It’s fine as a single but it has absolutely no place whatsoever being on In Sides. Record Label cash-grab of the highest order, I can imagine the Hartnolls weren’t best pleased.
It was all the rage at that point, dance versions of old spy thrillers, wasn’t it. Moby doing Bond, Propellorheads doing Spy Break!, probably some others
So I’ve seen Orbital more times than any other dance acts and they’ve been hugely important to me. Hesitated initially as the first one I got was Snivilisation, which I admired more than I liked I think. The lack of driving beats as mentioned above. I got into dance music via the Chemical Bros and big beat (as was the way in those days) so yeah it was a bit noodly for me.
Insides though was a whole different beast - still sounds amazing today and yeah the bookending of it is amazing.
I have to say my favourite album is yet to come, which I accept isn’t probably the right thing to say…
I agree with that. For me the best of yet to come.
So this is where I first get into Orbital. My flatmate in uni was a big dance fan and I hated the stuff in a true 90’s rockest way. He was listening to the Box ep and I fell in love with the vocal version, which sounded pretty goth to my ears. It went onto some mixtapes and I suddenly had my toe in the door. I tried the album and fucking hated it. Tried to review it for the student newspaper and the review was rejected by my Orbital loving editor, because it was both wrong and shit.
Fast forward a few years and I’m listening to Orbital and I’m wondering if I was an idiot (Yes). How could I hate The girl with the sun in her head? I love Dwr Budr and Adnans, both great moody tracks. It’s only this year I’ve gotten into P.E.T.R.O.L. I always thought it sounded wrong, too dark for the album and seeing as it was written for the game Wipeout I might have been right but I’m into it now. I could listen to 30 minutes of The Box but I would love the techno version they played at Glasto 99 on a studio recording.
I think there are more editing problems going on here. There’s a lot of bloat again, TGWTSIHH only just gets away with its length due to being amazing but it’s only listening to the album for this listening club that I ever finished Out there somewhere. I think finding out the concept behind it helped, from wiki
“Paul said, “I was looking for samples from this TV programme about the way people react to UFOs. It’s not about UFOs, it’s about that spiritual gap being filled by the aliens coming down to save us… Then the second half is the euphoria of what the person wants to feel when they’ve been abducted.” ” But a lot of the songs would be better with a few minutes shaved here and there.
Gives me something to hang onto but it’s still an idea dragged on about 10 minutes to long for me.
Saying all that, this is still an incredible album and Orbital’s second best for me. It’s a stone cold classic for a reason.
I’m off on holiday for the next two weeks. I’ll try to keep the polls running on time but if I’m late it’s because I’m on the side of a mountain in Scotland or something. The TV is not into dance music much so I don’t fancy my chances at giving The Middle of Nowhere the time it deserves.
If Snivilisation had the ravers worried, In Sides came along and changed every parameter going. This wasn’t just dance music, this was symphonic without a symphony in sight, an opus with a singular vision that switches deftly in movements that are at once intensely brooding, creepingly uneasy and cosmically euphoric. And when it bangs, it bangs. It bangs harder than any Orbital output up to it, their signature techno breakbeat hits deeper and harder than before, the dropouts a profound absence due to the sheer physicality of the drums - in part because most of the drumming is built from live recordings layered over intricate drum machine patterns.
It’s hard to argue that no other Orbital album is bookended quite so well as In Sides - The Girl With The Sun In Her Head and Out There Somewhere? are a mind-blowing opener and closer (so long as you have the original pressing without The Saint tacked on).
The Box (parts 1 & 2 on CD) feels like a sort of landmark in dance. The first half building elements from the ground up, unrushed, sultry even, the pulsing synths laconic against the counterpoint of the dulcimers, part polyrhythmic percussion and part melody. It’s so relaxing yet as it draws close to the second half, a sense of disquiet creeps in and then… one of the most incredible transitions into the prowling beast of Part 2, the bass now playing the polyrhythmic aide to that insistant dulcimer, now doubling, trebling as the stanza grows. The subtle pads that join around 4 minutes in lending a Bond Theme-esque level. Sean Connery got the part of Bond because as he left the casting session, the director noted he walked like a panther. So too, does The Box. If a big cat could have a soundtrack, The Box would be hard to beat.
Dŵr Budr is the Hartnolls getting their climate awareness hats on; Welsh for ‘Dirty Water’, it is a murky affair, the sound of an aquatic creature staring up as tiny rays of light filter down through the filth, Alison Goldfrapp’s heavenly wordless (possibly, the vocals are reversed) croon complimenting the sparkling synths. There’s no middle ground here, and when the track comes into its second movement, it’s all bass all the time for a good while before a cascading, urgent synth slips in and invites the bass to get more acidic, Goldfrapp’s vocals even less intelligible, cut up and insistent, a siren’s whisper beckoning you out of the mire.
And out of the mire you come, dripping polyrhythms onto the floor as Adnan’s starts up, its liquid (presumably beatboxed?) percussion a real oddity. Adnan’s is all about the beat, standing up as one of the most complex Orbital have served up to this point, even the melody is a beat you could dance to. It has perhaps the least story-telling drive of the album but there is a story behind it - the fact that it originated as a track made for the original HELP album (and swiped back for their own ala Radiohead) inspired by a tragedy in former Yugoslavia; Adnan the name of a child killed in war.
