The Orb - "Cydonia" (2001, MCA 548246)
From Aural Innovations #15 (April 2001)
It's been four years since The Orb has put out an album. 1997's Orblivian continued the trend towards shorter songs started on Orbus Terrarum, but did feature some guest appearances once again by Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy of System 7. Alas, after four long years, the new album by The Orb, Cydonia, seems to indicate that Alex Paterson and company have run out of ideas.
Not that Cydonia is a bad album. All of the trademark Orb elements are there, from the bubbling and gushing sound effects, to the multiple layers of complex sound, and the loose, understated rhythms. But there's nothing new offered here, except for the inclusion of vocals/lyrics on four tracks. Vocals may add something new to The Orb's traditional sound, but here, they only serve to make the Orb sound like so many other sub-par ambient techno bands out there struggling for pop credibility.
The Orb were once one of the most innovative forces in electronic space music. Emerging from a decade mired in new age serenity and blandness, Alex Paterson and friends injected new energy into the genre, virtually inventing the ambient house sound that was to become popular throughout the 90's. With space rock guitar guru Steve Hillage at the controls, the first Orb album, The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld was a landmark achievement. Their follow up, U.F.Orb was equally astonishing, but the band began to sink into a steady decline as the decade progressed (although still managed to remain light years ahead of most of the other electronica acts out there).
They emerge into the new millennium with uncertainty, sounding like they are either struggling to keep up with a genre they helped to create, or merely just riding along on their own coattails, basking in past glories.
And although Steve and Miquette appeared on Orblivian four years ago, giving it a tenuous connection to the space rock roots that Alex Paterson claimed inspired him, their influence is nowhere to be found on Cydonia. This is not to say that there are not any bright moments on the album. Although the vocals seem awkwardly out of place on an Orb release, Nina Walsh (who sings on Ghostdancing and Plum Island) has a certain sensual quirkiness to her voice, quite reminiscent of Björk. The instrumental tracks are certainly marked with the classic Orb sound, and a few of them manage to rise above their influences. A Mile Long Lump of Lard takes a harder, darker approach than most of the album and is perhaps the only truly innovative sounding piece present, but Hamlet of Kings, and the final, 11-minute track, Terminus (which is the longest piece on the album) both put you into a nice mellow headspace, with their whooshing, liquid electronics.
But all in all, it seems (if Cydonia is any indication) that the Orb are destined to be remembered by future generations as the band that changed the face of music in the 90's, but not the new millennium.
You can visit The Orb at their web site.
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald