The Orb Featuring David Gilmour - Metallic Spheres (2010)


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By Nick DeRiso

The Orb's signature sound—gorgeous but not quite ambient, hypnotic but typically not much more rhythmic than a chill-out room—always seemed to cry out for the guitar stylings of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour.

The band copped to the underlying influence on its debut album, 1991's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, the artwork of which prominently featured the Battersea Power station—echoing the cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 recording Animals. The Orb's Alex Patterson then remixed two different versions of Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright's “Runaway," from 1996's Broken China album.

This year, the Orb—Patterson and producer Martin “Youth" Glover (The Fireman, Killing Joke)—finally completed the circle, combining the British group's now-familiar deconstructionist sound collage of tribal/trance refuse with one of doob-rock's most recognizeable instrumental touchstones on Metallic Spheres.

Gilmour's familiar Fender Stratocaster vibrato effortlessly blends with the Orb's next-galaxy synthesizer washes, mid-tempo house flourishes and whoa-man effects. And, along the way, helps both Gilmour and the Orb reclaim a measure of their own early promise.

After years of wandering through what can only be described as a post-rave wasteland, the Orb belatedly re-emerges with a winning new techno amalgam—Floyd-meets-dubstep?—on Metallic Spheres, released by Columbia/Sony Records in October. There were, admittedly, incremental new musical ideas found on many of the group's post-Ultraworld recordings, but none resonated so clearly as does this new partnership with Gilmour.

In fact, we might just be hearing the best collaboration from any edition of Pink Floyd in the last three decades. Since Roger Waters' departure, Gilmour has worked alongside a series of lyricists and co-writers, notably partner Polly Samson, achieving mixed results under the Floyd moniker. Revisiting a pre-Dark Side of the Moon penchant for narrative instrumental musings allows Gilmour a return to his own roots, even as it hurtles him past an impossible talisman.

Gilmour-as-Floyd was never going to top Dark Side—or The Wall, for that matter—and certainly not without Waters. Besides, several elements of the ambient house/techno movement that the Orb helped define actually sprang from the earlier era of Floyd performances, anyway.

If this two-part recording—broken up into the “Metallic Side" and the “Sphere Side"—occasionally sounds like it hasn't been fleshed out quite enough, that's because it actually grew out of a charity single Gilmour was working on with Glover.

Gilmour left behind a series of unconnected guitar snippets, for which the Orb then created sound beds. So, there are a few moments when his solos—at their best, these whole-step bending, backward-grace note-sliding wonders—fail to rise to the level of Gilmour's most recognizable work with his old band.

It's easily forgiven, because Metallic Spheres still represents the most compelling work the Orb has issued since its initial release, a collaboration with the KLF's Jimmy Cauty that produced the career-defining “Little Fluffy Clouds."

Whereas, after that breakthrough, the group has tended to calcify inside the patterns of pulsating rhythms—beginning with proto-trance, then later with these booming breakbeats—here, another voice joins the conversation.

And it meshes perfectly.

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