sat 02/03/2024

Album: Orbital - Optical Delusion | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Orbital - Optical Delusion

Album: Orbital - Optical Delusion

Nineties dance dons prove reliable with a varied and bangin' 10th album

Possibly a distant relation of Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing

Orbital, one of the great electronic dance acts, had a run of albums during the 1990s that encapsulate that decade in the UK (at least, for those willing to ignore the historical revisionism around tired, retro-tastic Britpop by the same media "arbiters of taste" who invented it).

Those five albums remain gorgeous. The run came to an end with the flabby The Altogether album in 2001, featuring a vocal by David Gray among other unlovable things. Their latest album, though, is their first to feature a welter of guest vocalists. It could have been a disaster, but it’s not.

The 21st century has seen Orbital split, solo work by both Hartnoll brothers, periods of inactivity, and a run of music that ranges from the passable to the excellent (“Where is It Going?” from 2012’s Wonky album, for instance, is as good as any of their Nineties best). Optical Delusion contains a few Orbital-by-numbers pieces alongside gold. For a fan, such as this writer, even the more predictable fare envelops; those woven, looped analogue synth sounds, space melodies, intermingling hypnotically over ever-building rhythmic heft. Cuts such as “Day One” and “The New Abnormal” fit this description.

Opener “Ringa Ringa (The Old Pandemic Folk Song)”, featuring The Mediaeval Baebes, channels Orbital’s 1993 classic “Halcyon + On + On” via the old plague nursery rhyme “Ring a Ring o’ Roses”. It’s well done but much material here raises the average quality beyond that. “Home” featuring Anna B Savage, makes the most of her crisp English voice against a backdrop of acidic threat, while the single “Dirty Rat” with Sleaford Mods is a brilliantly venomous punk polemic against the Tories (“You voted for them – look at ya! Blaming everyone in the hospitals, blaming everyone at the bottom of the English Channel”). Both songs speak to our currently desperate nation.

The duo also break from their usual sound, giving us a version of pop on the sweet, nigh-on-eight-minute “Are You Alive?”, featuring Brighton band Penelope Isles, but it’s the bangers that, as so often, raise things to the next level, notably the drum & bass-led “Requiem for the Apocalypse” and, especially, battering beat monster “Moon Princess”, featuring female Japanese electronic don Coppé. In short, Orbital still have it. In both senses.

Below: watch the video for Orbital & Sleaford Mods' "Dirty Rat"

Their first to feature a welter of guest vocalists; it could have been a disaster, but it’s not

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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