Album Reviews

The Orb – Prism

(Cooking Vinyl) UK release date: 28 April 2023

A heady brew of musical ambience, songwriting substance and sample-based humour bring a hefty dose of positivity

The Orb - Prism Since they returned to a duo, The Orb have hit yet another rich vein of form. This time Alex Paterson’s partner in crime is Michael Rendall, and between them they have issued three albums in a little less than five years. Now in their late teens on the album count (17 studio works and the celebrated Live ’93 album), Paterson and friends continue to find fresh and vibrant ways of teasing out emotion within their ambient works. Rendall, it seems, has brought a renewed urgency to the creative process, and even a blissful happiness.

Prism is one of their very best albums to date, even though it is not anything especially new. It is an affirmation of the music they (and specifically Paterson) love, placing reggae front and centre for the song-based material but including all sorts of stylistic diversions as the 70 minutes unfold. This is the duo in full flow, relishing the box of musical toys in their studio but using it for something much more meaningful than mere window dressing.

H.O.M.E. (High Orbs Mini Earths) draws immediate comparisons with O.O.B.E. from 1992’s U.F.Orb. A substantial number, it opens out beautifully into an intense bout of house music, with strong references to the Chicago peak of Mr Fingers’ Can You Feel It? This is the start of a perpetual dawn, the album gaining a breezy, early-summer warmth that never lets up.

Central to this atmosphere is Picking Tea Leaves & Chasing Butterflies, a musical infusion turning its eyes eastward while featuring exquisite contributions from solo trumpet, whose baleful fanfares give the piece an out of body, colonial flavour. Either side of this sit two cracking songs. A Ghetto Love Story wears a beaming smile, Eric Von Skywalker’s tale given a booming bass and trippy production for company. Tiger, a tribute both to Paterson’s late brother and his son who bears the same name, digs deeper emotionally, its urgent vocal, “You just gotta be happy”, hits the spot unerringly.

Pure ambience can be found at the outer edges of the album and is thoroughly indulged. Why Can You Be In Two Places At Once, When You Can’t Be Anywhere At All is classic ambient Orb, nothing new in a sense but the equal of anything delivered at their 1990s peak. There is a twist in the tale, too, a slight anxiety introduced at the end in the revelation that “Gary’s not here, man”. Living In Recycled Times also heads back to the mid-’90s for inspiration, an unexpected but successful excursion into drum ‘n’ bass, leaning on the likes of Adam F’s ‘Circles’ or Alex Reece’s Feel The Sunshine for inspiration.

Comparisons between The Orb and Pink Floyd have been rife throughout their 35 years of existence, and the cover of Prism perhaps acknowledges a bit of the stylistic debt. This might be a lighthearted and wholly uplifting opus, but it does maintain the stylistic similarities. Few musical acts can allow their music to drift in such a constructive way, but The Orb manage the nifty balancing act of standing musically still and progressing at the same time.

In the words of Bryan Adams, then, one of English music’s favourite electronic institutions are ‘18 till they die’. Prism gives The Orb a youthful complexion, its heady brew of musical ambience, songwriting substance and sample-based humour bringing a hefty dose of positivity. Strongly recommended.

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