When The Chemical Brothers, the pre-eminent British lords of techo-electronica, release a song called “Shake Break Bounce,” you’ve got to wonder whether they should be that blatantly straightforward. After all, their brilliant 2002 album “Come With Us” included such oblique song titles as “Pioneer Skies,” “My Elastic Eye” and the epochal “It Began in Afrika.” But the Brothers are not to be underestimated: On “Push the Button,” their sixth studio album, they pull no tricks and take no detours. Nearly all of its 11 songs are full-on, no-holds-barred electronica workouts, brimming with energy and sonic delight. While their cliched song titles might be a bit cringe-worthy (besides “Shake Break Bounce,” we’ve also got “Left Right” and “The Big Jump”), the lush and expansive songs themselves defy expectations.
The only true duds on the album are the first two tracks. “Galvanize” opens with what sounds like a raw, unedited and somewhat messy violin sample, and for some reason the Brothers choose to build an entire song around this sonic oddity. Though the Brothers’ own creations are, by themselves, always easy on the ears, this decadent muddle (in fact an interpolation from obscure African artist Najat Aatabu) can be headache-inducing. Its saving grace is A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, who blesses the track with his trademark (and long gone) voice.
“The Boxer,” the second track, contains a busy, bass-light drum line under some of the worst singing the pop world has ever heard. Guest singer Tim Burgess’ overcooked voice sounds like an ’80s reject, especially on repetitive lyrics like, “I can’t seem to shake this feeling / I can’t seem to put it down.” Not a great way to get things started.
But things quickly take off from there, and the sins of the first two cuts are quickly and gleefully forgotten. The third track, “Believe,” immediately gets things right — and by right, I mean down, dirty and eminently freakable. The song is at once controlled and chaotic, mixing a fast-paced, rumbling dancehall beat with high-pitched sonic bleeps that bounce exuberantly from right speaker to left speaker and back again. Though it could’ve done without the vocalist — once again, an ’80s rehash (fellow Brit Kele Okereke) — the song is the album’s true launching point, the place from which it expands and grows, resulting in one quite amazing 50-minute block of noise.
The next several songs each build from one another, oftentimes seamlessly transitioning from one mind-blowing beat to the next. The sprawling, ambitious “Come Inside” is predominantly a first-rate rave track but liberally intersperses aspects of rock-and-roll, eerie outer-space motifs and even a bit of a block-party vibe. The simple lyrics, “Would you like to come in now / Would you like to come inside?” are spoken with dead-on glibness by a come-hither female vocalist, who serves as the perfect counterpoint to a busy beat.
The Brothers even cull some hip-hop for their collection. “Left Right” is an effective, even a bit revolutionary, anti-war protest song. It features Anwar, an enthusiastic, animated rapper who sounds like a young Jay-Z. His lyrics, if somewhat tired, are nevertheless fairly vivid: “He laid on his back, firearm by his side / Hearing no sound, just watching fireworks in the sky.” The beat is the exciting part, featuring a psychedelic guitar screeching over sonic booms and falling bombs. An intense, sustained bass section ties it all together, resulting in a song that has a far-off chance of receiving some airplay on hip-hop radio. Other highlights are the twangy “Marvo Ging” (though it errs on the side of repetition) and the spacey “Hold Tight London.”
It isn’t until its end, however, that the album’s true gems shine, especially in the form of two simply gorgeous numbers that brilliantly counterbalance the opening disappointments. The Neptunes-inspired “Shake Break Bounce” lays spare percussion against a melodic Spanish guitar, throwing in some truly titillating sound effects for good measure. Leaping from a rattling maraca to electronic glitches, the track is a grab bag of wonderfully disparate noises — yet, in unison, they create one of the hottest, most innovative songs the Chemical Brothers have ever concocted.
The album wraps up with the epic “Surface to Air,” a sweeping number that induces a powerful, almost hopeful feeling in the listener. The beat itself is simple yet luxuriant and is unexperimental without being cliche. The song is tied together by a harmonious bass line that throbs under a strong and muscular melody. Though it is perhaps the least club-ready of all the tracks on “Push the Button,” the ambience created by “Surface to Air” is certainly the album’s fullest, like the musical evocation of a beautiful day.
With this track, as with the majority of the album, The Chemical Brothers prove once again that, far from simply being clever dance producers, they are true musical poets. Just don’t judge a song by its title.