And then we move onto Orbital’s masterpiece, the phenomenal encounter that is Out There Somewhere (parts 1 & 2 on CD). The Hartnolls had previous with goa trance and extra terrestrial speculation on Snivilisation’s Are We Here, but now instead of looking at the earth from above, we’re heading out into space - by force. Goldfrapp’s vocals now filtered and even more spooky, an alien aria, synths twinkling like stars over deep pads that burp like console commands and a then the deeply unsettling main melody comes in like an unexpected message from SETI, settling then fading as a baby’s cries. It’s magical and nasty and brilliant. It’s wrong and it’s right and we want to follow it. The transition from first half to second building the tension, the “What’s wrong?” sample (Sigourney Weaver?) the last vestiges of doubt and suddenly we’re away, all earthly desires gone. Like a symphony time-stretched as you approach the event horizon of a black-hole, it’s Orbital at their most electronic yet classical and it is filled with light, blinding you to the nightmares hiding in the darkness of the undercurrent like all the best of Orbital’s tracks. Synths cascade, replicate, fade in and out and you are swept inexorably along. You wanted this. After all, it’s about wanting to find something out there, to be taken away by it. Abduction - but is it really abduction if you’re going willingly? About 7 minutes in and the final movement of the album begins and that uneasy feeling creeps back in… is this really happening? Your mouth is dry. You don’t know what’s going to happen. And then that little tickling synth starts, bouncing off of itself and all the elements start to blend in on top of themselves; the voice from SETI is back but now it’s telling you everything is going to be alright. 10 minutes in, and euphoria kicks in - you know everything now.
It’s one of my favourite pieces of music, full stop. It’s always slightly maddened me that the Hartnolls can never get it right live; there’s always something slightly off about it, a spark they caught on record never to be found again.
And thus ends my favourite Orbital album, my stone cold solid gold 10/10. An incredible experience that has just about exhausted me to write about as I listen to it, but it’s worth it. It’s always worth it. I hope you don’t mind.
This is amazing
Ok, I’ll go back and give it another go.
I wasn’t going to listen as I’ve heard it quite recently but your post has made me want to stick it on again!
- The Girl with the Sun in Her Head
- The Box (Part 1)
- The Box (Part 2)
- Dŵr Budr
- Out There Somewhere? (Part 1)
- Out There Somewhere? (Part 2)
- The Box (Radio Edit)
- The Box (Untitled Version 1)
- The Box (Untitled Version 2)
- The Box (Vocal Reprise)
These are hard to do on a phone.
On The Box single tracks, I feel like they are interesting curios but none of them do much for me aside from the radio edit which of course is just a shorter version of pt 2 from the album anyway.
I can’t be doing with the Grant Fulton lyric on the vocal reprise at all. It just seems to make the whole thing a bit silly and detracts from the nagging creepiness and foreboding that makes The Box so great in my opinion. If there was a version with just the Alison Goldfrapp vocalising bits, I think I’d like it more, but still don’t think it adds anything that makes the track better.
Untitled 1 and 2 both feel like a mishmash of ideas riffing on the track that have been smushed all together. They’re ok but I can’t say I love em. I like Untitled 1 well enough for the first 5 minutes until the organ sound starts up, then it can do one. And I like the slow and moody start to Untitled 2 but it then starts messing around and I’m not so fussed.
As for the album itself: I love it. It’s my favourite Orbital album and features four of my very very favourite Orbital tracks: The Girl with the Sun in Her Head, both parts of The Box and Dŵr Budr. Though, as has been mentioned, it’s another album that’s probably 20 minutes longer than it really needs to be. Does feel like a lot of Orbital tracks could easily be 2-3 minutes shorter without really losing anything. I realise this might just be my ‘so-much-music-so-little-time’ anxiety talking.
And time to vote.
Are we going to cover Diversions? It’s a hole in my Orbital library I’ve only just plugged; got a copy coming in the mail, hopefully have it by monday.
I suggested it a few weeks ago and no one said anything, but feel free to post your thoughts.
Next week is going to be The middle of Nowhere with a bonus Event Horizon soundtrack.
Damn, saw that in a chazza shop today and was going to pick it up but I checked the disc and it was scratched to fuck.
[EDIT]Having just checked eBay, maybe I should have picked it up regardless. Fucking prices on there…
Really? I gave my CD away. 🤦
Let’s talk about The Middle of Nowhere
It was released in 1999, where it peaked at #4 and spent 7 weeks in the UK albums chart.
Indie band Pooka make an appearance. I really liked them at the time but this hasn’t aged well.
Somehow, the Onion AV club allowed this review to be published.
What does DiS think?
As I said, we’re also chatting about the Event Horizon soundtrack as well.
Do you see? DO YOU SEE!??
…that A.V. Club review, though. Do you not think someone somewhere is deeply embarassed that exists? Probably not the writer, mind you.
It’s as bad as it’s embarrassing.
Was it originally a joint review with Play? Otherwise a bit weird he spends half the article talking about it