The lights are on – Orbital 20 review

After helping to rewire popular culture in the late 1980s with their symphonic take on techno, Orbital seem to be edging into heritage act territory, with this third best-of compilation and a reunion tour that hits Electric Picnic in September.

Five years after their tear-jerking ‘last shows’, Paul and Phil Hartnoll have recharged the batteries in their iconic head-lamps for a nostalgia trip through their back catalogue. The official line is that 20 is “the most definitive summary of our work since -Chime’ came out in 1989″, and it makes up for the two previous compilations. Orbital: Work in 2002 squashed 14 tracks on one disc, with sliced-up tracks and that daft ‘Satan’ remix featuring Metallica’s Kirk Hammett turning it into Apollo 440. Warner’s Halcyon best-of in 2005 was a cash-in from the suits that was largely ignored.

All the anthems are here on two discs, from the blissed-out staccato synths of ‘Chime’ to the ominous 303 acid squelches on ‘Remind’, one of only two live tracks captured here. Compositions like -Halcyon’, -Chime’ and -Lush 3′ are now welded into dance music’s DNA – Orbital’s ticket out of the anarchic London warehouse scene and on to Glastonbury’s main stage. With their Scott Walker samples, snippets of Withnail and Idialogue and serene vocals from a young Alison Goldfrapp, Orbital were the first post-rave act to be taken seriously by the indie musos who weren’t convinced by the Prodigy’s electronic punk posturing. They were a Kraftwerk for the 1990s, a human face beyond the bleeps.

Orbital’s studio albums have each had a singular musical vision, from the Green and Brown albums’ naive rave soundtracks and comedown comfort blankets, to the politically charged ambient techno of Snivilisation and In Sides. The Hartnolls serve up quality and quantity here, with full album tracks, including the 10-minute versions of ‘The Girl With The Sun in Her Head’ and ‘Impact (the Earth Is Burning)’. However, there’s little thematic thread between tracks on 20 – old fans might get disoriented as the celestial chants on Belfast fade out before ‘Satan”s jackhammer breakbeat kicks in.

But this collection isn’t really for the already converted. Aside from a button-bashing Herve remix of ‘Lush’ and Tom Middleton’s lethargic take on -Halcyon’, there’s nothing new, and ‘rare’ early-90s EP tracks ‘Omen’ and ‘Naked and the Dead’ would be in most fans’ record box already.

It’s a distillation of the Oribital manifesto, with enough signposts for beginners to go trawling for the albums, and for anyone who was ‘there’, this collection is a reminder of a time when dancing around in mucky fields still had a subversive edge.

Originally appeared in