UK composer, musician and producer William ORBIT is a household name today, his career taking off big time following the work he did on Madonna's "Ray of Light" album from yesteryear. Prior to his career skyrocketing into pop producer stardom he plied his craft as an artist and producer for quite a few years, at first as a member of synth pop band Torch Light with a fledgling solo career in development on the side.
"Strange Cargo" from 1987 is his second solo album, and was released by Miles Copeland's label IRS as the fourth installment in their No Speak series of productions, a series that sought to highlight and give more attention to instrumental music. Orbit was probably a somewhat unexpected but low cost addition to the artist roster there, as he was an in house producer for that label at the time if I have understood matters correctly.
The end result is a strange little album, clocking in at just under 40 minutes, that appears to have been an assembly of various odds and ends Orbit for some reason or other didn't find suitable to his band project at the time. We're treated to pleasant and careful Spanish and Latin inspired atmospheres with subtle futuristic synth details on Via Caliente and Riding to Rio, careful ambient excursions on the dystopian Silent Signals, the somewhat more cosmic tinged The Secret Garden and with traces of nature effects of the kind used in soundtracks for jungle scenes on The Mighty Limpopo. The concluding piece, The Dream, is also a fairly relaxed affair, albeit with a stronger futuristic touch to it in a Blade Runner and Vangelis sort of way.
The remaining compositions are much closer to synth pop in style, form and execution. Sometimes with more sophisticated effects and arrangements thrown in, of the kind that inspires thoughts to early 1980's Tangerine Dream first and foremost, but with distinct drum patterns, presumably programmed, and a matching synth bass that has mid 1980's written all over them. In capital letters. That some of them also incorporate traces of jazz and funk might be noted, the spirited Fire and Mercy perhaps the best example of just that. That particular song also, arguably, the album highlight.
This is a CD that, indeed, contains a Strange Cargo, and one that is very much a product of the time it was created as well. It was still early days for William Orbit, but while the music may be a bit dated by now his talents in the production department does shine through. An album to seek out for those with a special interest, and if a key audience beyond fans of Orbit as a producer should be defined I'd guess that those with a deep interest in 80's synth pop might be the answer, especially if they prefer music of that type to be instrumental.
My rating: 71/100