Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Review: Orbital - Wonky

Amazingly, against all odds and all my cynicism, Orbital's new album is actually pretty damn good. There's been an awful lot of shit written about this album and about the band in various reviews and fan reactions. My favourite thus far: "It sounds like a return to the Green Album!" Really? There's also the standard issue wafflings about "house and techno" from idiot indie outlets who don't know how to talk about dance music so just lather on the canonic reference points every time they hear a bass thump. But one thing that everyone seems to have got right is that Wonky is better than we had any right to expect.

Since their 2009 reformation, Orbital have released a couple of new tracks, including the 2010 Don't Stop Me/The Gun Is Good EP. All this new material was really sub-standard and thankfully none of it has made it onto the album, but it hinted an Orbital who were far from their peak. This is, after all, a band who had been audibly running out of ideas for about five years before they finally packed things in with the unapologetically idea-less send-off Blue Album in 2004.

Now, granted, Wonky is still an extremely self-referential album. Orbital have been dining out on their own legend for some time now, and this album is jam packed full of references and cheeky samples of their own back catalogue. The opener of the album is a naked re-run of the glorious intro to Snivilisation, and Beelzedub is an amusing dubstep remix of Satan (that isn't actually as bad as that sounds either, erupting into a fury of old-school amens at the end, much like Skream's iconic remix of La Roux - In For The Kill). New France rips a synth from Spare Parts Express and uses it in almost exactly the same way. The strings at the start of Stringy Acid are a slight rejig of the heady outro to Out There Somewhere (Part 2). You get the picture?

In a sense, this is an apposite album for a band who are basically now a touring greatest hits live show, but it's a bit disappointing to see Orbital unable to do something creative and new without this constant admission of "Hey guys, we're this national treasure of '90s electronica, remember?" Yeah, I get it. You made a lot of music that defined my adolescence. Thanks for that. Can you make some music that defines my adulthood now?

All of this might sound very negative, but it's basically just the caveat that holds this album back. If they'd struck out to genuinely new waters, their shiny, glossy, poppy electro sound of 2012 would probably stand up in its own right. Orbital have always been pleasingly genre-less, but the sound that's most closely influenced their discography would be electro (specifically Kraftwerk), and the bouncey, sparse rhythms and shiny, chunky keyboard melodies here are a continuation with that. The main difference is that previous albums were usually shot through with darkness and sneering political irony, where as the Orbital of 2012 no longer seem to give a shit about those things and are content just to make Euphoric Festival Anthems (tm), so Wonky is pure blissed out electronica throughout. And to be fair, few acts can construct a more delicately weird slice of melodic electronic beauty than Orbital, and so Wonky is a gorgeous listen for the most part. The first four tracks are a veritable barrage of loveliness, culminating in the soaring New France, a track that ranks up there on the pantheon of classic Orbital sunrise anthems. The album has a lovely flow, with the tracks segueing into each other nicely, and it's a breezy listen with no downtime or cringe-worthy moments that have occasionally blighted latter-era Orbital.

If this album had come out in 1998, it would probably have been seen as a disappointment, but after quite a few years of being disappointed by Orbital, I'm really pleased by just how well this has turned out. I'm not hugely interested in political content to music, but in Orbital's case it always added some bite to contrast with their achingly beautiful melodies. That bite, along with slightly more adventurous and less repetition of former glory, could have resulted in a classic album, but frankly nobody's complainnig. Everyone on the Internet has already agreed it's not up there with their finest material (anything 1993-1999, basically) but it's probably the best thing they've done since then, and everyone seems pretty content with that. The Internet, for once, is right. .

Genre: Orbital-step.
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

1 comment:

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