Playing God
Orbital: Works

it would seem stupid for a band whose ‘hits’ include a fifteen-minute drum’n’bass epic about whether we are alone in the universe (which featured four minutes of silence on the b-side as a political protest), and a 26-minute spookathon divided into four ‘acts’ including a vocal reprise, and a song entitled “Satan” re-released as a 3-disc set in order to get around the necessity for a live album, and a number of doubtlessly classic but generally very long post-acid house cinematic dance epics, to release a ‘best of’ collection that features edited versions of only some of their best material on a mere one CD. And it is, because Orbital are much better than the lacklustre Works 1989-2002 compilation would suggest. So how could this sad mess of a collection be altered and improved? Easy. Strip it all away until there’s nothing left and start again.

The Hartnoll brothers were royally screwed around by record labels between 1998 and 2002, and undoubtedly the Works collection resulted partly from this instability and idiocy on the part of those organisations involved. The idea of collecting the singles of a group that doesn’t work in the field of three-minute long top ten hits strikes me as daft from the outset, so the entire scope and concept of Works needs to be changed. In their time Orbital have produced a massive amount of work not available on their proper albums, from EP tracks to b-sides, remixes, soundtrack work and long-lost single versions of LP centre-pieces. You could, were you so inclined, pull together a very strong double-disc compilation of tracks culled from this body of Orbital’s work and be more than happy with it. But what’s the point in archiving everything willy-nilly? We want to compile something, trim the wheat from the chaff, focus the reams of possibility into a hard-hitting 80-minute CD that screams “this is as good as any Orbital album”, and has you dancing like an awed ape in the presence of a black monolith to boot. And so we might do this…

1. Equinox
2. Beelzebeat
3. Lush 3 (Eurotunnel Disaster 94) / Walk About
4. Technologicque Park
5. Initiation
6. What Happens Next
7. Sunday
8. The Sinner
9. Do They Here?
10. Halcyon

Equinox is a BBC science series, notable for having a scary voice say the word ‘equinox’ in disarming fashion during the title sequence. “Equinox” is also a very early version of “Times Fly (Slow)” from 1995’s Times Fly EP, perhaps one of the most perfectly-formed of all Orbital’s releases. Starting with some electronical jiggery-pokery (camera shutters?) which may be lifted directly from the TV programme, the aforementioned spooky-voiced man utters his one-word line and a mid-paced Orbital-rumble is unleashed. Plains of synths follow, and a nascent drum’n’bass rhythm collision is piled over the top of it. Yer man’s “equinox” statement is garbled through sequencers a couple more times, and everything dies away but the beats. “Times Fly (Slow)” might have refined the formula slightly, but the EP it’s on is already great and well worth owning; why stick it on a compilation? This is for weird and rare stuff you might not otherwise hear!

“Beelzebeat” is a Middle Of Nowhere era b-side, paranoiac and darkly jaunting, slowly building up chase-momentum, nasty computer moans and evil sounding bleep armies which are out to get you. And then it goes all sweet and melodic after about five minutes, and plays out a lovely into-the-sunset finale, those computer voices morphing into the appreciative croaking of cyber pets, a bit like “Out There Somewhere” only not. “Lush 3 (Eurotunnel Disaster 94) / Walk About” you should know from the US-only Diversions album (I refuse to call it a ‘mini-album’ because it’s 70 minutes long!), but whenever there’s an excuse to lever it in somewhere I’ll gladly oblige. Plus, at 14-minutes in length, it adds a nice tone of epic psychosis to proceedings. And, of course, it’s outstanding.

Next up are two soundtrack contributions. First comes the magnificent, hard-as-nails “Technologicque Park” from the xXx soundtrack, all action-sequence tempos (although when it’s featured in the film it’s in a nightclub scene [with Orbital themselves performing in the background, fact fans!]), dramatic string-stabs and stereoscopic buzz-fuckery. “Initiation” is a rejigged version of a track from the Octane soundtrack, entirely composed by Orbital. This particular mix was one of the demos that leaked from Blue Album, but didn’t end up on the final version. It’s got some woman going ‘oooh’ and lots of nuts squelchoid beatness over the top, and gees us up nicely for the aural sophisti-chaos of “What Happens Next?”, another leaked track that didn’t make the Blue Album cut. Why I do not know, because it’s awesome. Download it and see for yourself (or get it on the “One Perfect Sunrise” single, because “What Happens Next?” is on the flip).

“Sunday” is a brief, melodic, synth-bathed respite after the chaos of that. Well, almost… Lifted from the Radiccio EP, home of the 11-minute single version of “Halcyon”, “Sunday” starts quietly enough, but soon reveals its true intention, which is to shake your ass and upside your head by flitting melody lines from one channel to the other and buzzing your brain out. Compared to “The Sinner”, the evil b-side of their theme to The Saint, “Sunday” is positively ambient. “The Sinner” subverts the melody of that famous spy tune for a ten-minute hell-safari through galloping vampires and homunculi and men in shady coats offering you designer watches cheap.

But never fear, because all this midnight terror and man-on-the-run paranoia is ameliorated by “Do We Here?”, one of the many fine mixes from the “Are We Here?” single. Because, at this level of jerky trepidation and rushing adrenaline, an abstracted semi-drum’n’bass (almost shifting into two-step in a stroke of utter prescience) number about the existence of God is just what we need to calm us down. No, those weird, parping synths, ominous bass crawls and skipping beats wont send us further towards the edge of paranoiac delusions, not at all… The shift to comically terrified near silence at 3:20 might, though… Never has it felt so good to be so metaphysically set upon by eerie, chirpy Godless beats.

The real balm comes after. Picking from Radiccio again, we finish with “Halcyon”, in different but just as beautiful a form as on Brown. I’ve gone on at length about this piece of hopelessly transcendent music before, so here and now I shall suffice to point you here if you want more.

And that’s it, ladies and germs. Orbital’s hopelessly useless ‘best of’ compilation ripped apart, re-imagined and reWorked into a colour and shape that has some purpose. And doesn’t have that bloody “Beached” thing with DiCaprio wittering over the top of it.

Visit Loopz for more information regarding the specific origins and availability of any of these tracks.

By: Nick Southall
Published on: 2004-07-06
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