Beth Orton – Superpinkymandy

Beth Orton may prefer these days to pretend that it never happened, but three years before 1996’s Trailer Park, she actually recorded and released an entire album, Superpinkymandy. Released only in Japan as a limited edition, history hasn’t been especially kind to this debut, which is a very great shame, as it’s an exceptional album.

Orton had met William Orbit at a party in the late 1980s, and had become his girlfriend for a while, and this album appears to have been the result of their early 1990s collaborations, along with several contributions to his Strange Cargo series.

It opens with the adorable Don’t Wanna Know Bout Evil, a cover of a song by John Martyn. Orton’s soft vocal style is already well formed on this opener, and while she may not agree now, Orbit’s gentle electronic production works wonderfully. It’s a great song.

Other tracks are less fully formed – Faith Will Carry is good, but it lacks some of the gravitas of other tracks – Water from a Vine Leaf, for example, had appeared the same year, and features some similar production, but feels a lot more polished.

There is a strong Strange Cargo feel here, although that’s hardly surprising. If Yesterday’s Gone feels as though it should be on one of Orbit’s releases, that’s because it’s essentially an early version of Montok Point, from Strange Cargo Hinterland. Only perhaps not quite as good.

Is that She Cries Your Name next? It is! In a very similar version to the one on Strange Cargo Hinterland, too. Both Orbit and Orton recognised just how good this track is, as it appeared on both of their next albums, including opening Beth Orton‘s “debut” Trailer Park in a sadly somewhat inferior version.

When You Wake is good too, a jangly guitar piece that doesn’t sound as though it’s been quite as heavily touched by Orbit. Roll the Dice is a bit weaker, but still a nice background track. Then the short interlude City Blue is pleasant too – possibly the most folky and Beth Orton-like of any of the tracks on here.

The Prisoner seems to bear little resemblance to the classic 1960s television show, which is a shame. Instead, it’s a pleasantly catchy song. You do have to wonder, though, whether Orton was really ready to release this album – apart from She Cries Your Name, most of the tracks appear to be demo recordings with typically full-on William Orbit production.

Some are better than others, though – Where Do Yo Go is a good song, a little more memorable than most, and the gospel-fuelled closing track Release Me is entirely competent too. In a way, it’s surprising that it took Orton another three years to complete Trailer Park, as she clearly had a pretty good idea of what she was doing by 1993.

If you ever have a couple of hundred pounds or dollars to spend, Superpinkymandy is therefore, at worst, an interesting early release for Orton, and a fun lost release for Orbit. At best, it has an early and entirely brilliant version of She Cries Your Name, which surely makes it worth buying? Well, maybe not for that price.

This album was never widely available.

Stowaway Heroes – William Orbit

For a while, William Orbit just seemed to be everywhere. Comfortably among the most influential producers worldwide, he was working with MadonnaAll SaintsPet Shop Boys, and many more.

His career started out with the trio Torch Song, who saw heavy underground success in the mid-1980s. In 1993, they reappeared with a final album Toward the Unknown Region, which included the brilliant Shine on Me:

He famously launched Beth Orton‘s career with this, the sublime Water from a Vine Leaf:

But this was the moment where he really became a household name – in 1995, he recorded Pieces in a Modern Style, which was briefly released and then quickly pulled due to copyright issues. Five years later, it reappeared, heralded by this brilliant Ferry Corsten remix of Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings:

So let’s give respect where it’s due, to the brilliant stowaway hero William Orbit.

Beth Orton – Daybreaker

She had risen pretty much out of nowhere over the preceding decade or so, and could now be regarded as a mature musician. For her fourth and most successful solo album, Beth Orton worked again with one of the stalwarts of what I hesitatingly call “folktronica,” Ben Watt, and also perhaps more surprisingly, Johnny Marr turned up to help out as well.

Daybreaker was released fifteen years ago this week, and opens with a sweet pop song called Paris Train, although there’s little clue in the lyrics why that might be a suitable title. When Orton is at her blandest, her songs are pleasant but distinctly unmemorable, and this is a good example of this.

