From the outside, The Chemical Brothers have never really appeared to be an act that anyone associates with the concept of “evolutionary development,” but that is really the fault of shortsighted critics who simply assume that the group’s influence and growth is limited because the music first gained life on a series of dance floors.
Such rigid thinking is foolish, really; in fact, The Chemical Brothers have been able to not only push their music in unprecedented stylistic directions since first appearing in 1993, they’ve won fans in every quadrant of musical spectrum as they’ve done it. Over the last twenty-four years, the group has made believers and outspoken proponents of musicians that no one assumed would have taken notice under normal circumstances, as well as an equally disparate selection of supporters from all around the world. Simply said, as of this writing, The Chemical Brothers are a fantastic, genre-less institution.
Just how The Chemical Brothers managed to build the bridge upon which they’d cross over into the plains of pop stardom is detailed on their debut, Exit Planet Dust. The new vinyl reissue album both reiterates and renews its musical vision perfectly; the sound is lush and meticulously restored on the reissue, and really points out how obvious the crossover potential was in 1995 as well as how groundbreaking the music continues to feel, twenty-two years later.
As good as the album does get (and, rest assured, it doesn’t take long to get there), opinions will likely still be split into two camps by the intro of album opener “Leave Home” to this day. Something about the two-tone keyboard sample which fades the song in (which sounds a little like the “Reverse” warning that a moving truck produces) coupled with the vocal sample from Blake Baxter (“Brotha’s gonna work it out”) still sounds repellent; it sounds like every candy raver mix tape which was made between 1995 and 2000, and can make listeners cringe because it just feels cheap, thin and (worst of all) dated.
Happily though, the beat quickly moves in, overtakes listeners’ collective consciousness and tap into the pleasure center of their brains. The beat really is a hypnotic thing of beauty and, as the simple but compelling bass line, muddy guitar figure and multitude of mini-samples and sound effects begin to register all over the mix, listeners will quickly get hooked and feel them begin to re-tune their minds. Soon, listeners will find themselves swelling and wilting with the rhythm of the peaks and valleys installed in “Leave Home,” and also find that they’re quickly remembering how energizing that movement feels; the power is palpable and still feels good.
“Leave Home” transitions seamlessly into “In Dust We Trust” and, while the side feels really short because it ends after just two tracks (the catch with these reissues is that two tracks on a side looks light on a 12” record), the pair of songs do successfully set up the working methodology under which the album operates as a whole. That said, listeners will be able to note familiar themes and some reoccurring samples running through songs including “Song To The Sirens,” “The Little Birdies Down Beats” and “Chemical Beats” but, rather than simply making the songs feel samey or static (they aren’t), the reoccurring samples help to buoy the sides along and mark when movements change as the record progresses. It is (in part) because of those things that listeners have no problem staying with the album as it goes too; the sense of familiarity helps to keep listeners engaged.
… And they’ll stay with the C- and D-sides of the album devotedly for the same reasons they were hooked to begin with. Unlike so many similarly bent albums of its time, Exit Planet Dust doesn’t shoot for any particular point in its running and try to increase the tension here or there to help develop a single climactic moment before fading out, it just endeavors to keep its energy levels consistently high in order to keep listeners engaged.
Some listeners might balk at that go-go-go-in-perpetuity impression, but they’ll be the ones who clearly missed the point; simply said, “Chico’s Groove” and “One Too Many Mornings” maintain precisely the same levels that “Leave Home” and “in Dust We Trust” do (this could be said of any other pair of songs on a given side of this album, for that matter), and that just makes it more difficult to realize how much time has lapsed as one listens. That remains true even now, twenty-two years after Exit Planet Dust was first released; it continues to play just as it always has. And it will continue to do so. [Bill Adams]