The Boxer (The Chemical Brothers song)
|Single by The Chemical Brothers|
|from the album Push the Button|
|Released||July 11, 2005|
Miloco Studios (South London)
|Length||4:08 (Album version)
3:42 (Radio edit)
|Producer(s)||The Chemical Brothers|
|The Chemical Brothers singles chronology|
"The Boxer" is a song recorded by English electronic music duo The Chemical Brothers for their fifth studio album Push the Button (2005). It was served as the album's third single in the United Kingdom and Europe, released by Virgin Records and Freestyle Dust, and as the second single in the United States via Astralwerks. The song is a psychedelic pop track which features The Charlatans lead singer Tim Burgess on vocals and as a co-writer. This is the second collaboration of Burgess and the duo, following "Life is Sweet", which was released 10 years earlier. They performed the track together at the BBC Radio 2 Electric Proms in 2007.
The song received mixed reviews from music critics who, while praising its production, criticised Burgess' vocals. It was the first single by The Chemical Brothers not to peak in the top 40 of the UK Singles Chart, only reaching 41. It charted in Spain, Ireland and in the US Dance Singles Sales chart.
The song's music video was directed by director duo Ne-o and shot in 16 mm film in various places in Budapest, Hungary. The visual, which features a basketball bouncing around the streets with its owner running to catch it, drew comparisons with the 1956 short film The Red Balloon. Another visual, created by director Adam Smith for an alternate version of the song, was donated to the charity group Good for Nothing's 50/50 Make or Break campaign in 2011. The track also received a remix from DFA, whose version received much acclaim from critics.
Background and production
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When The Chemical Brothers started to write music again after finishing the album Come with Us (2002), "The Boxer" was one of the earliest tracks that they wrote for their next album, Push the Button (2005). The Charlatans' lead singer Tim Burgess, who had collaborated on the duo's debut album track "Life Is Sweet" ten years earlier, contributed the vocals to this song. According to the group, out of all collaborators, Burgess still remained a close friend to them. "If he's in London, we would probably have a drink together, three of us, or, you know, when we're in LA, he will come to our gig," they shared.
Originally, the song's chorus was "set in stone," so they asked Burgess to sing it and write some more lyrics. The Chemical Brothers also wanted him to perform his vocals at the end of the track like his voice from earlier in his career, described by Burgess himself as "weedy and soft," singing lyrics like "I'm a hustler, I'm a tiger." The duo also stated that his vocal styling in the outcome sounds very different from the one of their previous collaboration. The Guardian's Alexis Petridis compared it to a "standard-issue mid-Atlannick accent."
In a statement released by Astralwerks, the song was said to be a combination of their signature psychedelia pop genre and their "modern stabs." Its production was built on a "ramshackle," slightly off-tempo piano sample set above a looping mid-tempo rhythm. PopMatters' Tim O'Neil described it as "syncopated" and "slightly light-headed." He also noticed the duo's different style on the track compared with their previous records. Scott Plagenhoef of Pitchfork Media commented that the song along with "Galvanize" reminded him of the duo's "early B-Boy/techno days."
On July 11, 2005, the song was released as Push the Button's third single in Europe and the United Kingdom in various formats, including a CD single for both markets, featuring an edited version of the track and previously unreleased song "Swiper"; a Europe-only maxi single containing the original "The Boxer", the DFA version and a live rendition of "Believe" at Mediolanum Forum; a UK maxi-enhanced single with the same tracklist and additional music video for its title track; and a UK 12" single containing the original, the DFA version and "Swiper".
A day later, the CD and the 12" single were released in the United States as the album's second single; both were expanded to EPs, featuring an extended version of the song, two previous Europe and UK only-released B-sides "Giant" and "Spring", with remixes from DFA, Mathew Jonson, Erol Alkan and Abe Duque. This EP, with an inclusion of the track "Swiper", was also available for digital download, exclusively in the US. Outside of the US, a radio edit of "The Boxer" and its edited DFA version were released as individual singles digitally. On October 25, 2007, Burgess and the duo joined the stage to perform the song together live at the BBC Radio 2 Electric Proms in The Roundhouse in Camden, London.
The DFA version
The DFA version, mixed by British DJ Tim Goldsworthy and LCD Soundsystem's member, American musician James Murphy, was later added to their remix album The DFA Remixes: Chapter One (2006). This remix received much praise from critics, with Billboard's Kerri Mason singling it out as "the soundtrack to a 20-something hipster walking the downtown streets, iPod in pocket" that also "sounds like a Paradise Garage-era Peter Brown record." Tim Finney from Pitchfork Media highly praised the "Pearsonesque remix" as the "synth-laden Balearic house number that shimmers with unabashed gorgeousness." Along with another lengthy song on the album, the remix for Hot Chip's "(Just Like We) Breakdown", both were said in a review from Zeth Lundy of PopMatters to "unfold with a delicate subtext manufactured by the slow-building minimalism—they're patient dedications to the mutability of the groove, never boring and always fascinating to experience." musicOMH's Tom Woods stated that "a wealth of percussive techniques" keeps things "fresh and interesting," but criticised its length which made the song become a "stretch". But still, "vocal use is less dominant here, which gives Murphy a chance to demonstrate a clear talent for sculpting dynamic synth-led beats," he said.
