Three of the biggest acts of the 90s returned with long-awaited studio albums this summer, but who won the war of the comebacks?
Argument For: Before anyone had even heard a single snippet from The Prodigy's sixth studio album, they'd already forewarned us that it was going to be "violent sounding music". And they weren't kidding around, from start to finish The Day Is My Enemy just doesn't let up. There's no softer side to this album and not a dancefloor groover (a la "Girls") in sight. This is five years of austerity-driven rage distilled into fourteen tracks.
Argument Against: It's just kind of a bit the same isn't it? On an admittedly rushed first listen it was difficult to nail down any standout tracks as every track is - sorry guys - sort of the same? It's good, you can mosh to it and it's 100% definitely The Prodigy, but I'm just not convinced. Calibre bands like The Prodigy don't necessarily have to reinvent themselves with every release, but that said it's been five years since Invaders Must Die and it feels like everyone's just moved on a bit from then.
Argument For: If The Prodigy sound like they haven't moved on, Groove Armada sound like a totally different act. They've ditched the stadium-filling live act and opted for a late night basement DJ set. This is grooving, driving house from the get go, and much like The Prodigy, it doesn't let up. This is 4AM dancefloor filler and you can almost smell the sweat dripping from the ceiling. Also, to keep the fanboys happy, there's a whole second disc crammed with reworks of their most famous tracks by artists from across the bleeding edge of house and techno.
Argument Against: For those who grew up on Soundboy Rock, Lovebox and Black/White Light, this feels a little underwhelming. I know that Groove originated in the warehouse and free party scene and that, if you cut them, they'd bleed house. But I was less than a decade old at that time - that just isn't the GA I know and love. Also I feel like the 'house revival' has gone on for what seems like an eternity now and, I was really banking on GA to bring a bit of much need fun back to the dancefloor. Also, and I know this isn't the most popular opinion to have in 2015, but I like lyrics.
The Chemical Brothers
Argument For: Neither changing too much nor too little. Musically The Chemical Brothers have most certainly hit the sweet spot. This is most definitely a Chemical Brothers record, but it feels new and interesting, and most importantly it's not easily classified in the current music landscape. This is acid house meets big room meets mid-noughties Chem Bros, but without feeling like a re-hash of old styles or - crucially - a ride on a succession of bandwagons.
Argument Against: Neither of the other two albums had any let up, they were go-time all the time. The Chemical Brothers' effort is no different, yet somehow it's the only album that felt 'a bit intense' for prolonged listening. I want to qualify this, though: I saw The Chemical Brothers perform their accompanying live show twice in one week this summer (at Glastonbury and Sonar respectively) and during neither show did I feel I needed a break from their music. But when I played all three records in the office, this was the only one that had colleagues reaching for their headphones. Maybe it's just not a 2PM on a Tuesday record, or maybe it's just not for everyone. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
And The Winner?
If anything is clear from the above, it's that I'm neither qualified nor stupid enough to make a call on this, so I'm going to leave it up to you to make your own decision. Every single album presented here is more than worth your time and attention and there are good and not-so-good tracks on each record. I've been a big fan of all three of these artists since I first got in to dance music, indeed it's mainly because of these artists (and the omnipresent Daft Punk) that I got into it at all.
If there's one thing to take from all this, it's that the truly great acts in dance music are as capable as staying relevant as the truly great acts in rock and pop, so lets all go support them this summer and hopefully it'll inspire some of the newer dance music converts to take a break from EDM or deep house and have a look at the titans that came before.
We'll be continuing the discussion on Twitter and Arielle's Radio Show, let us know what you think!