Consider this one of those meta-entries: Deadlines and real-world events require me to be elsewhere both physically and mentally than writing for my own site today, and as a result, my head feels not unlike the non-stop “Dig Your Own Hole,” especially when it comes to the wonderfully-jittery processed-to-death bass line that bounces around the track. Give me a few more minutes before the metaphorical shit hits the fan, and then I’ll reach a particular stress level that could best be translated by this track at the 2:44 mark; I’ve never really thought of this song – One of my favorites from the Chemical Brothers’ 1997 Dig Your Own Hole album – as a weird musical metaphor for stress before, but the more the idea sits in my admittedly crazed mind, the more it appeals.
And so, a song that sounds like I feel, and is also one that I happily still listen to, a decade and a half after its original release, by which point its likely become stupidly unfashionable. Luckily, I never claimed to be hip.
This song – Something that feels so incredibly 1990s and 1960s to me at the same time, with Beth Orton’s vocals feeling like something from a random, half-remembered folk act in the New Folk movement of the latter decade, playing against the psychedelia-influenced “Big Beat” of the Chemical Brothers – reminds me of the final year of my BA degree, the fact that Dig Your Own Hole (the album this came from) was playing in all of the studios, all of us feeding our heads with the same noises and the same influences as we tried to finish our work and find inspiration to be ourselves on paper and canvas and clay and whatever. This and Oasis’ (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?; echoing out from different doorways at different stages as you’d walk down the corridors. One of those sense memories that you find yourself suddenly transported by, without meaning to be.
Another day that feels weirdly overwhelming for reasons I can’t explain – although there was an upside of seeing a friend I haven’t seen in a long, long time – and so, a song that (as much as I love it) feels as frantic as my head right now. It’s the drum beat, which feels like it’s come from some awesome jazz record in the past, and the way it doesn’t quite go with the hum of the rest of the song. Never mind all of Noel Gallagher’s Beatles-esque stylings and lyrics – This is definitely a lesser cousin to “Setting Sun” in that regard – because “Let Forever Be” is really all about the aural mismatch in the music, and the way that it sounds like the most pop dream you’ve never had.
I found out, earlier this week, that the remaining members of the Beatles had threatened the Chemical Brothers with legal action over “Setting Sun”‘ s similarity to “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver, only for Sony to hire various musical experts to “prove” that the two songs were different enough so as not to be legally actionable. There’s something amusing about that, in no small part because “Setting Sun” pretty much is “Tomorrow Never Knows,” or at least the younger, angrier brother of that song; I remember when the song was new, and DJs would mix the two together, and all of us Britpop fans would nod our heads and go “yes, the Beatles really did invent everything” as if that was somehow gospel fact as opposed to Brit-centric nonsense.
“Setting Sun,” though, felt like a breakthrough for the Chemical Brothers at the time, at least for me. It wasn’t their first track with a vocalist – Tim Burgess and the wonderful Beth Orton had been on the first album, Exit Planet Dust – but it was their first track that felt as if it was “a song,” with a beginning, middle and end, and enough give and take within it to work as a club track, too. There’s an organicness to “Setting Sun,” the structure of it if not the way it sounds, electronically screaming at you, that wasn’t present in their earlier work, and a playfulness, too; it’s something that works in more locations than just the dancefloor, and a sign of where they’d go on Dig Your Own Hole, the album that followed (and ended up becoming a home to this track).
But back to the Beatles; it’s not just any similarity to “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Noel Gallagher’s vocals that remind the listener of the Fab Four; the drums, if you listen to them as a loop and then separate that loop in your head to the singular beat that is looped, sounds like something Ringo would play (It actually really reminds me of his infamous “Strawberry Fields Forever” drum riff), and the… more choral vocals… (which isn’t the right way to put it, but the vocals that are sampled and used as music as opposed to Gallagher’s lead vocal) are reminiscent of the mythical “Tomorrow Never Knows” that was never made but John Lennon had imagined, with the monk chanting on the top of a hill providing the main musical accompaniment.
It’s odd to hear Noel Gallagher perform this song on his own, and give it – well, a melody, which the original purposefully doesn’t have; it becomes a gentler song, something more melancholy, which is odd to imagine. The “Setting Sun” on Dig Your Own Hole is a battle song, a call to arms for a culture war as much as “Tomorrow Never Knows” was, way back when. I love this song, as much for what it implies and brings to memory as much as what it actually is, but those two things feel very linked: It’s about being young and out of control and now, more than a decade later, it’s become that song for me in an entirely different direction.