighter female voice ease us in, and making the five and a half minutes feel like a steady train journey.
I’m tempted to see it as the Europhile response to the effluvium of Brexit fuelling the anger of Mad As Hell.
There isn’t anything about No Geography that feels stuck, either in the past or in an attempt to be ultra of the present. That would be enough to recommend a listen. But more than that it feels energised and energising, a chemical dose washing through your system.