Four years on from the chart-busting, guest-filled Born In the Echoes, Virgin have released The Chemical Brothers’ ninth free-flowing studio dust-up, No Geography. With a title that suggests the Chems could go anywhere they like, the album looks back to the more explicitly dancefloor-focused approach (and gear) of their 90s, Manchester-bred material, and revitalizes the duo’s creative relationship in the process. It does so though through an entirely refreshed lens, polished by seasoned engineer Steve “Dub” Jones, from Sourmash.
Mind-bendingly powerful and alchemical No Geography’s disorientingly backward-slipping, warehouse-ready opener, “Eve Of Destruction,” and the fidgety, block-rockin’ “Bango” (with its Incredible Bongo Band-esque intro, rattling cowbell and Arthur Russell references) juxtapose rave chords with post-punk basslines. Both also feature vocals from Norway’s Aurora and seem to reformulate the Chems’ big beat sound for both the future and the past. The boys then smash into the spiraling, irresistibly uplifting yet dubbed-out title track, a sort of mathematical proof of the resilience of rave, whose chunky bassline comes courtesy of Polar Bear’s Tom Herbert.
A massive highlight on the album, the gorgeous, oceanically boogying single “Got To Keep On” is all life-affirming bells and disco choir powered by UK jazz-funk players and underlined by a lush, beautifully concise Michel Gondry video. Up there with such other natural disco-house classics as Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” and Daft Punk’s “One More Time,” it strengthens No Geography’s position as the duo’s freshest, most fun, exciting and complete collection of the decade – an atmosphere which continues on through the swinging, skittering, keening Detroit-tinged electro-tech of “Gravity Drops.”
With the guests trimmed back, even the Aurora-focused album centerpiece, “The Universe Sent Me,” one of the album’s (initially) slightly lighter tunes, is aimed squarely at the dancefloor. The chilled moments which the Chems’ vocal tracks have often provided are reined right back for this journey.
And then the acid bursts through with a trio of top-hole singles. The low-slung “We’ve Got To Try” features one of the duo’s meanest, nastiest-sounding knob-twiddling riffs since the mid-90s, leavened by crackly funk and soul elements and an endearingly daft Laika-beats-the-odds motor-racing dog-in-space video from Ninian Doff. The bubbling, twisted, libertine, current yet simultaneously bleep-reminiscent “Free Yourself” follows, with its video featuring goofy yet slightly unsettling robot dancers. The triptych is completed by the flailing, pumping, Network-influenced 303 builder “MAH” (aka “Mad As Hell”).
Only on the album’s gospel-tinged closer, “Catch Me I’m Falling,” do things finally slow down into one of those more Balearic grooves which the brothers have featured so much over the years.
As suggested by material such as “Eve Of Destruction,” “Free Yourself,” and “MAH,” and by the Godley & Crème-indebted sleeve art, The Chemical Brothers are facing the apocalypse head-on, with peace, love, unity and respect as their electronic battle weapons.