1999's "The Middle Of Nowhere" in many ways encapsulated everything that Orbital were about up until then. While 2002's "The Altogether" and, to a lesser extent, "The Blue Album" can be seen as compilations of individual tracks, Middle Of Nowhere is a seamless, cohesive one-listen album. After two albums of more ambient, introspective work, Middle of Nowhere harks back in many ways to 1993's "Brown Album" (Orbital II) in that the dancefloor once again is king. The beats come constantly and the rhythms flow and alter seamlessly over the course of the record.
While Brown channelled the rhythms and structures of the UK rave scene with more epic techno flavouring that was distinctly the Hartnolls, Middle Of Nowhere is a much more unique sounding album that shows just how far Orbital had left behind any simple genre tags. The beats are arguably more chunky than at any other point in Orbital's discography, but their snap and crackle is more electro than the big-beat you might expect from the era. Meanwhile the melodies are intoxicating and truly unique- critics have struggled to liken them to any number of fellow electronic acts but the truth is they're pure Orbital: bizarre and strange yet simultaneously infectious and memorable.
What this album manages better than any other Orbital record is the density and complexity of the composition. While the Brown Album will forever be my favourite Orbital record, Middle of Nowhere surpasses it and the overrated and over-indulgent In Sides for musical depth. Never is this more apparent than those moments where you hear a melody re-emerge after seven minutes and realise that you're still in the same track as back then, despite all that has happened since. Because the tracks flow into each other without any pause, the boundaries of tracks are obscured and really irrelevant- every sample, hook and synth on the album seems placed with regard to what preceded it and what will follow.
As said before- for me this is not the best Orbital record. That would be The Brown Album. Middle Of Nowhere, for all its intricacy, never quite manages to be as perfect or varied as that masterpiece. The melodic side is also more demanding than The Blue Album- arguably the most satisfying and approachable Orbital record in terms of catchy and memorable melodies. Middle of Nowhere demands a degree of acclimatisation either to Orbital or to more experimental electronic music, and the dazzlingly unconventional array of sounds employed further that. However, Middle Of Nowhere certainly sits up there with those two as my favourite Orbital records, and aside from the weak ending of Style (hardly Halcyon & On & On, is it?) it's absolutely stunning from start to finish.