Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Orbital: The Green Album

In the electronica explosion that hit England during the late 80s and early 90s, one of the best of the acts to emerge from the very busy scene was Orbital, comprised of the brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll.  The duo, who named their group after the M25 highway that circles London and off which many popular clubs and rave party locations were to be found in the so-called "Summer of Love" in 1989, recorded their first piece, "Chime," that year and the tune moved high on the singles charts when released by FFRR Records, in Spring 1990.  A year later, the dymanite "Satan" hit the charts, though not quite as high as its predecessor.

Quickly, Orbital set themselves apart from others in the busy electronica/techno genre through their melding of electronic and rock elements, both on their albums (in a field where singles and dance remixes ruled the roost) and live, where their rock-infused dynamics and elements of improvisation worked well within the "traditional" concert setting away from the club and rave warehouse scenes or live performances that relied almost exclusively on DAT recordings.  The fact that Orbital enjoyed a long career marked by the issuing of several excellent albums and also headlined major venues and events like Royal Albert Hall and the Glastonbury Festival was testament to the fact that they drew extensively from audiences inside and outside the electronica scene.

As the band released a few singles and EPs and generated a following, it was time to compile tracks from those on an album, simply named "Orbital," though known as the "Green Album" for the neon green color of the cover artwork.  Even if was a compilation of previously-recorded pieces, rather than an album generated at one time in the studio, the record clearly established Orbital as a group that had staying power.

While much of the "Green Album" is fast-tempo, high-energy dance music, the opener "Belfast" is a medium-tempo, more laid-back tune with a notable choral sample to give more an otherworldliness to the song.  More typical are the fuel-injected "Speed Freak," given a remixing by techno stalwart Moby, and "The Moebius."  The versions offered here of "Chimes"and  "Midnight" were taken from live recordings, showing Orbital's confidence that concert performances could stand easily with studio recordings. 

The version released in the United States varies its British counterpart, especially the inclusion of the excellent "Satan" and the very cool "Choice" which has a sample that leans a little toward the more politicized themes that Orbital would work with on later albums, including the high-water mark of their career, 1994s Snivilization, the second Orbital recording (after the American-only BBC and remix project, Diversions) heard by this listener.

Orbital released seven very fine albums until the brothers called it quits in 2004, but, after five years, the duo returned to live performances.  In April 2012, a new album, Wonky, was released and it'll be interesting to see what the brothers Hartnoll will do in phase 2 of their long and successful partnership.

Orbital (The Green Album (FFRR, 1991)

1.  Belfast  (8:05)
2.  The Moebius (7:00)
3.  Speed Freak (5:40)
4.  Farenheit 3D3  (7:04)
5.  Desert Storm  (12:05)
6.  Oolaa (6:22)
7.  Chime  (8:01)
8.  Satan  (6:44)
9.  Choice  (5:30)
10.  Midnight  (5:08)

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