You know that mate of yours. The one you always drag to gigs with you. The one you always message with a link to a new track by a band that you have just heard for the first time and think that they will love just because you do. Yes, him (or her, but him, I strongly suspect).
Well then meet Mr L, Martin to his wife and friends, he is that mate to me. He has, whilst sitting on a sunbed in Turkey, drinking cold beer, surrounded by half eaten dolmade’s, kebabs and erm, Turkish Delight (other slightly racist stereotypes are available, he was for instance possibly wearing a fez, whilst he did the kebab thing) written this week’s entry for a Nearly Perfect Album and I am honoured that he has because I really didn’t think he would. His chosen album is The Brown Album, the second album by techno rave pioneers Orbital.
Take it away mate.
“It’s like… like a cry for survival. A cry for survival. For their survival and for our survival!”
Orbitals second album, also known as The Brown Album, was released in May 1993 and elevated the Hartnoll brothers from Sevenoaks bedroom electronic rave pioneers, into Glastonbury legends within a short period of time.
‘The Brown Album’ changed the electronic dance music scene, as Rave or Techno artist/acts didn’t release conventional albums, just 12” and EP mostly. The first album known as ‘Green Album’ gave us a hint of things to come and gave the electronic dance music scene two classics tracks with ‘Chime’ & ‘Belfast’. Although the ‘Green Album’ is pretty good, it felt like individual tracks just thrown together, as I’m sure their record label FFRR wanted to try and cash in on the early chart success of ‘Chime’.
The start of the album ‘Time Becomes’ is Orbital playing a Star Trek sample looped. Both brothers are massive TV Sci-Fi fans, with other TV Sci-Fi treats in the years to come, with the Dr Who inspired track Doctor? On The Altogether Album in 2001.
The first two albums start exactly the same, with the same loop. I loved the idea that when you bought the second album and brought it home and then the same voice starts up… ‘time becomes a loop’, Orbital are trying to trick you into thinking you were playing the first album still! Anyway, who starts an album with a 1:50 sampled loop with no beats, Orbital do! Let’s Move on.
Track 2 ‘Planet of the Shapes’ or if you bought the album on cassette back in those days, it was called ‘Planet of the Tapes’, nice touch boys. ‘Planet of the Shapes’, which kicks the Brown Album off proper – with a little help from an infamous Withnail & I quote, which is a classic British film by the way, that I love “even a stopped clock, tells the right time twice a day”. More Orbital humour & messing with the format of making something that sounded like an old, scratched record at the start, while knowing it would be mostly played on the newish format of CD mostly! It takes another minute before the first beats kick in & then we are off with ‘Planet of the Shapes’ starting to gently take you on a journey. It’s a great track, that sets up the next phase of four tracks without a break Perfectly.
Planet of the Shapes – Orbital (1993, FFRR Records)
What made this album standout from the rest at this time was the albums four tracks 2-5, that flowed into each track, making it feel more like a rave/club experience sound, of seamless sound. Other electronic pioneers of the era like The Prodigy, LFO, The Shamen, Leftfield & The Future Sound of London had all released excellent & successful albums around the same time, but none had tried to blended beats & tracks together, to get that rave/club night feeling at home. I have seen all the above acts live around this time and on stage they did blend some tracks together, but Orbital were the first to do it on an actual album.
Orbital started to recreate on the ‘Brown Album’ their legendary live shows feeling & sound, which had sections with tracks flowing into each other, with only 3 or 4 gaps, to get your breath back in the whole set. My first Orbital experience live was at Brixton Academy Megadog NYE 1993 Party with Underworld, Drum Club & DJ Evil Eddie Richard’s supporting, what a night!
Anyway, back to tracks 3 & 4 The Lush Suite aka Lush 3:1 & 3:2. I don’t have words that do these tracks justice, but soaring beats & swirling melodies, that just sound Flippin amazing, sorry Lush! Lush 3:2 has slightly harder beats, but still has a sense of beautifulness.
Lush 3.2 – Orbital (1993, FFRR Records)
A little fact, according to the band – “Lush was named by my friend Clive coming into the room and stating loudly while I was writing it, ‘that’s lush, that is’,” as the brothers stated a few years ago.
Well, the lush suite flows into track 5 ‘Impact (The Earth Is Burning)’ One of the few vocals, to make it onto the album, the “cry for survival” phrase was sourced from a “French film dubbed into English, which is why it was so clear”, according to the brothers.
It is hard to pick a favourite track, but if I was pushed for an answer, it would be ‘Impact’. The track is now over 30 years old and both at home and live, it just still gets me going every single time. It’s a killer track with many different sections, but the final sections with “cry for survival” is just utterly superb.
I was lucky enough to catch Orbital live at The PrintWorks London, just before Covid lockdown, ‘Impact’ landed in the middle of 2-hour set, & rocked the mixed young & old crowd, making this outstanding venue shake!
Impact – Orbital (1993, FFRR Records)
Then onto track 6 ‘Remind’ which picks up from ‘Impact’ and rams it home brilliantly. In total, roughly 28 minutes of glorious EDM flowed/blended together into the best home or club experience you will find anywhere!
It’s the heart of the album & what makes it stand the test of time. Track 7 ‘Walk Now’, a hidden gem in the middle. Any track after that 28 mins of EDM heaven, has a tough task, but ‘Walk Now’ delivers. I do love a didgeridoo on any EDM Track, such as ‘Didgeridoo’ from another EDM pioneer Aphex Twin released in 1992.
Walk Now – Orbital (1993, FFRR Records)
‘Walk Now’ builds to triumphant finish with elements of acid so what’s not to love about this track!
Well Track 8 ‘Monday’.
When SWC asked would I do a Nearly Perfect album review on an Orbital album, I said yes, but the Brown album is perfect I stated! I reflected on this statement and being truly honest with myself, ‘Monday’ is still very good & a calming suggestion of more perfectness coming in track 9, but it’s the only track, I might skip if playing, so the Brown album is not perfect, but Monday’ is still a very good track & takes us nicely into track 9 ‘ Halcyon + On + On’.
It was inspired by Paul and Phil’s mother & originally released in 1992 on the Radiccio EP, which is a perfect EP, with four amazing tracks. Halcyon was dedicated to the Hartnolls’ mother, who was addicted to the prescription tranquilliser when they were young.
Another fact the Opus 3 sample at the track’s core, was given to the brothers for free by Pete Waterman, for the price of free lunch with Pete Tog, aka FFRR record label boss.
Halcyon is just another utterly brilliant example of what Orbital do better than anyone else. Lush vocals, over lush hard & soft beats, swirling up lifting melodies, that are a joy on my old ears any day of the week. This 10-minute track just makes me happy.
Halcyon – Orbital (1993, FFRR Records)
Track 10 ‘Input’ is a 2-minute beatless looped sample, to end the journey suitably.