THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS have always been more than the sum of their singles. It isn't until you sit down with one of their albums that it becomes apparent just how much ground they cover. Acid, house, hip-hop, psych, funkthey rock like the P-Funk Mothership dogfighting with Hawkwind's Silver Machine over the heat-wracked skies of Madchester. Too bad Astralwerks' new Singles 93-03 shuns that range. Take the Chemicals' 1999 album, Surrender, whose "Let Forever Be," sung by Oasis' Noel Gallagher, pales beside "Music: Response," a rare moment where Timbaland comes perilously close to being beaten at his own game with his own weapons. But "Let Forever Be" is on Singles, and "Music: Response" isn't. The same thing happens with "It Began in Afrika," an Afro-Latin acid-house steel-drum monster from 2001's Come With Us that trumps that same album's Richard Ashcroft's woozy "hallucinogens yay!" warblings on "The Test" eight ways from Sunday. Now guess which one is here.
Blame it on the crumbling of the electronica-crossover dream. When the Chemicals were introduced to America en masse with 1997's Dig Your Own Hole, they sparked the ire of quasi-bohos with indie-supremacist axes to grind. As big beat, the rocked-up get-down the Brothers minted, fell on hard times, critics targeted the Brothers as the now-irrelevant soundtrack to the dot-com bust. (Apparently, the real zeitgeist wears latex hot pants and fakes orgasms over eighth-generation Human League rip-offs.)
So let's blame these folks for the not-so-secret centerpiece of Singles 93-03: "The Golden Path," a brand-new collaboration with indie-psych heroes the Flaming Lips. Where the Chemicals could once siphon brilliance from Gallagher (1996's "Setting Sun," which is included) and manage a miracle out of the Charlatans' incoherent Tim Burgess ("Life Is Sweet," which isn't), "The Golden Path" is inexplicably half-assed. As Wayne Coyne's normal speakin' voice babbles an airbrushed-van-mural tale of shrugging in the afterlife in the face of a powarfull d3mon forc3!!, Tom and Ed skip the chance to toss a few of Lips drummer Steven Drozd's big-booty breaks in their blender, opting instead for what sounds like Playskool's My First House Beat.
If the Brothers are in a rock rut, they may have found a real golden path: hip-hop. They're not exactly strangers to that particular avenuesee their storming 1995 remix of Method Man's "Bring the Pain." But the chrome-plated rap-droid elexxxtrosleaze funk of "Get Yourself High" sees promise on the horizon, despite Toronto MC K-os' creaky '91 house-hop flow. Maybe if it blows up, the Chemicals can start turning the Britpop refugees from the door and let a bit of Missy in. In the meantime, do what you were going to do anyway and burn your own version.