It may seem like an age since The Orb released a new album but it’s only been two years, which over their career is par for the course. It must be my ailing memory! Abolition of the Royal Familia features a bunch of high profile guests including Youth, Steve Hillage, Roger Eno and Jah Wobble. The veteran electronic duo will be out on tour supporting the album too, so look out for dates.
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The Orb’s ‘Abolition Of The Royal Familia’ is a massive album. I mean that in all senses. Obviously there are some thick, chunky beats on the ambient-house legends’ sixteenth studio LP, but I’m also referring to the fact that this thing is well over an hour long. The duo certainly picked a good moment to release such a lengthy listen - after all, people have a lot of time on their hands right now.
And if the emergence of this hefty record was mildly timely, the fact that an LP which ends with ‘Slave Till U Die No Matter What U Buy (L'anse Aux Meadows Mix)’ emerges into a world with billions of people on stay-at-home quarantine feels eerily, unbelievably, insanely prescient. The Orb literally could not have picked a more pertinent point in human history to have released this song - script it and you’d be laughed out of the writers' room.
You see, ‘Slave Till U Die…’ revolves around Jello Biafra's ‘Message From Our Sponsor’, a spoken-word piece in which the one-time Dead Kennedys frontman imitates a government address ordering the lockdown of the U.S.A.. Amongst billowing ambient-synth work from The Orb, a sergeant major-type instructs the public to ‘stay in your homes’, and that ‘no more than two people may gather anywhere without permission’. Listening to it now, at the tail-end of March 2020, you’d think you had tuned in to the news.
When you’ve retrieved jaw from floor, you can look back over the seventy-odd minutes prior to ‘Slave Till U Die…’ with relative contentment. The first few songs here are part of that zany hypnagogic-house school which is the sonic equivalent of Banksy graff. ‘Honey Moonies (Brain Washed at Area 49 Mix)’, in particular, has great tension and release, coming off like an alternate dub from ‘Screamadelica’.
There’s something in the aging-raver psyche which really embraces both quirk and grandeur. The feeling is there in those housey tunes at the front-end of ‘Abolition…’, but it’s even more prominent on weightless pomps like ‘Afros, Afghans and Angels (Helgö Treasure Chest)’. These cuts are a sort of best-case scenario of the same impulse which brings about those techno-with-orchestra things you see so many of these days, classical/art music culture fusing organically with rave sonics rather than the two butting heads in the concert hall. However, it can overcook very easily - I’m less keen on the album’s Mr. Scruff-y midsection, which blends a sort of 6Music wackiness with some ersatz dub takes.
But really, I just can’t get over 'Abolition of The Royal Familia's final track. The timeliness of it is so extraordinary that it's hard to assess whether ‘Slave Till You Die…’ is good music or not, only marvel at the coincidence - as I’d imagine that The Orb themselves are doing right now, too.
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