Album Reviews

The Orb featuring David Gilmour – Metallic Spheres

(Columbia) UK release date: 4 October 2010

What’s the definition of prog?

One iPod. One track. iPod full. Geddit?

Back in the day, before iPods and MP3s, before downloads and illegal file-sharing, there was this stuff called vinyl that wasn’t only for DJs and obsessive fans of The White Stripes. Vinyl had two sides (though its predecessor, Shellac, originally only had one) each of which could fit on about 22 minutes of music. This meant that about 22 minutes was the maximum length any one track could be.

Full marks then to prog godfather David Gilmour, late of Pink Floyd, and ambient house inheritors The Orb, for recreating the heady days of progressive noodling by structuring their collaboration to mirror exactly the format of one track per side of a classic vinyl album. Mike Oldfield would be proud of them.

This faux nod to the good old days is a format flashback as thorough as any you’ll hear – Metallic Side and Sphere Side segue so seamlessly from one to the other (unless you actually have to get up to turn the vinyl over, of course) that they are, in fact, one long ambient/prog love-in. The only annoying part of the exercise is that with the two tracks clocking in at around 50 minutes between them, the album would be damn awkward to fit onto a C90. Shame on you, lads.

So, what does it sound like? Have you heard Alex Paterson before? What about Gilmour? What do you think it sounds like, then? The album is hardly full of surprises, but it would be something of a disappointment if it was. There is, if truth be told, much more of The Orb in evidence than Gilmour – gentle comedown birdsong and the noise of distant traffic distilling pleasant memories for anyone of a certain age, reminding us why The Orb were the Grateful Dead of the rave generation.

Gilmour’s main influence seems to be to hold Paterson’s worst excesses in check. Each of the two mega-tracks is described as having five movements – tracks, as they’re known to people who take less drugs – and there are, if not discernible breaks, at least discernible changes from one to the next as the acid waves ebb and flow, carrying the club survivors towards dawn.

The experience is thoroughly pleasant – a nostalgia trip in more than one sense of the word – but ultimately ends up sounding so much like a typical Orb offering it’s hard to see why Gilmour was needed. He plays guitar, but by the time everything has been filtered through Paterson’s samplers, it’s questionable how much such things matter.

His input seems to be as much about style as substance, sparking an animated video for Hymns To The Sun – one of the ‘movements’ – which looks as if it might be an out-take from the director’s cut of Dark Side Of The Moon, or a corporate video for the building of the Death Star that Darth Vader asked Gilmour to direct and Paterson to soundtrack.

All of this makes Metallic Spheres warm and fluffy, nowhere near as cold as its name suggests, but ultimately it’s worth little more than a warm smile, bringing together the favourite comedown musician of the late ’80s/early ’90s with the stoners’ favourite of the decade before, but not really doing anything with the opportunity. The Independent once challenged readers from the rave generation to look at a Mitsubishi symbol (often found on particularly nice ecstasy tablets of the early ’90s) without warmly sighing “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Mitsubishi”. �Listening to Metallic Spheres has much the same effect.

If it’s a gauntlet laid down to today’s pretenders to the crown, challenging a new generation to scoff more disco smarties and show the world there’s more to music than Sigur R�s, it’s a nice idea, but perhaps we’ll just all sit here and breathe very slowly instead.

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The Orb – Abolition Of The Royal Familia
The Orb – No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds
The Orb featuring Lee “Scratch” Perry – More Tales From The Orbservatory
The Orb featuring Lee “Scratch” Perry – The Orbserver In The Star House