In a review for PopMatters, music critic Tim O'Neil called the song "an odd track" that "doesn't really sound like anything [he has] ever heard before." He continued: "I wouldn't be surprised if it was the next single [after "Galvanize"], because its [sic] not the kind of track you forget." John Bush from AllMusic listed the track as one of his album's track picks while Michaelangelo Matos from Spin called it one of the album's best moments that were "less about the successive climaxes than steady-state flow." Jack Smith from BBC Music described the song as "cutting edge" and "hook-laden", while highlighting it as "a welcome return" for Burgess.
However, The Guardian's Alexis Petridis review was very negative. She criticised Burgess' vocal styling as "the Awful Falsetto", saying that "not even a mass of special effects can stop Burgess' shortcomings shining through", and calling the track one of the album's new ideas that "flop[ped]". Similarly, Matt D'Cruz from Drowned in Sound also criticised Burgess' "strained" vocal, calling it "proving a poor fit for the Chems' stuttering rave pianos and ponderous beats." Scott Plagenhoef of Pitchfork Media agreed on the "unremarkable verses and nasally vocals", although the song, along with "Galvanize", reminded him of the duo's "early B-Boy/techno days," but both of them missing the ferocity and sub-bass rattlings of their "earlier cousins." The latter song was also said by Plagenhoef to be "far better." Another negative review came from Slant Magazine, where journalist Eric Henderson called the track one of the album's "unsuccessful interpolations of UK grime."
In the United Kingdom, the duo's home country, the song entered the UK Singles Chart at its highest peak, number 41, on the week of July 23, 2005. However, it thus became their first single not to get in the top 40, later dropped to number 65 on its second week and moved to number 90 for a week before disappearing from the list. "The Boxer" also made its debut at number 36 on the Irish Singles Chart in the week ending of July 14 before reaching down number 44 on its final week. It also had a one-week stay on the Spanish Albums Chart at number 17 in the week of July 31 and at number 15 on the Billboard's US Hot Dance Singles Sales chart of July 30 issue.
The music video for "The Boxer" was directed by London-based director duo Ne-o, Jake Knight and Ryoko Tanaka. "Originally we were on holiday in Hong Kong and had an awful situation, as we were in an active pitch for a famous band and we didn't like the music," Knight said. "We were sent a track which had this awful DRM attached and it was frustrating us trying to play it through dial-up connection. Someone else sent us another track which was a simple MP3." Tanaka eventually came up with the idea of a ball that "connected through things". Knight didn't quite understand the idea at first, but through a process of miscommunication, they wrote the video's treatment about "a crazy basketball" which was the quickest treatment they had ever written at the time.
The video was then filmed in Budapest, Hungary over several days. "The reason for the location stems from the music in the actual video. The ball needs to bounce synchronized with the 16th or 8th beat in the track. To do that, we needed a space with equidistant or closed surfaces to bounce around. A roof low to the floor but with uprights. Obviously parking lots are ideal. So the location thing happened mainly so it wouldn't fly into the sky. Being connoisseurs of parking lots, we wanted to find a good example. But it was a technical reason that made us go with it," Knight said. Ne-o used an Arri Super 16mm film camera to shoot the film then edited it in Adobe Premiere Pro, with 3D animation using Autodesk Softimage.
Writing in his book Reinventing Music Video: Next-generation Directors, Their Inspiration, and Work, British author-director Matt Hanson claimed some might call the video the duo's first action sequence and stated it could be considered "a high-octane version" of Albert Lamorisse's short film The Red Balloon. "While [the short] was a poetic 1956 study of a boy befriended by a balloon, here the action is reversed and revved up, with the basketball defiantly trying to bounce away from the city street kid," Hanson said.
Specifically, the video opens with a boy with a basketball in his bag walking out of a car park. The basketball then begins to bounce out of the bag, jumps out of the city streets and gets into a Lada taxi. After that, it continues to bounce and causes troubles in an office. Its owner struggles to chase the ball but then manages to catch it for a second. Unfortunately, the ball escapes and is run over by a truck driven by The Chemical Brothers. The basketball re-inflates after the accident, jumps into and eventually gets trapped inside an old phone booth near Baross Street, swells to an enormous size, and explodes.
Later in 2011, The Chemical Brothers and director Adam Smith (credited as Flat Nose George) donated the visual of an alternate version of the song entitled "50/50 Mix", in support of 50/50 Make or Break campaign, a fundraising project aimed at raising money for East Africa, created by UK-based charity group Good for Nothing.
Formats and track listings
Credits and personnel
Credits adapted from the CD single liner notes.
- The Chemical Brothers – music producer, songwriter
- Steve Dub – engineer
- Mike Marsh – master
- Tim Burgess – vocals, songwriter
- Tappin Gofton – designer, art director
- Kam Tang – illustrator
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||41|
|US Dance Singles Sales (Billboard)||15|
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