Album Review: The Orb – Abolition of the Royal Familia

When George Harrison wrote ‘It’s All Too Much’ after encounters with LSD, he was voicing that feeling of overwhelming-ness the drug induced in him. That same feeling would later be experienced by late 80s/early 90s ravers, and led to Alex Paterson inadvertently inventing the “chill-out room” to sooth their melting heads. One album that greatly assisted him in this task was ‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ by guitarist Steve Hillage – who recorded a cover-version of ‘It’s All Too Much’, then went on to join Paterson’s spin-off ambient outfit ‘The Orb’. If that doesn’t make you utter “Wow man! It’s all connected!” then I don’t know what will, but this is my roundabout way of telling you The Orb have a new album out.

Paterson and an ever-changing line-up of collaborators and cohorts have been releasing them since 1991’s ‘The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld’, each a mix of ambient ‘scapes, dub, urban grooves, thumping basslines and verbal soundbites all viewed through the wrong end of the MDMA telescope.

This latest release (which also features Mr Hillage) kicks off sunkissed and house -ey with ‘Daze’, before sliding into the Blade Runner groove of ‘House of Narcotics’, all awash with Bond-girl strings and echoing Balearic vocals. But let’s not forget this is The Orb, and before long erstwhile fan Steven Hawking makes an appearance on the aptly titled ‘Hawk Kings’, a throbbing Underworld-esque number, which is in turn followed by the equally dancey ‘Honey Moonies’. Here, elements of classic Orb start to bleed through – heavy echo, random voices and messy disorientation. The mood continues on ‘Pervitin’ with lush strings, waves, sax and grasshoppers, and disembodied French (which morphs into another more Germanic language).

From here on in we hit a vein of lush ambience; ‘Afros, Afghans and Angels’ is like a hovercar flight with a Nexus 6 through the off-world colonies, the blissful Vangelis mood continuing with ‘Shape Shifters’, soporific trumpet eventually giving way to dub reggae, infused with moog noodling. Yep, with The Orb all things are rich pickings ripe for the pot.

‘Say Cheese’ and ‘Ital Orb’ continue the reggae flavour, spooning on the melodica, and evoking 1997’s ‘Toxygene’, albeit at a more laid-back tempo. ‘The Queen of Hearts’ is jungle-tinged Creole Krautrock, and ‘The Weekend It Rained Forever’ a lush epic twelve minute voyage through vintage Orb territory, and all the sonic strangeness that implies.

The album terminates with ‘Slave Till U Die No Matter What U Buy’ a reworking of a dystopian Jello Biafra rant (which spookily sums up our current malaise) and backed by music eerily redolent of ‘Rainbow Dome Musick’, which neatly squares the circle we came in through.

All in all, it’s a quintessential Orb album, and in today’s world as the one thirty years ago, that’s a mighty fine thing.

‘Abolition of the Royal Familia’ is released on March 27th.

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