The Chemical Brothers have crafted an inconsistent coup, an evolution in big beat and sweet dance-pop loyalty as hard-hitting as their mid-'90s works Exit Planet Dust or Dig Your Own Hole.
"Galvanize," the first single on Push the Button, makes it plain the brothers have left breakbeat behind for pop radio takeover. It's a well-made hip-hop pastiche designed to further upset the modern-rock-hip-hop-dance club balance, with Q-Tip rapping over a Middle Eastern string hook and tabla beat.
It vies to be the future of rock radio with the second track, "The Boxer," the kind of epic drubbing we've come to expect from Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons: a massive beat, a melody that's pure pop, and Tim Burgess' soft and loutish Britpop vocal. And then they kick it up a notch. "Believe" is straight and towering Chicago house, and "Come Inside" has a bass line just a hop, skip and thump from the classic "White Lines."
Along the way there are soft electro-pop wonders and even a kind of psychedelic alt-country manifesto. But it's at the very end that you find the real crowd-pleaser, "Surface to Air."
What starts off like a satisfying Tangerine Dream faucet-dripper evolves organically into the most ecstatic and uplifting traveling song that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark never wrote. Except better - a straight-up new wave catharsis. If entire car ad campaigns are not built around this song, I'll eat my hat. And if this isn't one of the best albums of this fresh year, I'll eat yours, too.
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Push the Button (Astralwerks/Virgin) *** 1/2 (3 1/2 stars)