"IT'S LIKE SOMEONE did a demographic survey to see what might make techno work in Lubbock, Texas," offered a friend when I brought up this acclaimed U.K. duo. He's got a point. On their tellingly titled debut, Bath's Alex Gifford (who is credited in the liner notes for "general racket") and Will White ("drum set Sk8ing and additional general racket") crank up a techno that gives us everything, the same way the breakfast menu at an Embers might claim to do the same. Spy-movie samples, rhythmless dub effects, ham-fisted bass 'n' guitar sloptronica, and shockingly drab appearances by marquee rappers (The Jungle Brothers and De La Soul) all combine for a Campbell's soup of a mix topped off by a terrible acid-jazz lead single, "History Repeating," which has been plaguing clubgoers for months.
This is obviously a disappointment. On paper these guys should fare swimmingly in the post-Prodigy sweepstakes. They are by far the most garrulous band to come out of the U.K.'s Big Beat scene, where a fun-at-all-costs party sensibility defines a handful of bands that treat techno like rock 'n' roll without disguising it as the rock music the mainstream demands it become. Big Beat has already spawned the gold-plated, but overrated, Chemical Brothers and the wonderful Fat Boy Slim, whose smart, effortless Better Living Through Chemistry bit everything from the Who to Idris Mohammed en route to a mix that might have been the overlooked party gem of 1997.
Propellerheads are all about effort. Even the stuff that strives for exhilaration seems stiff. There isn't a track here that doesn't explode out of the blocks only to wind up in a flat-footed stagger. Rockers like "Take California" and "Bang On!" piddle with live bass and flailing noise guitar, only to wind up wallowing in the kind of post-Chili Pepper prattle that might work best on a Jock Jams soundtrack.
White's beat-boxing on "Number of Microphones" suggests they've done the prereq. courses in the hip-hop history that haunts such post-funk endeavors. Yet, when the above-mentioned Native Tongues MCs show up to add a little color, they seem to spend most of their time searching for a secret exit. The Jungle Brothers--who've been peppering their live shows with righteous speeches about the connections between hip hop and drum 'n' bass--would have been advised to wait for a Roni Size cameo before digging the new breed; on the funkless "You Want It Back" they're buried in guitar histrionics.
Put simply, this is heavy metal; and, just as the JBs couldn't save the new Van Halen if they wanted to, they can't save the next Chemical Brothers either.
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