The Chemical Brothers
[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
LONDON HAMMERSMITH APOLLO
THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS
PUSH THE BUTTON
SINCE GUNS N'ROSES set the benchmark in glam-leaning hard rock, any band in that field is liable to endure comparison to them. When the band in question actually is Guns N'Roses - or sixty per cent thereof - then the comparisons are inescapable. The first question anyone's going to ask about Velvet Revolver is, how do they stand up?
Then again, that was the first question many people asked upon seeing Guns N'Roses. Temperance never was their watchword. Recruiting notorious druggie Scott Weiland, of formerly popular but little-missed grunge act Stone Temple Pilots, as vocalist for this new line-up can hardly have helped. Still, Velvet Revolver look in pretty good shape. None of them needs to be wheeled onstage or propped up with broomsticks, at any rate.
Weiland is the man with most to prove here. He's replaced one of the most flamboyant, distinctive and (often inadvertently) entertaining singers in rock'n'roll. He meets the challenge by prancing onstage dressed as a Nazi transvestite, and wielding a bullhorn. He has my attention.
When Weiland removes his peaked hat - and almost everything else he's wearing - he suddenly reveals a remarkable likeness to Adam Ant circa 1985. If this is a tad unnerving, then it's reassuring to see that Slash looks exactly the same as ever - that is, like the result of an animatronic collaboration between William S Burroughs and the Jim Henson Creature Shop. His guitar playing is exactly the same, too: those squalling solos and looping riffs. Fall To Pieces inevitably calls to mind Sweet Child o' Mine, and distinguishes itself by not coming off too badly as a consequence.
Unsurprisingly, as an ensemble, Velvet Revolver sound close to Gn'R, with a touch of grunge; sometimes a touch too much. At its best, on Big Machine and Do It For The Kids, this evokes the molten metal of Alice in Chains. When they turn to the familiar GN'R hair rock, Weiland's limitations become more apparent.
The once lurid GN'R palette is impoverished without Axl Rose's strangled howl. Weiland is more of a chanter, and this tones Velvet Revolver with an industrial monochrome reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails - plenty of force and fury, but lacking in brightness and variation. At times their set assumes the type of functionality that characterises, for instance, utilitarian techno. This is not necessarily a problem; but it does mean that Velvet Revolver's appeal to non-headbangers is unlikely ever to rival that of their previous guise. On this showing, they look like heroes for the doctrinaire rock nation rather than a band for the world at large.
In terms of what they're required to live up to, rock artists have it relatively easy. They can carry on doing the same thing indefinitely, and as long as they do it well, nobody seems to mind. Dance acts are seldom given the same leeway. It's not enough for them to start as innovators; if they don't keep it up with every record, they tend to get written off. Last year, Faithless released an album much like all their others, and as good as any of them, but it didn't create much of a stir. If, say, R.E.M. achieved that feat, you can imagine the fuss.
So it goes with The Chemical Brothers. Of their peers, they've weathered the best. The Prodigy's last album was underwhelming; likewise Fatboy Slim's. Underworld were never the same after losing key member Darren Emerson. Leftfield are gone but not forgotten.
On Push The Button, the Chemicals demonstrate that running out of ideas is not synonymous with running out of steam. It veers strongly towards their roots on the house scene, and it contains little that's radical, yet it succeeds by dint of its quality. Push The Button is a cracking Chemicals album, with all the attributes you'd by now expect in such an enterprise.
There's the juddering crowd-pleaser with a vocal from The Charlatans' Tim Burgess (The Boxer). The robotically seductive euphoric trance track (Come Inside). The skeletal old-skool electro jig (The Big Jump). The trippy deep house number featuring a folksy female singer (Hold Tight London). The big, backmasked psychedelic breakbeat effort (Marvo Ging). There's also a piece of Eastern-tinged hip-hop, apparently obligatory nowadays; this is one of the preferable examples of its type, embellished by the always welcome Q Tip. The album's only weak spot is Left Right, a militaristic protest rap which bears a striking, probably coincidental, but nonetheless damning resemblance to Eminem's far superior Mosh.
The Chemicals have seldom made a better case for simply being themselves - a job for which, to paraphrase Chesney Hawkes, they're the best men. As Chesney so memorably added: “You put me through it/I'll still be doing it the way I do it.” Happily, he's not, and they are.
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