Just outside of Dolly Parton’s 9-5 it may be, but this is the time by which you are expected to be at your desk / work position / classroom / delete as appropriate.
Paul Hartnoll, we’d wager, has not had a 9-5 for some time – and if he has it’s more likely to have been through the nocturnal hours. But he has in some detail identified this time as a crucial fork in the crossroads of a typical day. It’s the time where you can still opt out of the hamster wheel of Monday-Friday life, the time where you could still throw a ‘sickie’ and head off to the coast. In theory.
It is also the first definitive musical statement to emerge from the Orbital camp since their thankfully amicable break up. With the brothers calling a natural halt to their work as one of the greatest British electronic acts to date there is a sense of freedom to Hartnoll’s work here, seemingly unaware of the pressure following up great records like Orbital, Snivilisation and In Sides.
There is a starry guest list from the off, an imaginatively chosen set of collaborators including The Unthanks, Ed Harcourt and The Cure’s Robert Smith. Production duties fall to Flood. Yet the most imaginative recruit of all is actor Cillian Murphy, effectively handed the role of narrator and timekeeper for the album. His soft, urgent tones introduce the record. “Now we live by the clock,” he begins, as though starting an epic biopic, and soon pondering, “What if you could turn away from time’s tyranny?” He’s back halfway through the album on the metronomic The Clock, not a note out of place. It’s a very effective tactic.
The album unfolds with typically intricate construction, the Orbital influence abundantly clear but not a constraint. Yet there are plenty of departures from the duo’s trademark sound here, most notably from Robert Smith and Lianne Hall on Please, a pounding four-to-the-floor stomper with its hook “you know you got me needing you”. Smith sounds good, a long way from his Cure safe haven – which is inhabited here by The Unthanks, covering A Forest. The harmonies are compelling, and Hartnoll’s orchestration is powerful, though the beats are a little stilted.
Villain goes all Biblical – Ed Harcourt pleading “forgive me, I know not what I do”, but it is still arguably in the instrumental tracks where Hartnoll remains at his most effective – the driving techno of Broken Up, brilliantly realised, and final track Cemetery.
This is an intriguing record that signals the start of a new direction for one of the brothers Hartnoll at least – though it is notable his instrumental work remains the most convincing of the varied tracks here. Yet his potential for vocal work is clear, and for working with more guest artists from his starry contacts list. Not the finished solo article by any means, but he leaves his listener with plenty to ponder before the clock strikes 9:00.