The Orb featuring David Gilmour The Orb featuring David GilmourMetallic Spheres
Some time ago, I considered tattooing Alex Paterson’s name on me, maybe with henna. Those were the days of chilled-out happiness, when excess, layers of sound, lumps of hash that smelled like shit, toe rings, Moroccan trousers and nipple rings were a synonym for coolness. Who would have told me that years later I would cross swords again with the guru of ambient in the midst of an age of digitalism, glitches and bullshit? In a minimal-new beat-wonky era. In an age of ironic moustaches, Ray-Bans, and skinny jeans in which The Orb is now a village frequented by nostalgic, druggy, hippy forty-somethings. I don’t want to be too hard on one of the great bands of the history of electronic music, I have the greatest respect for their legacy from the 90’s, but it is no less true that Paterson’s maximalist discourse and his hypnotic heel-tapping have the same effect on the new electronic youth that a Cossack suit would a branch of American Apparel. The times are that tough.
Having said that, those of us who have some grey hairs and who break out in a rash on our asses every time we get up in the saddle of modernity consider Alex Paterson to be a romantic, whether we like what he does more or less. He’s a buccaneer with a parrot, a patch over his eye, and a bottle of rum in times of Somali piracy, machine guns and million-dollar ransoms. If only for this reason, it’s worth keeping an eye on him, especially if he takes aboard another trippy totem like David Gilmour –guitar and voice of Pink Floyd– in his movement and he lets him share the helm, leaving the laughing and mockery of the stinking modern crowd in port. Their paths aren’t crossing for the first time, in fact their entente derives from a collaboration that Paterson and Gilmour did together on a version of “Chicago” ( Graham Nash) for a charity project (and let us remember that The Orb always wanted to be the ambient-house version of Pink Floyd, and that the homage to the band on the covers and in the titles of the songs of classic albums like “Live ‘94” or “Adventures beyond the Ultraworld” are very obvious). With the support of Martin Glover –alias Youth, the bass player of Killing Joke and sort of Paterson’s Sancho Panza over the years– the king of 90’s ambient rekindles the flames of his best landscaping, redrawing the horizons that he left behind years ago, raising a new Stonehenge, standing stone by standing stone, with that magic formula in which systolic beats, electronic fog, futurist psychomagic, cosmic synthesisers, and waves of ambient orbit around long musical developments. Let’s add Gilmour’s experimental guitar laments to the wickedness of The Orb, shoring up the cathedral walls, and we’ll have a fascinating architecture in front of our noses that sounds like Pink Floyd remixed by Mixmaster Morris, or like The Orb remixed by Robert Fripp.
The album has two parts: the first lasts close to half an hour, and the second is about twenty minutes. Five suites in each part. No cuts. No interruptions. The balloon lifts off and the trip is pleasurable. Paterson doesn’t get carried away with the defects of the past: there is no excessive overlaying of layers, no overdose of noise, and there is a perfect balance between abstract rhythms and landscapes. It’s less trippy, less abrasive to the senses, more subtle, more art. Gilmour splits himself in two on the guitar, offering a spectrum of waves ranging from major acoustics to pedals of all kinds, moving behind the curtain like a Chinese shadow puppet. “Metallic Spheres” –a name that is so Mike Oldfield that I even like it– is progressive, ethereal, Jamaro-like, hippy, chilled-out, spacey, pothead— it is Ibiza maturity (I never thought that those adjectives would have positive connotations). The truth is that the cliché “The Orb is the Pink Floyd of electronic music” used to make me laugh. Now it makes me respect it.