The Chemical Brothers Dig Your Own Hole Virgin XDUSTCD2

ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS; 'They're the group least likely to do an MTV "Unplugged" session'
Click to follow
Virtually guaranteed to slam into the album charts at number one with as much force as the breakbeat on "Block Rockin' Beats", The Chemical Brothers' follow-up to Exit Planet Dust isn't so much a matter of progression, more one of persistence: it's more of the same, only much more so. That means more of the same juddering drum licks, the same punchy basslines and the same squelching synthesisers, all crammed into small projectiles and fired with enough force to wake the dead.

They're the group least likely to do an MTV Unplugged session: there's no pretence that any of their loops and licks is acoustic or authentic, save for the occasional vocal, or maybe a snatch of bass-playing here and there. True artists of the mixing-desk, the duo's genius lies in the way they mash the various elements into a huge-sounding jam of noise that appeals as much to rock fans as it does to clubbers. The presence of Noel Gallagher on "Setting Sun" obviously helps in this respect, though in truth he doesn't make that much difference: his vocal bobs around on the waves of sound like a cork in a tempest, struggling to find some stable element to hold on to among the howling sampladelic weirdness.

Beth Orton, vainly trying to impose a more pastoral sense upon the Chemicals' clank'n'grind, fares less well on "Where Do I Begin", and it's something of a relief when, after about three minutes, she finishes singing and the drums crash in for the latter half of the track, as if shrugging off an annoying encumbrance. For the rest of the album, the group rely only on sampled catchphrases - like the announcement from the original old- skool gangsta-rapper Schooly D that gives "Block Rockin' Beats" its title - to lend their pieces a semblance of human character. Theirs is, however, primarily a percussive art, more concerned with moving people physically than emotionally, which is why the most interesting guest contribution comes from Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue, who adds several layers of clarinet and something called Tetix Wave to the 10-minute long "The Private Psychedelic Reel": the increased depth and emotional space thus acquired is a revelation, opening up wide vistas of future possibilities just as the album draws to a conclusion.