The Chemical Brothers’s entire discography post-Come with Us seems cursed by bad timing. They were cheerfully lightweight when they most needed to violently bounce off the walls, cheeky and irreverent when dance music was really getting sincere with itself, unapologetically pop when the rock guitars they built their empire on were most in vogue, and now they’ve gone and ditched their standard vocal collaborations the same year that Betty White’s publicists have made her available for everything from Latin hustles on Saturday Night Live to getting paper cuts at the GayVN Awards. Ah, the hotness in Cleveland-upon-Thames that could’ve been.
Alas, Further accomplishes very little other than pushing Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons further into background music obsolescence. In this case, I mean that literally. Further isn’t so much a new album as it is the soundtrack for an accompanying audio-visual effort from Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall—or it acts like one, at any rate. (I haven’t seen the videos apart from the acid-tinged shadow-puppet-show clip for “Swoon,” but if they’re anything like that one, I wouldn’t hold my breath that anyone’s reinventing the medium.)
“Swoon” probably churns the most momentum of the disc’s stingy eight tracks, but that’s in part owed to its sizable musical debt to the chord progressions all but ripped from Basement Jaxx’s “Raindrops.” It’s also missing what I thought was a mandatory ingredient in any dance track: a bass kick. “Escape Velocity” wins the prize for endurance, spinning ollies on a quote from the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” for nearly 12 minutes, and though it ultimately imposes itself along your lower spine through sheer force of will, its color wheel is so much more limited than that of “The Private Psychedelic Reel” and “The Sunshine Underground.” “K+D+B,” supposedly a tribute to electronica’s debt to the Teutonic, could’ve used a lot more MC2. The only song that brings it with relentlessness is “Horse Power,” a winningly clumsy gallop that suggests “It Began in Africa” taking a pit stop at the dude ranch. (Oh yes, that’s a funky stallion you hear whinnying to the beat.)
Otherwise, in substance-free exercises in dubby atmospherics like “Another World” and “Wonders of the Deep,” Rowlands and Simons seem to have fallen down the harshly spangled rabbit hole wherein all their glittery synth wobbles spring from the decks in search of a halfway decent hook. The Chems will never again be on the waxing side of “The Salmon Dance,” and so Further is by definition not the most embarrassing music of their career—merely the most boring.