Born in the Echoes
Born in the Echoes is The Chemical Brothers’ first outing in five years and it would perhaps not be unfair to wonder if two lads in their mid-forties still have what it takes to produce relevant music in a genre where so many of their peers have degenerated into frightful self-parody. Thankfully, any such thoughts are dispelled in mere seconds as the fantastic ‘Sometimes I Feel So Deserted’ starts the Manchester duo’s comeback off with a bang. It’s a thumping, fizzing reminder of how they earned their enduring popularity. However, there is a malaise about much of this album that shows while the ability is certainly still present perhaps the motivation (or inspiration) is somewhat lacking.
The Brothers bring with them a number of musical guests to help carry some of that creative burden and it’s something that listeners will certainly be glad of, as Echoes is at its most difficult when they’re left to their own devices. Q-Tip’s appearance on the terrific ‘Go’ brings back memories of ‘Galvanise’, even if it never quite reaches those heights. St. Vincent is almost other-worldly on the eerie and tone-shifting ‘Under Neon Lights’, as she hauntingly recites lyrics such as “And she moves to suicide/In and under neon lights”. The juxtaposition of the singer wandering through a nightclub while feeling so detached she might as well be floating in space is wonderful and it is in these moments that Born in the Echoes hits hardest.
Penultimate song ‘Radiate’ brings similar sparseness while building to a brilliant crescendo in a manner that’s as unsettling as ‘Under Neon Lights’ in a completely different, arguably more rewarding and meaningful way. The other real highlight is the closing track, the Beck-assisted ‘Wide Open’ which is soothing and bubbly (and sort of lazily melancholic), which despite being out of sync with almost everything else makes for a welcome distraction.
There isn’t really anything actively bad elsewhere – the closest being the rather dull trio of ‘Reflexion’, ’Taste of Honey’ and ‘Just Bang’ which make up almost 15 minutes of the album’s overall 52-minute run time (that is to say, a displeasingly large chunk) – just not a lot that is likely to inspire or excite. There is lots of by-the-numbers filler in the form of songs such as ‘I’ll See You There’ and a general feeling of struggle for creativity outside of few moments of real brilliance. It makes for an oddly disjointed affair and in a way that is almost jarring. It is almost painfully average and Chemical Brothers-by-the-numbers in places and inspiring and affecting in others. Age has certainly not dulled the Chemical Brothers ability to craft tremendous music and it has been much kinder to them than many of their peers. However, there is an inescapable feeling that they are running out of steam that pervades Born in the Echoes.