The Orb – Cydonia

I imagine you could spend days arguing about which of The Orb‘s albums is best, but for me 2001’s Cydonia is definitely up there among their finest hours. The contemporary reviews don’t seem to have been too great, but as is often the way, that may well have been a product of trends elsewhere in the music business rather than anything on this release in particular.

Part of the reason for my fondness of it is the brilliant Once More, the track that opens the album. The Orb seem to have long understood that being very silly on an album is perfectly acceptable as long as you throw in the occasional brilliant song too, and Once More is a particularly fine example, with its huge synth sounds and gentle vocals.

The less commercial moments don’t let down either – Promis is a fun analogue diversion which seems to have been stretched in traditional Orb fashion to clock in at five and a half minutes. Ghostdancing is a bit of a plodding piece if you take it on its own, but alongside its neighbours, the mood of this album seems very clear.

Turn it Down is traditional Orb territory, with ambient and laid back music accompanied by daft samples, the highlight this time being a sweet old Welsh man reminiscing about the war. We will not, he tells us earnestly, put up with any interference with our beer. Egnable is pretty memorable too, mixing circus-style backing with a notably misread Linguaphone advertisement.

The short sidestep Firestar carries us through to the longer and deeper A Mile Long Lump of Lard (a classic Orb track title, surely?) Some moments are more memorable than others – Centuries and Plum Island manage both to add to the general atmosphere of the album while also standing out, which is an admirable achievement.

Hamlet of Kings is perhaps the most memorable of the later tracks on here, consisting of just under eight minutes of dark, analogue, ambiance. Listening to this, it’s difficult to see why anyone would think of this as an average album. But the music press can be a very fickle lot.

Later tracks 1,1,1, EDM, Thursday’s Keeper, and Terminus add relatively little except for a whole lot of deep and dark synthetic atmosphere, but by no means is that a bad thing – the memories of this release have already been solidly cemented by this stage. Terminus even includes a sample from the shipping forecast – how could you think of that as average? The Orb‘s fifth full album, Cydonia may have lacked the commercial and critical success of some of its predecessors – for the first time in their history it failed to even make the official album chart – but by no means does that mean it’s bad. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The double CD version of Cydonia is the one you want, as the extra disc of alternative versions includes some additional gems, but it no longer appears to be available. The original release can be found here.

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