366 Songs 028: Setting Sun

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.