For all its disparateness, the energy and creativity at play make this irresistible.
Chris Power 2009-11-11
When Orbital’s self-titled debut (usually called ‘the Green album’ to differentiate it from its similarly eponymous follow-up, ‘the Brown album’) emerged in 1991, the rave music that had fuelled 1988 and 1989’s Summers of Love was starting to have mass appeal. Viewed in retrospect the early-90s were a golden age for electronic music, before the twin assaults of the government’s legislation against ‘repetitive beats’ in the 1994 Criminal Justice Bill and, with the death of the large-scale free party scene, the conformity of the superclub era.
Orbital’s debut single, Chime, was produced on a cassette player for the princely sum of £2.50, a remastered version making it to number 17 in the singles chart in 1990. Alongside Rhythim is Rhythim’s Strings of Life, Chime represents one of the most influential pieces of electronic dance music ever written. It appears in a live version on the Green album, underlining the Hartnoll brothers’ commitment to gigging at a time when most techno acts tended to stick in a DAT and goof around. The version here is as vital as the original single release, the sunlit stabs of its introductory passage shattering against that timeless, endorphin-firing descending metallic riff.
Similarly striking, albeit more reflective, Belfast weaves a constantly phasing electronic squiggle – the aural equivalent of a sparkler writing in the air – and major-chord keys around a sublime choral sample from Hildegard von Bingen’s O Euchari. Soundtrack to the end of countless weekends, the track sits exquisitely poised between a joyous beauty and powerful melancholy. As it slows in tempo during its last two minutes you can feel yourself slipping off into a weightless drift.
The Green album contains several stunning individual tracks – the aforementioned Chime and Belfast; the sleek machine that is Oolaa which, like so many Orbital productions to follow it, sounds like it has a core of pure crystal; the jaw-grinding rave dynamics of Speed Freak and The Moebius’ blocky trance – but it remains very much a collection of standalones rather than an album that benefits from being heard in a single sitting. Indeed, the tracks featured were recorded over several years, with no particular intention of being grouped together.
Later Orbital albums would be much more coherent in theme – witness the anti-Criminal Justice Bill statements of Snivilisation or the environmentalist messages embedded in In-Sides – but for all its disparateness, the energy and creativity at play on the Green album make it irresistible.