The Orb: Bicycles & Tricycles

Who would have thought that The Orb could sound so energized in 2004? After all, the group's first brush with fame occurred some fifteen years ago with “Loving You/A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld” and, in the years since, there have been as many personnel changes as albums, with mastermind Alex Paterson joined by partners like Jimmy Cauty, Kris Weston, Alun Hughes, John Roome, Simon Phillips, and Thomas Fehlmann. If it does sound like the group's reinvigorated, maybe it's due to its chameleonic ways, as The Orb puts paid to the principle that the organism that most survives is the one that continually adapts to its changing surroundings. Just as 1997's Orblivion included elements of drum & bass, so too does the new release include fashionable elements of Kompakt techno and schaffel. Perhaps that shouldn't surprise either, as the Cologne label issued the group's 2002 Kompassion EP and included The Orb on Pop Ambient 2003 and Kompakt 100.

But does Bicycles & Tricycles signify the group's adaptable nature or does it indicate a Zelig-like personality crisis? Well, “Land Of Green Ginger” is definitely in the classic Orb style with its hippified voiceover (“The Land of Green Ginger suddenly rose up without a word of warning and floated off of its own accord and has never been seen again since”), and the heavenly strummed harps and old man's voice that open “Orb Is” evoke the group's trademark sound (even if the muted trumpets and low-slung funk beat that follow don't). But when MC Soom T drops her defiant flow over clipped funk beats in “Aftermath,” any recognizable trace of that Orb style vanishes. Soon after, we get propulsive Kompakt techno (“Gee Strings,” which admittedly ends in typical Orb fashion with a sing-song harpsichord and cheesy voiceover), generic industrial techno (“L.U.C.A.”), and grinding punk-schaffel (“From A Distance,” a noisy, slightly vocodered stomper). The group does a credible dub imitation in “Tower Twenty Three,” indulges in some dense, blurry DSP in “Kompania,” and ends the set with “Dilmun,” an hallucinatory amalgam of horn tones, industrial machine loops, and flickering bleeps. Clearly, Bicycles & Tricycles is well-executed and engaging, and the group's enthusiasm for exploring new areas is laudable. But, unlike Orblivion, for example, which incorporated new elements without sacrificing the group's sound in the process, the new album's stylistic variety is taken to such an extreme that the overall result lacks coherence.

October 2004