Turn That Noise Down - The Orb

So many well-known albums turn 30 this year and Steve Taylor-Bryant and Susan Omand travel back to 1992 to revisit some of the sounds of their youth that made parents shout "Turn that noise down!" This week, Susan spaces out to U.F.Orb ...

I’ve written about The Orb before with their 1991 album Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and U.F.Orb is the follow up to that. And, yes, it’s just as trip-hop as their first album. Also, with just seven songs in its hour and a quarter runtime, we’re not talking short and snappy here.

OORB opens the door to their otherworldly fascination with pan pipes, synths and vocal samples swirling over a honking baseline (not honking as in stinking, it literally honks like a foghorn). Add in the Floydian ticking, Clanger whistles and some Vangelis sweeps and it’s all very disorientating for thirteen minutes. And that’s not nearly the longest track on the album, not by a long shot.

However, the title track follows and it is, by comparison, a titchy 6 minutes long. Apart from making you need to go to the bathroom because of the watery intro, it makes full use of stereo [headphones are always a must with The Orb – Ed] with helicopters flying around, spaceships taking off, Soviet radio samples and an incongruous glockenspiel before a beat drops and it becomes pretty much the most commercial of the tracks on the album. Not a bad thing, just an observation.

Blue Room is next and you can thank your lucky stars that it’s the album version at only 17 minutes long, rather than the single which was over 40 minutes [talk about getting value for money on your jukebox pound – Ed]. The intro reminds me very much of Seal’s song Crazy which was out a couple of years previously, although no direct sample credit is given. Otherwise, there’s a lot of… well, bloopy bubbly noises, metallic taps and sirens. If you’re in the humour for it, then it’s incredible, if not, well, what are you doing listening to The Orb?! The beat drops about ten minutes in to wake you from your watery trance though and the guitar strike near the end of this shortened version is stunning.

I’m going to skip over track 4 for now, as it’s my favourite so I’ll subject you to it at the end, and carry on with Close Encounters which is all very Bladerunner at the start, you can almost see the flying cars and the noodle shops in the rain. A thumpy single bass note starts to repeat over the synth and that beat builds with drum machines and interesting snarey noises to make a percussively fascinating track. The disintegration into crowd noise a few minutes from the end is very cleverly done and you’re back among the noodle shops in the rain.

Majestic is the last lengthy track on the album and it carries on the futuristic space tribalism vibe with a lot of drums and repetitive rhythms. However, the sample in the intro of “There is still no such reality as something for nothing” still has a lot of the fanbase talking – is it original or a quote, and if it’s a quote who/where from.

Then we come to the Sticky End, literally, as the last track is a minute of bubbly, slurpy noises topped off by what sounds like Sellotape being ripped off the roll. All very visceral.

My favourite track on the album, as I said above, is the fourth one; Towers of Dub, mostly because of the glorious Victor Lewis-Smith doing what he does best – trying to convince a security guard that he’s Marcus Garvey, waiting for Haile Selassie to arrive at the reception of the London Weekend Television building and to tell him that he will meet him at Babylon and Ting. Yes, really. Then there’s a bit of barking and squeaking, a suitably train-like harmonica, lots of huffing and puffing and a seriously cool bass. Look I said it was my favourite, I didn’t say I understood it, ok?

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