Concrete Sky is the collaboration with Johnny Marr, and perhaps because of this, it does stand out somewhat, although Mount Washington, which follows, is the first track on here that really gets anywhere close to catchy. Then comes Anywhere, which was the lead single – and deservedly so – it’s probably the best track on the album.

Honestly, it might have sold well, but this isn’t a great album from this point onwards. The title track Daybreaker is pleasantly trippy and has some fun sound effects in it, but it’s not exactly exciting. Carmella and God Song are either pleasant or dull, depending on your perspective. The titles are still pretty perplexing for the most part, as well.

Some of them are witty, at least – This One’s Gonna Bruise, a collaboration with Ryan Adams, is a pleasant listen too. Orton’s haunting vocal breathlessly works its way through the notes, and the contrast with the electronic rhythm of the opening beats of Ted’s Waltz is notable too. But don’t get too excited – there’s nothing that would pass for uptempo on this half of the album.

Maybe not getting excited is exactly the point. There is a nice rhythmic quality to Ted’s Waltz, making it stand out somewhat, and while this might be a downtempo album by its very nature, it certainly isn’t boring. But hopefully it’s also OK to find it a little dull at times.

In which case, closing track Thinking About Tomorrow is entirely appropriate, as it’s forgettable on every level. It’s a shame, but there it is. Ultimately Daybreaker is far from a bad album, but it’s not even Beth Orton‘s finest hour. Get Central Reservation instead.

You should still be able to find Daybreaker at all major retailers.

Artist of the Week – William Orbit

Time now for another of our archive Artist of the Week features, dating back to early 2005. Some of these do contain errors, and probably contain some plagiarism too. Apologies in advance…

This week’s Artist of the Week was born William Wainwright, and would ultimately go on to become one of the most important musicians in the world of electronic ambient and dance music.

He began his musical career in the early 1980s in the new wave group Torch Song, and while recording with the band started to learn studio techniques, and by the end of the eighties was making a name for himself by remixing and producing the likes of Kraftwerk, The Human League, Erasure, and Madonna.

His first solo album Orbit was released in 1987, but it was with the Strange Cargo project that he started to make a name for himself. The first part of the four-album epic also came out in 1987, and was followed by parts two and three at three-year intervals. It was with these that he kick-started the career of folk singer Beth Orton, who first featured on 1993’s minor hit single Water from a Vine Leaf. The fourth album in the set, Strange Cargo Hinterland, followed in 1995, and features some of his best material to date.

It was at this time he first recorded his legendary Pieces in a Modern Style album, featuring inventive new interpretations of classical pieces, but it initially attracted very strong protests from some of the composers involved, so he re-entered the world of production, apparently never to be seen again.

However, it was with his production work that he truly made a name for himself, being responsible for some of All Saints‘ later material, as well as Ray of Light, one of Madonna‘s best albums to date, and also Blur‘s acclaimed album 13. On the back of this, he returned to the studio to re-record Pieces in a Modern Style, which swiftly made its name as a modern classic thanks to remixes by Ferry Corsten and ATB.

As rumours of a new album continue, he continues to work with the likes of Pink and Eagle-Eye Cherry on production work, and we await his return with baited breath.

Music for the Masses 22 – 17 October 2004

LSR FM, Leeds University’s student radio station, used to apply for an FM licence for a month once or twice a year, and this used to be extremely popular, as large numbers of wannabe DJs would apply to do shows. So it was that the returning Music for the Masses ended up in a graveyard slot, last thing at night on a Saturday night (or first thing on a Sunday, if you prefer to look at it that way, which nobody did, as they were all students). This had the nice effect that sometimes another presenter would forget to turn up, and your show could comfortably overrun by twenty minutes or so.

Show 22: Sun 17 Oct 2004, from 4:00am-6:20am

Broadcast on LSR FM, on FM and online. Artist of the week: Jean Michel Jarre.

