Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Album Review: The Orb – Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (1991)

The upcoming release of the album collaboration between The Orb and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (album preview mix below) is a mouth watering prospect to say the very least.

The fairly recent alliance between The Orb and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour was something of a disappointment for me, and it all felt a little too cumbersome and contrived to my ears. But Perry tends to sprinkle a little stardust on everything he’s involved with, and all early indicators are that The Orb’s Alex Paterson may have met his match with Mr Perry. Whisper it, but we may even have a legitimate dub album of the year contender on our hands.

So in anticipation of what should be a very good second half of 2012 for album releases – I eagerly await the new Adrian Sherwood effort every bit as much – I recently went back and had a listen to The Orb’s 1991 double CD set Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld.

Immersing myself in this monster more than two full decades after its initial release reminded me of just how pioneering Paterson and co were at the time. In fact, the album could easily be mistaken for a much more recent work than it actually is – in true Sci Fi fashion, this sounded truly out of this world back in the early Nineties, and little has changed.

Which, I guess, is the whole point, and something very much recognised in the album’s title. It is other worldly – of this planet obviously, yet very much keen to extend its boundaries well beyond life as we know it (Jim).

As such, we get a whole range of sounds and electronic wonderment to digest – insect and animal noises, birds singing, samples from old TV programmes including the odd NASA documentary, and generally a wide variety of other bits and bobs designed to give the album its extra-terrestrial lost-in-space charm and appeal.

The single ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ (which contains an unauthorised excerpt/intro of Rickie Lee Jones ruminating on the state of the Arizona skies when she was young – something that Jones subsequently objected to) is probably the best known Orb track for non-Orb aficionados, and as wonderful as it undoubtedly is, it is by no means the stand-out on the album, and I’d say the album is best consumed as a whole in one sitting.

At a tick under four and a half minutes ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ – the opening track – is by quite some margin the shortest track to be found on Ultraworld. And as daunting as it might sound, even the 18-minute-plus closer – ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld’ (ahem) – tends to race by without any hint of tedium whatsoever. Of course, that rather depends on what else you’re doing at the time, but I’m sure you’ll take my point.

There’s probably some underlying concept or theme here far too obvious for me to have noticed – other than the inter-planetary aspect touched on – but I prefer not to think too hard about it, this is a great album as a pure listening experience alone and I recommend it to all wannabe space cadets ...

Highlights: ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’, ‘Earth (Gaia)’, ‘Outlands’, and the Reggae-infused ‘Perpetual Dawn’.

Download FACT's preview of the upcoming album:

And purely for old times sake: The Orb - Little Fluffy Clouds

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