Eight years after their alleged farewell with "The Blue Album" and some rapturously received live shows, Orbital return to record with "Wonky" and - having already been playing live for a few years - have given the world a chance to experience them again.
And this is how its done. Unlike their peers : Leftfield are noticably twelve years since any new material and still touring, The Pixies have been together longer now than they first were with no new material to show for it, and The Stooges managed to scupper their reputation with a muscular record of great songs with disgracefully rubbish lyrics in "The Weirdness". Orbital though? "Wonky" is as good as anything they have done in recent time. Perhaps not quite as overall grand as "Insides", but still the new stuff is as good as any other record. I always had a soft spot for latter period Orbital, particularly "The Middle of Nowhere", and this covers the same ground - the first half, coming in at five distinctly different, but related songs, creates a suite of expansive grooves, textures, and reaching, absorbing and layered, immaculately constructed motifs : each fall over each oither, rise, fall, ebb, flow, creating an everchanging landscape of beats and bounces. "Straight Sun" is ideal material for musical meditation, reminding me of the kind of evocative precise timing that Pink Floyd particularly excelled at. As one movement ends, the silence is replaced by a timely and appropriate following number, so it all flows in an immaculate, impressive sequence of experiments.
"Never" is not the sound of a bored band in their creative death-throes tinkering at the edges, like some kind of moribund middle aged couple suddenly turning to swinging. This is the sound of an invigorated duo in love with the endless possibilities of banks of technology. I press down a special key and it plays a little melody!
I was, truth be told, ready to write off Orbital without new material. The endless musical museum of touring acts that hide from anything new, being simply their own best tribute acts, without a new song since 1983, bore me rigid after the first tour. Then again, "New France" sounds caved out of the same rock as anything they have done after the date Kurt Cobain killed himself. Certainly, there's not a huge amount of progression since 1994, nor have the sounds changed particularly. But does one contemporize a classic? Does anyone criticize AC/DC for not having a guest rap by Kayne West?
On second thoughts, remembering Metallica's ill-advised rap with Swizz Beatz, or Jimmy Page and Puff Daddy, and not all progress is forward leaning : not that there is any change of the formula here - as good as Orbital ever were. It is only the closing notes of "Distractions" and the tired "Stringy Acid" that bore, because it is the same kind of uninspired, and forgettable near-the-end-of-the-album stuff that Orbital have been occasionally putting out since they formed. And for all the hype, "Beezeldub" is a reworking of "Satan" with all the good bits taken out being basically a experimental dub b-side remix of the type that New Order tossed off in half-an-hour to pad out a 12" : it's not bad, but it isn't their best thing ever.
The title track is fine as well, albeit living on the shadow of phased drum beats that are a Eighties throwback. The rap by the lamentable Lady Leshurr is though, tragically inarticulate, largely consisisting of the words "Dancefloor!" and "Wow! Wow! Wow!". How impossibly dull and boring, with tediously stupid words, and utterly unimaginative vocal melodies. The track would be a much better instrumental.
And here's the rub : with this music, the words have to matter : the music itself is so strong, and well constructed, any lyrical input has to have a reason to exist, otherwise it's vandalism of sound. Were this a home made cassette recording, the title track would be relegated, and deservedly so, to "rubbish b-side" status. Thankfully, order is restored with the final "Where Is It Going?", which picks up the mantle of rising sounds and aspirational, positive string sweeps. Built on buzzing bass strings and a set of delicate interwoven arpeggios, its the type of stuff I'd happily listen to all day long in the summer. The album peters out into the ether on these chords, disappating elegantly, with an assured, confident flex of musical muscle. Orbital. I have missed you.
on 27 April 2012
After an eight year absence in the studio, The Hartnoll brothers return with arguably their most instantly likeable album since their 90's heyday. Not venturing too deeply into the slightly more experimental territory they had begun to delve into post "In Sides" (not that I dislike a band being experimental). It's Orbital back to doing what they do best and bringing a huge beaming smile across your face while you lose yourself within the inviting lush soundscapes and beats. So it seems the hiatus they had been on has done them good and got them back on track.
The only questionable inclusion for me personally is "Beelzedub". Not a bad tune, but it's dubstep inspired sound kind of goes a little off kilter with the rest of the album as a whole and sounds a little out of place. I understand they wish to push their sound into new directions, but Orbital to me always seemed more like the pioneers rather than reproducing a sound that's already been making a name for itself during their absence over the last few years. But as I say, just a slight niggle and in it's own right not a bad tune. Overall, an excellent return to form from one of Britain's electronica legends. Welcome back lads, more of this please!
When Orbital bowed out with the "Blue Album" I felt their best years were behind them, that album featuring only two tracks I really loved (the first and last tracks), and its predecessor being frankly rather dire when compared to their previous albums. Upon their return to touring a year or so ago I thought an album was probably on the cards and now we have "Wonky".
A look at the booklet reveals that the tracks were almost all written by Paul Hartnoll, so in some respects this is something of a solo album albeit with Phil performing and producing alongside him. It starts fantastically well with "One Big Moment" and "Straight Sun", two tracks I immediately loved, and their sound is familiar but a little more mature. There's a bit of a lull with "Never" before the tremendous "New France" begins, but then the album loses its way a little for me, and the tracks are merely okay rather than great, the title track actually being rather awful and I doubt I'll listen to that one again. The much heralded "Beelzedub" is a remake of their own "Satan" played in a dubstep / drum & bass style, but for me it didn't really work. The album ends with the pleasant if unremarkable "Where Is It Going?" which features flashes of some of their previous songs (I heard echoes of "Impact" and "Belfast") and fifty minutes after it began the album ends.
There's nothing here that I'd list among their best work, and if I had to rank their albums I'd place it mid-table ("Snivilization" at the top). Not bad, but far from their best. Still good to have them back.
on 4 April 2012
Wonky is the incredible new LP from Orbital, their first in about eight years. An upbeat, acid-tinged wonder of an album; it sounds distinctly Orbital but at the same time branches out in new and interesting directions. I got my hands on the album three days ago and I have listened to it from start to finish 8 times already! I like every single track so it's difficult for me to pick favourites, obvious stand-outs and potential single-material include the title track, New France and Stringy Acid, but the album is of that rare quality where any track could probably be released as a single and received well. I've always admired Orbital and enjoyed most of their music but I've never been a massive fan, but this album has made me go back and dust off my old Orbital CD's, and now they feel fresher and newer than ever thanks to this brilliant record! I won't go into detail about the sound of the tracks or the apparent genre influences, that would ruin the fun. Buy now and enjoy!