Review Summary: In forgetting how to age gracefully, Orbital run the risk of tarnishing their reputation even further
It’s trepidation that prefaces the exploration of Wonky
, Orbital’s first album post self-imposed retirement, and their only body of work since 2004’s disastrous Blue Album
. Hesitation, because while fellow seminal rave acts The Future Sound Of London and Underworld have managed to defy the odds and have aged relatively gracefully, Orbital’s descent into the bargain bins of the electronic music world is a fall well documented. Their forced hibernation, credited to “creative exhaustion”, does little to instill the kind of confidence one would expect upon their return; even assurances from the Hartnoll brothers that their return to the spotlight would only be necessitated if it was deemed necessary still fails to argue against the fact that Orbital have a lot of ground to cover, and reclaim. And despite a string of well-received live shows, ‘Never’, our first taste of Orbital attempting to rediscover themselves in the moody 2010’s, was far from the adrenaline shot the seminal rave act needed to be administering at this point so late in the game.
Continuing on in much the same vein as the group’s work post-In Sides
, it showed Orbital still at odds with continuity, constantly diving and getting lost in their digitized sea of electric emotion, rather than simply embracing it. Re-appearing here, ‘Never’ still finds itself devoid of any kind of continuity, and still possessing the uncanny ability to rob itself of any kind of discernible hook to latch onto. Sandwiched between ‘Straight Sun’ and ‘New France’ (two of the album’s brightest moments) it suffers even more, content to lose itself in cheesy rave apparel that wouldn’t have been fashionable grinding out of wall to wall soundsystems circa before you were born. And Wonky
as a whole suffers in much the same way, constantly seeming as if it’s trying to find itself amidst the flurry of activity of recent years. Less an Orbital album and more “Orbital plays host to…..” selection of inspired tracks that wear their influences like a wartime badge of honor.
And it's this almost reckless abandonment of tradition that sees Wonky
suffer in the way that it does, as the brothers Hartnoll find themselves looking back at the trends that took office in their absence and attempt to construct ill-gotten versions of them. So while the album begins in suitable fashion with the delicious one-two punch of ‘One Big Moment’ and ‘Straight Sun’ (the former a time travelling apparatus of elastic synths and tribute worthy reflection, and the latter Orbital playing at their festival best), it’s not long before we see Orbital try their hand at both dubstep and electro house. While both end up lampooning more than honoring their respective genres, it’s the wobble-heavy ‘Beezledub’ that causes the most concern. A remix, or reinterpretation of live favorite ‘Satan’, it’s the kind of big room bass kick that Sonny Moore could effectively have put together, if he didn’t handle subtlety with the proverbial sledgehammer. Even a late kick into jungle overdrive can’t help but picture Orbital as the middle-aged ravers that they are, simply choosing to pander to the crowds in suitable beg, borrow or steal fashion. The electro boogie of ‘Where Is It Going’ fares a tad better, with Orbital even finding room to throw in one of their trademark synthetic melodies, but its title accurately describes the incredible unevenness of the track, and even more so the album it sounds off on.
Even the guest vocalists struggle to ground the album in some form of cohesive reality; Zola Jesus is admirable on kinetic synth-popper ‘New France’, but she tackles her role with a kind of anonymity that sees her struggle to assert herself over any number of interchangeable female guest vocalists. MC Lady Leshurr, a serendipitous choice for the title track’s 80s electro leanings, is still a tough pill to swallow, alternating between hyperactive grime chatter and Nicki Minaj-like hysterics. What should have been as effective as the kind of quirky vocal-centric track that Basement Jaxx used to pride themselves on, Orbital attempt to downplay the affair as one born out of seriousness in spite of the elasticized pyrotechnics and chipmunk-like histrionics.
begins with the warm light of possible salvation, it’s not long before Orbital find themselves falling back onto their old tricks, carving out disembodied melodies at the most inopportune of moments and failing to provide comfort when it's needed the most. But it's when the group try their hand at a few new miracles that the album ultimately derails; as another etching onto Orbital’s testament Wonky
is a work full of many flaws and too few shining moments, but as ammunition for the obvious tours to follow, there’s enough here to be effective enough in a large enough setting. Strangely enough it’s the few brief moments of genius that not only show that the old wizards might still have a little of the magic left in them, but almost allows us to look the other way at the many glaring faults that reside on this album. Truly wonky thinking…..