To my ears, Abolition Of The Royal Familia sounds like a return to The Orb`s roots. As Jimi Hendrix once advised Gong`s Daevid Allen, “Hey man”, staying with their thing. Alex Paterson and friends: Cousin Leyton, Roger Eno, Miquette Giraudy, David Harrow, Steve Hillage, Ruby The Dog, and Youth, all irreverently stirring a pot (pun intended) full of new age and ambient, soul and reggae 45s – a touch of techno and a soupçon of stoner comedy skits. The press notes for the album state that you might be surprised how pop it is. But wasn’t that the whole point of The Orb – to half-inch from the experimental, and then subvert pop? To Inception-like spike Second Summer Of Love minds – opened and crazed on designer dance drugs – with a healthy dose antiauthoritarian questioning. The title of the new album makes clear that their prime targets this mission are “The British Empire” and The House Of Windsor. But the record plays more like a party than a protest, and again, I guess that’s the point. So you get soulful, sunshine-filled, boogie-tempo`d house. The voice of Andy Cain – of Round One and Round Two fame – hitting Marvin Gaye-like highs. There’s tech dancers. Simultaneously urgent and blissed-out. Acid bubbling. Orchestrally-strung – cinematically, romantically – by Violeta Vicci. Bass connections buzzing around blaxploitation funk echoes – wah wah and furiously spinning fractals – while Alex Paterson and his co-conspirators pay tribute to Stephen Hawking and an equation that maps both the beginning and the end of time.
The ambient moments are characteristically, deceptively dense. Saturated with subliminal detail. I could pick out a deutsche dominatrix, a french fox, fauna, flora, low flying aircraft, and a rocket launch. Running rivers, Russian folk songs, and synthetic seagulls, skanking. Thunder and lightning, and a yodel that could be Yma Sumac singing in the shower. Rotating your radiogram dial through continents, before landing on the WNBC – the West Norwood Broadcasting Company. Determined to provide a unique experience “Whoever, wherever, whatever, you are”.
The first half of Shape Shifers (In Two Parts) is almost jazz. Windham Hill and ECM. The string drones and processed tones illuminated by cool vibraphone, and Oli Cripp`s Mark Isham-like blue horn. But with LX on the soundsystem SFX, the result is a bit like Hampshire & Foat, care of King Tubby`s Hi-Fi. When a dub b-line proper drops you`re blessed with rave-influenced reggae – be it The Queen Of Hearts` drum & bass battery, or, the more balearic Ital Orb – which chugs along like The Aloof`s Never Get Out Of The Boat. The Orb`s days signed to Big Life written all over it. Yabby You in the percussion loops. A Balkan breakdown. Exotica harps. Ecstatic soccer shouts. Like ON U on E.
The album is predictably choc-full of references, arcane knowledge. With a wink, drawing ley lines between the 19th Century opium wars, German speed, fossils, and Midland`s folklore. Deep South devils, London’s ravens, Siberian tigers, vikings and George W. Bush`s Texan Western White House. While the mood of the music is definitely light-hearted, and in places even “pretty”, there`s a heavy message within. One clearly constructed while concerned with the global rise of the far-right. Not a confederacy but a parliament of dunces. The spoof public announcements on closing track, Slaves Til U Die No Matter What U Buy, reframe the warnings in Jello Biafra`s Shut Up, Be Happy – made some 3 decades before. These bulletins beamed in from Steve Bannon`s secret police, barking about the suspension of civil liberties, the implementation of martial law – “stay in your homes” – are eerily prescient considering the clamp-down some of the world’s citizens are currently experiencing.
Sirens sound and I wonder “The Orb can’t have know can they?”
The Orb will release Abolition Of The Royal Familia on March 27th. You can pre-order here. They – all being well – will also embark on a UK tour – their ranks bolstered by Jah Wobble and with support from Mad Professor and Don Letts.
Friday 22nd May: Leeds – Leeds Beckett student union, tickets
Saturday 23rd May: Newcastle – Northumbria Institute, tickets
Sunday 24th May: Glasgow – Barrowland Ballroom, tickets
Wednesday 27th May: Birmingham – O2 Institute, tickets
Thursday 28th May: Manchester – O2 Ritz, tickets
Friday 29th May: London – All Points East, tickets
Saturday 30th May: Bristol – SWX, tickets