Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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BIG ROCK'N BEATS
TVT/Wax Trax

Big Rock'n Beats bills itself as the flagship compilation of "the big beat sound," a/k/a "the new body rock," but don't let the unfamiliar rhetoric make you feel like a square. Techno spawns as many new subgenres as there are wise guys with catch-phrases. These merely voice the dissidence of a network of fun-loving insiders who are bored to distraction by the ambient bubble and uneasy about the rapid attenuation of the break-beat and trip hop tangents.

The corrective concept comes from one of the few techno acts with a broadly recognizable soundprint, the Chemical Brothers. This is good news for fun-loving outsiders and just plain musical generalists, because the great strength of the Chemical Brothers is their obviousness. They like their music loud, fast, and stupid, and they like their beats to, as the saying goes, rock bodies--rather than captivate ears, or minds. They're not subtle, but as the saying goes, give us a break. We can chill and/or snoggle later.

Big Rock'n Beats is powered by guitar noises and forward fours, hooked by voices shouting "this is it" and "I can't hold back" and "gimme a break." Its mood and momentum are of a piece, a trick that eludes most compilations. And although the music is rock-friendly, its multipartite structures and multifoliate rhythms are unmistakably techno, evoking the harsh, weird, disjointed feel of the hectic postmodern with an eloquence straight rock and roll can't match.

The 13 tracks wise guy Adam Shore gathers under his rubric hail from Belgium, Sweden, and Italy as well as U.S. and U.K. Not counting remixes by Front 242 and the Chems themselves, the only name brand is Meat Beat Manifesto, although Bentley Rhythm Ace and Fatboy Slim are both stalwarts of Brighton's big-rockin' Skint Records, a hotbed of dissidence that released Bentley Rhythm Ace's own frequently surprising album. Shore's collection is more monolithic, and short on no-fail tours de force compared to the Chems' Dig Your Own Hole, say, or Astralwerks's electronica primer, Amp. But it's an excellent place for the fun-seeking to start.

Rolling Stone, 1997