Chicane – Giants
Tue 28th Sep, 2010 Music Reviewsin
In a world of iTunes and iPods, and the instant gratification of immediate track accessibility that they bring, the concept of the album as a total listening experience appears to be dying a slow death. As a reaction to this, The Chemical Brothers attempted to imbue their recent opus with an album aesthetic.
Similarly, listening to Chicane’s fourth studio album, you get the impression that Nick Bracegirdle has put Giants together as something to be listened to from start to finish. With a mixture of epic instrumental tracks, pop-like vocal cuts, delicately chilled soundscapes, and a couple of melodic motifs recurring at various points, a sense of continuity and coherence ties the whole album together. As hackneyed as such a description may sound, there’s something of a ‘musical journey’ going on here.
While Nick’s Chicane output may not be at the top of the dance music ‘cool’ scale, I’ve always admired his ability to weld the euphoria of trance with a pure pop sensibility. 1997’s Far From the Maddening Crowds is a trance classic, Behind The Sun was pretty much the soundtrack to my life back in 2000, and I love the way he can take some of the best rock vocalists ( Bryan Adams, Tom Jones ) and embed them within a dance music context without seeming contradictory; coaxing some unique performances out of them in the process.
In addition, while the term ‘chill-out’ has been misappropriated by all manner of producers, there’s no denying the sublime beauty of some of the more chilled Chicane tracks.
I always like it when artists step outside of their comfort zone and try something a little different. In that respect, the Somersault album from 2007 was particularly intriguing (although also confusing for some fans). The song-based structures of some of the tracks signalled an attempt to shift the Chicane sound into new territory. Saying that, it’s just as good hearing Nick re-embrace the sound with which he established the Chicane name. On Giants, there are many fine moments, with elements of uplifting trance sitting alongside some exquisitely chilled electronica, all stamped with the recognisable Chicane sonic footprint.
The album opens with the subtle instrumental Barefoot, an ambient, orchestral-like piece that sets the mood nicely, with its initial delicate tones building up to layers of grandiose, widescreen synth washes. Owl City’s Adam Young contributes the vocal for Middledistancerunner, and his emotive and restrained performance balances perfectly with the progressive textures and rolling beats, infused with an irresistible pop charm. The title track is a melodic instrumental synth workout, Nick acknowledging in the press release the influence of pioneering French synth maestro Jean-Michel Jarre, while the drum ‘n’ bass rhythms of the fragile So Far Out to Sea provide a nice little left turn.
The first of three tracks on the album that re-work songs by other artists, Come Back is a surging house-like cut that takes the vocal hook from ’80s pop-soul singer Paul Young’s Come Back and Stay. A little further in we have the shimmering euphoric beauty of Poppiholla that is based around Sigur Ros’ Hoppípolla (the version on here is a slightly more restrained and softer 5am take on the more upbeat release from earlier in the year), while Hiding All the Stars replicates some of Gary Numan’s Cars alongside some ethereal vocals from Tash Andrews. These tracks perfectly encapsulate everything that makes Chicane great – the emphasis on melody, the creation of atmosphere, and the delicate balance between the commercial and the credible.
One of the album’s standout tracks is the slow-burning What Am I Doing Here, and Nick obviously recognises its quality, including it twice. Part 1 takes the form of a fragile ballad with female vocals, while Part 2 adds some beats and features the vocals of UK-singer Lemar, transforming the track into an epic Chicane anthem of measured beauty. Further emphasising this idea of thematic unity is the album’s dramatic closing track Titles, a sweeping instrumental which recalls the first track while also re-framing the melodic content of Middledistancerunner. Elsewhere, Where Do I Start and From Where I Stand are two female-fronted euphoric slices of classic Chicane trance.
While I appreciate that an album can only ever really be accorded classic status after you have had time to put it to one side, and then gone back to see if it still has the same emotional impact and effect, I’m inclined to suggest that Giants ranks equally alongside Far From the Maddening Crowds and Behind The Sun, and I’m tempted to say it betters them.
If you’re a Chicane fan, or simply a lover of quality melodic and atmospheric music, this is essential. Thirteen years since the release of his debut album, Nick demonstrates with Giants that the Chicane sound remains as relevant as ever.
Giants is out now on Central Station Records through Universal.