I blame the X-Files for dragging me back. I’d had a tough week, unusually for me, I’d barely listened to any music at all* preferring just to sit and read on my commute and lose myself in films and a bit of gaming in the evenings, truth be told it was quite pleasant to take a total aural break. My wife and I recently introduced my eldest to X-Files and it has been a lot of fun to revisit the early episodes, when the programme came on like a grown-up Scooby Doo, all bright torches and trips to rural Dakota to see what’s been eviscerating the cattle this week**.
Anyway, this led to me spending an idle hour I dipped my feet into the realm of internet UFO-freakology. Wow. There are some interesting ladies and gentlemen out there, usually called things like Dr Dwight Wendell Wylde III and citing some pretty wigged-out theories. This led to me reading up on Project Blue Book, Hanger 18 (‘The Blue Room’) etc. etc. After a little taste of space, I found myself, as if by magic, grooving along to 1537 ambient faves The Orb Blue Room.
Now Blue Room was a single released in 1992, from their mighty U.F.Orb LP, a real game-changing album for me at the time. I say a single, but at 39:57 long it is about the same length as 2 classic Van Halen albums. Pranksters always, The Orb scaled-up their puny 17-minute long LP version as a reaction to the UK charts declaring that a single could not be over 40 minutes in length, in just the sort of smart-arsed, ultimately pointless, gesture that appeals to me hugely. Even better was their appearance on Top of The Pops^ when they just sat and played chess for their allotted 4 minute span, causing outrage amongst musical conservatives and those frankly in search of a life, alike^^.
Blue Room was co-written by Steve Hillage and Jah Wobble, who weave in strangely distorted guitar and bowel-quaking bass at various points in proceedings. As with the best Orb offerings samples are used cleverly and sparingly, there’s a hint of Weather Report at the beginning and the ghost of Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Happy birthday, Mr President’ at the very end as well as the usual snatches of dialogue. However this is a track that is about textures and production, rather than showing off an obscure record collection and a modern interpretation of dubbed out spaciness, rather than ambience. Were I one of those awful stoner types that I read about occasionally, then this 12″ would make a pleasing accompaniment to a marathon session of watching Demon Seed, Logan’s Run and, especially, Dark Star in a darkened room. Man.
As anything of this length does, Blue Room ebbs and flows, slides and glides from section to section but the beats and basslines, which are never far away from the surface do propel the track forwards, preventing it vanishing up its’ own behind. There is a great section about halfway in with some distorted pedal steel guitar, or so it sounds to me, that prefigures the mood of The Orb’s 2010 collaboration with Dave Gilmour, Metallic Spheres. Mostly though this is a clever, playfully expansive release which, quite bizarrely, reached #8 on the UK pop charts and I like what that says about my fellow country persons.
Far out and gone.
*apart from The Temperance Movement White Bear, the finest LP released in 2016 … so far, probably, that I’ve heard, this year and played twice so far.
**before it got too weighty and boringly tied-up in its own grand conspiracy. I would also like it recorded that my flame still burns hot for Gillian Anderson, undiminished by all the years.
^UK’s main weekly music show back then – British institution, compulsory watching for millions.
^^and apparently changing Robbie Williams’ life forever in the process.