Review Summary: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Multi-tab internet browsing is mankind's greatest invention since the McFlurry. The "Ctrl
" button, when used in tandem with the innocuous "T
" key, somehow contrives to open a whole new dimension of unbridled information access and multi-tasking. Only recently did I realize how instinctive - how embedded
- this key-pressing predilection had become: one particularly bleary morning, in the mist of drowsiness, I somehow mistook my iTunes for the Mozilla Firefox browser, and mechanically hit the sacred sequence of "Ctrl + T
A new, previously undiscovered world suddenly lurched into view. Perfectly formed spheres of white light began to criss-cross the screen, slowly increasing in number as my morning playlist started to trundle along. Gradually, the stained computer screen began to be filled with the swirling circuits of dozens of like-minded universes. As they effervesced in the early morning haze with an apparently singular purpose, they appeared for all the world to be nothing more than a simplistic visual representation of my current musical diet. Yet, as mildly interesting as the whole affair was, one can't help but notice that there seemed to be too little going on to keep one interested for more than a few minutes.
There are too few colours in the tapestry, for one, and the stage movements of the main actors - after some observation - appears to be less Brownian than they are pre-written. The orbs casually drift through their motions in a languid, blase, and rather uninterested manner - one can almost hear the chorus of uninspired and disillusioned groans in the background, moaning for release. Then there's the fact that too much of the same is repeated - even the most spectacular of ambient light inflections become stale old chestnuts when seen for the umpteenth time.
In a piece of happenstance so coincidental it's almost uncanny, this is exactly how The Orb's latest studio release will appear to the casual listener: a nifty but ultimately meaningless accompaniment to a far greater design - just like the optional visual background on iTunes. In fact, the entire album feels like it may have been conceived for the express purpose of providing backing music to Apple's visual thingummajig - their religion is in fact shared, after all (πr2). This is a shame, for the very idea of a collaboration between the former Pink Floyd guitarist and this famed electronic music group was a stunning one: The Orb had previously collaborated with prog guitar hero Steve Hillage, while the Floyd had made similar psychedelic headspace their very own in the early '70s. It seemed to be a match made in heaven - one that was impossible of failing; unsinkable.
But, as The Orb finally embrace their prog-rock curiosities, it turns out that any experimental tendencies which they or Gilmour may have had are suddenly neutered once the two are sat together. The creative wills of both these musical forces finds itself inexplicably repelled by a desire to produce inoffensive, spacey music that is ultimately quite underwhelming. Fans of ambient releases will spend the album's entire length (49 minutes) waiting for something to happen, whereas Gilmour aficionados will find their hero strangely unfocused and oddly used (his polished singing voice is reduced to blathering shapeless words, for one) - although they will undoubtedly relish the moments of blistering guitar mastery sprinkled throughout the album's first half, "Metallic Side".
Nary a contour line is crossed as the system progresses, with the album's only true whiff of excitement appearing late on the Spheres Side, as a throbbing bass thunders ominously in the distance. It is a tantalizing moment, and one which aptly represents Metallic Spheres'
constant hinting of finally moving up a gear, yet faltering even before the momentum has a chance to properly entrench itself, and ultimately returning to the dripping tinkles that have already been around for a solid forty minutes. All while iTunes' superfluous decorations flits around harmlessly onscreen.
Wallpaper music, this is. Nothing more.