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Delirious With Weird

Monday, May 03, 2004  
I've Never Really Written About Orbital
At the time I thought I spent 1996 and 1997 searching for The New Stone Roses. I had a letter printed in the NME when they split up. I used the word ‘winsome’ and the guy doing the letters page that week put a snarky exclamation mark in square parenthesis after it. I was distraught. I’d only really had them for a year, and now they’d gone. And, by all accounts, gone badly, like idiots, like they didn’t realise how important they were. When, of course, they always realised (Ian Brown said “what do you think people have done for the last five years? Do you think they stopped breathing? Get real” – that’s how important they were; no one stopped breathing, not really). The Blutones? Fuck off. Kula Shaker? Fuck right off. Although, you know, I’m downloading “Tattva” right now. Just to be sure, like. Anyway. Cast? Not a chance. Oasis? No way. The Verve? Different thing altogether. Embrace? Likewise.

With hindsight I’d already found The New Stone Roses before The Stone Roses had even split. It was never going to be a four-piece guitar band, not really. It had to be someone, anyone, who had that sense of majesty and mystery, humour and charm, oddness and perfection, pop and strangeness. Music that could make me believe in magic, that could alter the way I look at the world.

April 1996. The pre-release press was gushing. Select (or was it Vox?) said they had more in common with Mozart than… some dance act. Someone said they were one of the best five bands of the last ten years in any genre. JR said he’d got an advance tape of the new album and that I should just go and buy it and stop fucking around. So I did. I skived off English or something that Monday morning (April 26th? – check a calendar) and went to Woolies, of all places. It cost me £16, even then, for the limited edition in the blue&black cardboard box. It’s long since gone west, given away because the CD got scratched, replaced with the later release (with “The Saint” tacked on for good measure, you wankers FFrr). A poster of the cover came free with Vox (or was it Select?); it still hangs above my (not slept in for two months) bed, faded and tattooed with blu-tak stains. On the other side are Kula Shaker. I know because I just checked. They can fuck off.

Left school 9sixth form) early, as usual. Home by 1pm. Put it on and went to do something else. Transfixed within 2 minutes. Sat still for the next 70. Didn’t do “something else”. Changed the way I listen to music. Music that could make me believe in magic. Yadda. Bought all the old albums. Fell in love. I’ve never really written about Orbital. Before.

Blue Album is their last album. It’s been 15 years since “Chime” was released – they recorded it into their dad’s tape player. The last two albums disappointed me – I liked Middle Of Nowhere at first but didn’t play it for a long time afterwards, possibly because it came out in 1999, the year before that year when my life went nuts and I forgot who I was. With hindsight, it’s a great record. The Altogether actually was just a bit rubbish though; no focus, a series of moments hanging loosely, plus two very, very bad ideas, placed right before the best idea, thus making that look bad as well. And “Dr ?” too. Sorry JR, I still don’t get it. I never will.

Blue Album is great not because it is great (although it nearly, nearly, nearly is), but because at every step it reminds you of how great Orbital have been in the past. It reminds you of every moment of their career thus far, near enough. “Tunnel Vision” is dark and spooky and kinetic. “Bath Time” is delightful and a bit silly. “You Lot” is incensed and atheist and willing to believe and awesome. “One Perfect Sunrise” is a big spiritual moment. “Acid Pants” is NUTS. Etcetera. This isn’t a review. You can wait for that. This is a getting to know you. Because first listen I was impressed, and second listen I was nonplussed, and third I was quite keen, and fourth I was just listening and half asleep and freaked out on headphones. And fifth listen needed to be… Walking. I needed that promontory.

Maybe one of the reasons I don’t get hip hop much is the fact that I’m used to a lot of space. Scary, empty space. Hip hop is too crowded, too urban, too busy; I can’t even begin to hear the words. I never cared about the words. Maybe. I’m used to… The sea. The sky. Great big fucking fields. My house is two minutes from fields, five minutes from seas, no minutes from skies. Maybe this is why Bark Psychosis ‘speak’ to me too. (What an asshole phrase.) Open space, twilight, moving vistas, empty heads. No heads. No company. Expanses. Big swathes of synth? I love The Streets but Skinner’s raving was done indoors, in nightclubs. Orbital did theirs outside, in fields and barns and Glastonbury, which, lest we forget (I’ve never been, though I’ve been to the Pilton Village Fete) is only up the road. Bark Psychosis may be in the city, but they’re in a church or else on the streets at night when nobody else is around, in the roads away from where the clubs kick out. Space. Huge swathes of synth? Orbital. Those enormous, synthesised vistas are like the sea, moving slowly, interlocked, life beneath them and barely perceptible. Standing atop cliffs. And such.

I spent this afternoon on Dartmoor tracing gulleys. This evening I left the house at 6.50pm, iPod in pocket, determined to ‘hear’ Blue Album. I went over on my ankle this afternoon – these days it doesn’t even swell, it just hurts a while and then stops. I went over on it too many times as a kid. The ligaments are fucked, most likely. But I left to walk the clifftop, down to the beach (three routes – I took the most awkward, cutting back on myself halfway down, through the shelter), along the seawall, high tide, no breakwater to stand on, keep on walking. Red Rock, sixty, one hundred, maybe, feet in the air, that role of fog 10 days ago TWO HUNDRED FEET TALL, perhaps (pick yourself up and try again), is maybe two and a half miles from my house. I’d done maybe one and a half, maybe almost two. “You Lot”, track five, started. Reached the SAW II moment; Eccleston starts talking – “You… are becoming Gods.” “Bath Time”, “Acid Pants” and “Easy Serv” to go before “One Perfect Sunrise”. I wanted to be on top of Red Rock for “One Perfect Sunrise”. I could make it to Red Rock by half past seven, just as the sun will be dipping behind the trees. The moon was up, and as ever when it’s in a clear blue sky appears to have been painted onto the evening by a dodgy draughtsman. “Easy Serv” had just started as I reached the base of Red Rock, a sandstone monolith with a gigantic hole whacked out of it by the sea at one side. Grass on top. I wandered around up there, alone, till it finished. Then I sat down and watched the sea move slowly, tiding out, and listened to “One Perfect Sunrise”. I’d thought it was perhaps pushing those buttons rather cynically and automatically before, but… no. Did I cry? I could have, if I hadn’t realised I might. At one point I saw the flow of the sea away from the land really clearly and it was as if everything was rushing away from me before I could experience it, just like Orbital are doing, and it was then that I decided I had to catch them in London before it’s too late. I almost cried then.

On the way back the tide had moved out enough to reveal the breakwater, and I anticipated eagerly being able to stand on it and look back towards town as if from far out to see. As I was nearing it, from maybe 300 yards, I could see a young couple walking to the end of it, her in a long skirt, him in black. I couldn’t see them clearly but they looked as if they were enacting some courting ritual that I’ve long since forgotten. It looked as though they were nervous. I hoped they were both beautiful and innocent and thrilled. As I got closer, and they left the breakwater, I saw that he was bald, in a suit, and probably 40. She was probably the same age. They were dressed as if they might have just been to church. Not a young couple. Not especially beautiful. Maybe a new couple. Beautiful enough. Love is not the fulfilment of yearning. Sunrise.


5/03/2004 01:19:00 am


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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com

All material © Nick Southall, 2003/2004/2005