Own It or Disown It: #259: The Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole

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The beloved breakthrough album by The Chemical Brothers turns twenty years old today.

The word “contrast” dates all the way back to the late 17th century, with the connotations of the term revolving around fine art but is otherwise interchangeable from how it is used in modern times. The Latin words “contra” (against) and “stare” (stand) were combined to form the French term contraste, and it doesn’t take a linguistics expert to understand how that translates into English. To hear The Chemical Brothers tell it on their breakthrough 1997 album Dig Your Own Hole, though, contrast as an element of music didn’t begin until, like, 1998, or maybe later.

Dig Your Own Hole is one long ass-shaker. The closest it comes to providing slower material comes with individual passages of its ass-shakers, and these passages don’t last long. Every song here is meant for breakin’, and that includes the parts where Noel Gallagher and Beth Orton show up. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—there’s nothing wrong with high-tempo music—but it all comes across as the same sort of ass-shaker, of blaring loud electronic noise in a rhythm over the course of an hour. Remove the vocal passages and you could convince me the ten songs that follow “Block Rockin’ Beats” are remixes of that song.

To be fair, this wasn’t an oversight. There’s actually a term for this kind of electronic music: “big beat”. It has its own Wikipedia page. The long and short of it (and I’ll cop that I’m reducing a lot of thought, merit, and consideration down to a bitter phrase and that’s not wholly fair) is that “big beat” was all about replicating the sound of the club. That’s not the worst idea in the world for an electronic act in 1997, the year The Prodigy dropped Fat of the Land, but I’m writing about how this album sounds in 2017, not 1997, and there are no shortage of danceable electronic albums I can listen to that feature far more variety than what’s on Dig Your Own Hole. Heck, even The Fat of the Land, one of the most kinetic albums of the 90s, has better contrast.

Dig Your Own Hole left a mark on the music industry, serving as both an important influence in electronic music going forward as well as making The Chemical Brothers respectable names in their scene. That does not, however, mean that this album is essential listening. Experiencing it today leaves me grateful that electronic music evolved past this; heck, the few cuts I’ve heard from the follow-up, 1999’s Surrender, have aged better than most of what’s on Dig Your Own Hole. Its greatest practical application these days is as workout music, and I don’t see myself listening to consecutive cuts from this while I’m at the gym.

VERDICT: DISOWN

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