The Orb vs. Orbital wars were a little chronicled, and in hindsight very petty, musical war that raged between vast swathes of Britain’s dance music loving population in 1997. There were many casualties on both sides and riot police were frequently deployed to ensure that damage to property was minimalised.
Okay, okay, so I admit that ‘hostilities’ were restricted to three tense conversations between my mate Matt and I, but one of them almost became slightly heated when I refused to make him a cup of tea until he told me that the Orb were much better than Orbital*.
My argument essentially boiled down to the fact that the Orb were far more light-hearted and spacier, whereas Orbital were always much more serious and heavier/boring. Give me U.F.Orb any day with all their dub and Pink Floyd and Monty Python references over, well, whatever that Orbital LP was called**.
In my head, my eloquence won the day and the enemy was routed.
Meanwhile back in the real world, the Orb drifted off up the backside of their own moon and became far less listenable as the 90’s ended and Orbital became a real heavyweight live act, a brilliant festival band. They even collaborated with Kirk Hammett on the Spawn soundtrack.
So I gracefully gave in and bought a couple of singles, whilst never telling my mate he was kind of right, of course.
First up is their 1997 re-working of the theme tune for Val Kilmer’s stab at being The Saint. I always thought this was an attempt by the producers to do a Mission: Impossible, redone so well by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen. So what did Orbital do to Edwin Astley’s TV theme tune?
Well, basically they took it out of waltz time and played the melody over a driven electro beat. It does a job, that’s about all I can say for it, it isn’t particularly memorable and it doesn’t make my twinkle toes twitch. Meh.
The B-side ‘The Sinner’ is a different animal, better by far. They strip out all but a couple of phrases from the TV theme and add all manner of glittering synth arpeggios and a menacing bassline. It licks along at a terrific pace and does not overstay a second of its’ 10-minute playing time. Cleverly Orbital drop little bits of additional percussion, or keyboard trills here and there to keep us interested, all the while maintaining a galloping beat. I had forgotten just how good this was.
The Box is a very different creature altogether. From the slightly creepy banality of the cover picture and the contrasting gothic script^ on in, it freaks my boobs off to be blunt. Add an unsettling Tilda Swinton starring arty video and I am not in Kansas anymore.
I do really like the harpsichord flourishes here and there, I have always been a sucker for a good bit of harpsichordage and the driving beat that underscores ‘The Box (Radio Edit)’ which is my preferred dosage of this track. .
Orbital do give good value for money and this 12″ single clocks in at a Van-Halen-shaming 28 minutes. ‘The Box’ is split into 3 parts in addition to the radio edit, the last part has got vocals by Alison Goldfrapp – which makes this the first time I would have heard my one true love singing. I do really like the drama of the last part of ‘The Box’ and I have to say listening to it today, for the first time in a decade I warm to the whole enterprise more than I used to.
So I am pleased that both these 12″s have sides that still stack up some 22-ish years later. Orbital have made music with lasting impact and heft in a field where many tracks have the life expectancy of a mayfly with a heart murmur.
That they are still not as fun to listen to as the Orb is probably a different argument^*.
P.S: Have a beautiful Autumn sunset snapped here yesterday.
P.PS: Just because someone shouting ‘Satan!’ over any kind of musical background just never gets tired:
*he said they were and then took it back when he had the cup of tea in his hand. That, my friends, is what we were up against in this conflict. The moral stakes were high.
**it did have a very good track on it, a kind of aural Moebius strip. I genuinely can’t remember the LP title and I am stubbornly refusing to look it up.
^why does that font make me uneasy? maybe I am just too sensitive for this world.
^*one that I won, obviously.