Monsters Exist (ACP Recordings)
Feuds and splits mark the scene for veteran electronica duo Orbital, whose new album’s title is meant to be a political reference – principally, though not exclusively, one orange buffoon – not a dig at each other. Probably.
It’s been some time since the Hartnoll brothers, Phil and Paul, reminded us of their best qualities with 2012’s Wonky, after which they effectively split, leaving us with a danceable, hummable, enjoyable bit of fun as a going away present. That album itself was 11 years on from their previous recording, The Altogether, and eight years after their previous rancorous end.
Returned to each other’s good books, the Hartnolls aren’t looking to redefine modern music, or even reshape their legacy. Not musically anyway – about which we’ll talk more soon – though you could argue their efforts lyrically and conceptually are more obviously aimed at agenda-setting, in particular on “the moral question of the next 20 years”.
The storyline as it were is told from the voice-less but not pointless title track opening the collection, through The Raid with its rather topical sampled film lines, including “this is what your descendants will know …I say what you do about the world: it’s poisoned, and it’s sick, and you want to get out of it”, and the semi-disjointed/semi-dark The End Is Night, to the almost meditative closing track, There Will Come A Time, featuring scientist Brian Cox explaining the facts of life, death, atoms and recycling the dust of existence, as a call to not hide from but engage with what we can do to sustain life on this dying planet.
All of which is not just fine but admirable really, the Hartnolls finding a way to protest, engage and inspire when they’re neither singers nor lyricists. If only they could engage and inspire musically too.
Monsters Exist is a reminder of why Orbital have not really sustained a position at the upper end of electronica despite having emerged at the dawn of the scene which spawned the likes of The Orb, Chemical Brothers, Underworld et al. While usually capable of hitting euphoric or explosive peaks that either triggered or accentuated highs on the dancefloor – making them rave favourites - songcraft has never been a strength. And here it is a real weakness.
Hoo Hoo Ha Ha is, in keeping with its nonsense name, packed with the kind of squeezed sounds and flashing signs that mark novelty euro-pop hits that rule a British summer every few years. Tiny Foldable Cities comes close in its swirling progressiveness but lacks the killer punch of chorus, escalation or drop. Buried Deep Within cries out either for some gloss or some darkness, to separate itself from the pack, while Vision OnE travels well, its momentum more train track than autobahn, more smooth shape making than peaking hands flinging, but you never get the sense the destination will thrill any more than it does at the beginning of the trip.
It’s nice they’ve made up. It would have been better if they’d found an edge nonetheless, to make up for the family weakness.