Chicane – Far from the Maddening Crowds

Twenty years ago this week, Chicane released his debut album Far from the Maddening Crowds. It’s a great album, probably still the best of his career to date, so let’s give it a listen as a celebration.

It opens with Early, an ambient piece which sets the scene appropriately. Unlike many of his later works, this album is largely instrumental, and Early is full of gentle pads and swells. It mixes into the lovely Already There, which introduces gentle Spanish guitar sounds, but is otherwise another pleasant, spacious track, which carries us steadily onwards.

This album was the culmination of a couple of years’ worth of work, and so we get two different versions of Chicane‘s early hit single Offshore – first comes the Original Version, a beautiful mixture of beats, guitars, and gentle synth pads, with a plodding rhythmic synth that always sounds distinctly summery. The second version comes later on.

Then comes third single Lost You Somewhere, built around soft vocal samples but otherwise broadly similar to Offshore until it suddenly grows into an enormous trance piece, roughly halfway through. This fascinating mixture of gentle, laid back, banging trance music continues with From Blue to Green.

Then comes the second single, Sunstroke, remixed by Disco Citizens (in case you were wondering, that’s someone called Nick Bracegirdle, who also goes by the name Chicane). Again, this is broadly in a similar vein to Offshore, but it breaks out into a tirade of dance beats roughly halfway through, and it’s entirely catchy.

By the time Leaving Town mixes into the deep dance of Red Skies, you will have your hands in the air, and have long since forgotten about the relaxing opening of the album. But it’s been a gentle, gradual change of pace, and one that is executed exceedingly well.

The original version of Sunstroke turns up next, considerably more laid back than the remix that we heard earlier, and then we get Offshore ’97, a bumped-up version with more beats and a moderately annoying vocal about nothing in particular from Power Circle. It’s difficult to get too annoyed though, as most of the spirit of the original is still there, but it might have been nice if Bracegirdle had taken the time to record something new instead, especially as this reissued single actually performed less well on the charts than the original.

That’s pretty much it for this album – only the gentle-but-beatsy The Drive Home remains. If you pick up the 2007 version, you’ll get another remix of Offshore, which is fine, but you can probably live without it.

So Far from the Maddening Crowd is a great album, with plenty of promise, and like a lot of instrumental releases, it’s difficult to put into words sometimes. But this is definitely one that I’d heartily recommend.

The best version to go for is the 2007 reissue, although that appears to be out of print on physical formats, but you should still be able to find yourself a copy.

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