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The Orb – History of the Future: The Island Years

Island

The Orb - History of the FutureSpace is the place, and this is where The Orb seemed to come from 25 years ago when the first single hit the racks in 1989; it was like a message from the nether regions of deep space. “A Huge Ever-Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre of the Ultraworld” mixed Tangerine Dream kosmische with Eno’s ambience but still with a hint of the dancefloor at the same time. This odd hybrid would herald The Orb on to planet Earth and almost create a genre all of its own. “A Huge Ever-Growing Pulsating Brain…” is presented twice on this wonderful four disc set, the first time as its original 12” mix which I bought all those years ago and as the “Aubrey mix 2” which also appears on the deluxe edition of the Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld album, and you couldn’t get a better opener to this history of The Orb.

Even today “AHEGPBTRFTCOTU” sounds as if it’s sprung from outer space with its choir-type vocals bleeding in over a sequencer rhythm that takes you into the world of hyper-nod. As a statement of intent it shouted loudly that The Orb were out to create a new form of psychedelia for the Nineties, one that would use the accoutrements of old and the machinery of the modern to bring in a space-rock ethic to second summer of love. This sprawling piece of music was only topped by Alex Paterson’s second single. the infinite LSD-soaked bliss of “Little Fluffy Clouds,” presented here in three different forms as its original single, a Coldcut heavy dub version and live.

“Little Fluffy Clouds” is still a psychedelic dance floor anthem; it was a ray of sunshine that burst though in multi-coloured hues and had the audience dancing with their hands raised to the gods at their first live show in Brixton, a gig that I was lucky enough to witness. Disc one of this set concentrates upon the original singles, whereas disc two tackles remixes and rarities. What the remixes add on disc two is generally a more spatial awareness to the original tracks – they play around with dub, dance and ambiance to please the more underground dance fans as the band grew in reputation. To cover every track individually and describe their merits on the first two CDs would mean you would be still reading this review tomorrow. Andrew Weatherall’s ultrabass mix of “Perpetual Dawn” is sublime, reconstructing the track but still keeping the essence and feel of the original.

The ‘hit’ single “Blue Room” is presented here in a mere six minute version that scratches the surface of this sprawling classic. It is here that the mix of the old psychedelic guard meets the new, as Gong guitarist Steve Hillage and his System 7 partner Miquette Giraudy traverse the universe and create a meeting of cosmic minds to produce a thing of wonder; but if you want its full delights, pick up the deluxe version of UF-ORB. The Ganja Kru mix of “Toxygene” adds spice to the original track in all its Jean-Michel Jarre-inspired glory. “Assassin” (a kind of overlooked single at the time) is a reminder that The Orb didn’t just rely on space ambience to craft their music, but could add in components to keep fans on their toes, something Alex Paterson still does to this day.

Disc three is a live set, mainly from Copenhagen in 1993. This makes a nice compliment to the Live 93 album that includes one of the tracks used here, and with the two other tracks from that album (not found on this disc) you would have the complete show. I’m assuming time restrictions on the CD were the reason for them being omitted from this release. However a version of “Assassin” from Woodstock ’94 is tacked on to the end of this show. Here we see the band at their commercial height, playing a great set using material mainly from the first two albums and is a great added bonus to this box set.

I am, however, saving the best until last. The real gem here is the DVD which covers all the band’s Island era promos and they are truly wonderful. The saturated colours of the earlier promos give a window on to the lysergic mind as they traverse a garden of eternal dreams. Later videos get more stylised and lose some of their Alice in Wonderland-style magic but are still great to see once again. Out there somewhere is also the live video of the Ultraworld gig at Brixton that has so far only been released on video tape that would also have made for a nice extra here, as it would have done for the deluxe album release.

But the real gems here are the non-promo videos. I remember having a chat with some friends about how the band were going to perform “Blue Room” on the now-defunct Top of the Pops as the track was hardly TOTP’s usual fodder. When it finally appeared will fell around laughing as we witnessed the band playing a form of chess on what looked like the old set of the Starship Enterprise whilst lights flashed around them. Only The Orb could have been this bold and also this playful with their first prime-time TV appearance. The second TOTP slot has them spinning around surrounded by some vintage analogue synth gear, again as if they are preparing for the rocket to take off (this was to promote 97’s “Tokygene”). “Little Fluffy Clouds” live from T in the Park not only brings the track up to date but is most recent footage of them on this compilation.

To round up, this is a fantastic compilation for both old and new fans as there are wonders scattered throughout to please both camps. As with all these things there are some items that could have been added – but then you are never going to please everyone with this kind of release. What it does is give an amazing overview for the first 25 years of The Orb making music and that alone should make it a recommendation to anyone’s collection.

-Gary Parsons-

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