The Orb – Orblivion

The Orb are always a little bit odd – it probably goes without saying – and “odd” is definitely a good term to describe their fifth album Orblivion, released in 1997. Six years on from their debut, this album actually gave them their first US hit album, and also, with Toxygene, their biggest UK hit. As it celebrates its twentieth birthday, now seems a good time to give it another listen.

It opens with the pleasant Delta Mk II, which ripples along with arpeggios for a very soft and gentle seven minutes, before it mixes almost imperceptibly into the lovely Ubiquity. Whereas preceding releases Pomme Fritz (1994) and Orbus Terrarum (1995) had been downright silly and distinctly earthbound (respectively), Orblivion saw a return to the obscure science fiction-based aural adventure of earlier releases, and this is very audible on the first couple of tracks.

The tracks move so swiftly and smoothly from one to the next that you’re a good way through the album before you know it. Second single Asylum passes by with a friendly nod, and then the bouncier Bedouin arrives, full of dub reverb and otherworldly vocal samples. Molten Love brings a tribal rhythm and some overwhelming chimes, along with some gentle pads, and of course the normal array of entirely bizarre vocal samples.

After the short piece Pi comes the longer S.A.L.T., with some Mancunian Satanic readings, apparently borrowed from a Mike Leigh film called Naked. Out of context, as all good samples on The Orb‘s works are, it makes relatively little sense, but makes for an entertaining listen nonetheless. After a brief sea shanty, it mixes into The Orb‘s biggest hit single to date.

Toxygene, it is said, started life as a remix of Jean-Michel Jarre‘s comeback single Oxygène (Part 8), which was rejected because it didn’t actually contain any of the original. This is easy to believe when you hear the mixes that did make it – they’re generally huge dance versions that remain fairly faithful to the piece, and great though The Orb are, that really isn’t why you employ them to remix your single.

But whatever the backstory, Toxygene is great, and is entirely deserving of its place as the centrepiece of this album. It’s also the only commercial-sounding thing on here, so you can’t help but feel it was probably a good thing all round that things ended up the way they did. For pretty much the only time in their career, The Orb deliver a huge synth-driven hit single, and it’s absolutely fantastic.

Then it’s back to the slightly loopy samples with the short Log of Deadwood, and then the longer Secrets, and then Passing of Time opens with another crazy sample, I’m guessing from a film (it sounds like a housing advert from the 1950s, until the nice man tells us “the rocket is waiting”). The resulting track is laden with grimy synths, but as with much of this album, is lacking a little in melody.

72 is just a short sample, with a hidden track a few minutes later, and then Orblivion draws to an end. For me, it’s not as good as subsequent album Cydonia, but it does have Toxygene, which is a pretty good reason to track it down – as a minimum everything else on here is a bonus, and you might even find something you like in amongst the rest.

You can still find the two-disc special edition of Orblivion at major retailers.

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