  • Lemon Jelly – Space Walk
  • William Orbit (with Beth Orton) – Water from a Vine Leaf
  • Gotan Project – Época
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Équinoxe (Part III)
  • Ladytron – Light and Magic
  • Elektric Music – TV
  • Duran Duran – Come Undone
  • Andy Pickford – Oblivion
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Tout est Bleu
  • Massive Attack – Protection
  • Saint Etienne – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  • Kings of Convenience – Know-How
  • Bomb the Bass – Darkheart
  • Dirty Vegas – Walk Into the Sun
  • The Future Sound of London – My Kingdom
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Aero
  • Robert Miles – Maresias
  • Komputer – The World of Tomorrow
  • Client – Radio (Extended)
  • Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart
  • Baxendale – Your Body Needs My Sugar
  • Paul van Dyk – Time of Our Lives
  • Moby – Porcelain
  • Manu Chao – Bongo Bong

This show was recorded, and for the most part still exists. It will be posted as a Playlist for stowaways soon.

William Orbit – Strange Cargo 5

You would have to be living on another planet if you didn’t get excited about William Orbit‘s latest album. The fifth in his ongoing Strange Cargo series which started 25 years earlier with a bizarre mix of acoustic guitar and ambient synthesiser, and continues to this day with enormous rippling synths, and heavy helpings of Laurie Mayer and Beth Orton.

Without fail, all the albums in the series open with something exceptional, and Strange Cargo 5 opens with the fantastic On Wings. Characteristically for Orbit, this is a beautifully bubbly synth-driven instrumental, which grabs you by the hair and seems as though it’s going to go on forever.

It doesn’t and the gentler Big Country follows, with an acoustic lead and soft pads, and then Just a Night or Two, a more uptempo pop-like piece which feels as though it deserves a vocal performance from one of Orbit’s many collaborators over the top.

Maybe it’s just time for some vocals, because the next song is I Paint What I See, with William Orbit‘s long-time collaborator Beth Orton. As you might expect from the team who brought you Water from a Vine Leaf back in 1993, it’s a delicious mix of spoken vocals and warm electronics, and is easily the best track on this album. It’s hard to see into the infinite with all this rain, apparently.

It’s difficult to complain when Orbit has released the album entirely for free, but he has done the old trick of squeezing a few too many tracks onto here – sixteen is definitely overkill, and there are bound to be some less exciting moments among them. NE1 is one of these, an experimental acid piece that doesn’t really go anywhere in particular.

The instrumental Large Hadron Love Collider is next, a pleasant uptempo synth track which paves the way for Lode Star, a nice but ultimately forgettable piece. This is, it seems, an album to be regarded as a whole rather than the sum of its individual parts.

The collaborations with Laurie Mayer come thick and fast by the middle of the album, starting with the lovely My Friend Morpheus, which wafts wonderfully from soft humming vocals to acoustic ripples, to synth-based explorations. Then The Diver, a haunting piece which is reminiscent of Mayer’s solo album Silver Lining, creates a perfect centrepiece to the album. Poppies is similarly dark and beautiful.

The pace picks up again with the rippling Love This Town. That’s an adjective you find yourself using a lot with William Orbit – think of the work he did with All Saints back in the 1990s and you’ll realise he’s long made a habit of it. That is not, by any means, a bad thing. Recall and Milky Way Station follow, two more very sweet tracks, and before you know it the album is nearly over.

Willow is the track that brings everything together for me. It has the acoustic lead, the soft pad chords, and the beautiful melody, which are the other key ingredients of Orbit’s musical formula. If you hadn’t realised by this point that Strange Cargo 5 is brilliant, you were probably never going to.

After that, Parade of Future Souls and The Changeling don’t really seem to add a huge amount, apart from to the general completeness of the album. It does have a couple too many tracks, but in general the fifth Strange Cargo album is every bit as good as its predecessors, and also a lot more free, so it’s well worth tracking down.

You can find MP3 and 24-bit WAV versions of Strange Cargo 5 on Soundcloud here.