The Orb – The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld

The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld only has ten tracks on it. That’s true, but it belies the fact that several of them are fifteen minutes long, and one clocks in at nearly twenty. Double albums, though, when they are put together properly, can be exceptionally good, and so it is with The Orb‘s ambitious and excellent debut album.

Things open relatively simply, though, with the shocking, brilliant, and iconic Little Fluffy Clouds. How amazing must this have sounded back in 1990, when the world heard it for the first time? Accompanied by a rhythmic ambient backing track, Ricky Lee Jones, definitely not on any drugs or anything, describes at length how amazing the skies were when she was growing up in Arizona. A long time ago, a friend and I were in the middle of nowhere on a road trip through her home state, the sun started to set, so we pulled over, and put Little Fluffy Clouds on full blast, and watched the sun set. It was a life-changing experience, and I don’t say that lightly.

Obviously, nothing else is ever going to be quite that good again, but there’s still plenty of groundbreaking and exquisite material on here. Earth (Gaia), like many tracks on this album, is an early excursion into the worlds of science fiction, and while a little selective editing here and there definitely wouldn’t have hurt it, it still has a lot to offer.

The pace here is slow and gentle, though, and we’re swept steadily into Supernova at the End of the Universe, which continues to sweep you along very gradually for the entirety of its twelve minute duration. But this is a carefully crafted album, and so, appropriately, the second side of the LP presents you with Back Side of the Moon, revealing one of The Orb‘s biggest influences, and if you aren’t paying full attention, there’s a fair chance that you won’t even notice as it mixes into the slightly jazz-infused Spanish Castles in Space, which closes the first half of the album.

Unlike Little Fluffy Clouds, which was just a baby at four minutes long, the album version of third single Perpetual Dawn is closer to ten minutes, giving them plenty of opportunity to explore different aspects of the track. The more compact single version, most of which finally turns up somewhere about half way through, would probably be my preference in general, but in the context of the album, this version works nicely. It is a shame that you don’t get most of the vocals though.

Into the Fourth Dimension is another drifting piece, but much more lively than anything we got on the first disc, and it keeps getting better, with the brilliant Outlands coming next. If you don’t remember which track that is, it’s the “best boyfriend a girl could possibly have” and “I don’t know if I was high” one. That’s followed by the lovely arpeggios of Star 6 & 7 8 9, which floats along beautifully for a while longer.

At the end is the first single, the extravagantly titled A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld, and which does go on pretty much forever. If you’re anything like me, you still can’t remember which one is which, so for future reference this is the track that samples, to wonderful effect, Minnie Riperton, singing about how “loving you is easy ’cause you’re beautiful”.

But, long though it may be, nothing lasts forever – the final track ends, and with it, after almost two hours, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld draws to a close. It’s an unusual album, definitely best enjoyed in a particular state of mind, but also an exceedingly good one, which this week celebrates its 25th birthday.

Surprisingly, the deluxe edition of this album seems to still be widely available, so if you can stomach an extra hour of deep ambiance on top of the original two, this is the one to go for.

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