Album review: The Orb with David Gilmour

November 15, 2010

Even as the then-burgeoning techno underground of the early ’90s did its best to assert that this was a brave new world owing no debt to those that had preceded it, “Dr.” Alex Paterson, a.k.a. the Orb, never hesitated to acknowledge his debts to the space-rock heroes who’d come before. With the genre name he embraced, “acid house,” this British DJ and sonic craftsman paid homage both to Chicago-bred dance music and the long legacy of psychedelic rock, and he dropped ambient godfather Brian Eno’s name just about every chance he got while talking about the music he crafted for the chill-out rooms at raves, where dancers could retreat to come down from their X and/or contemplate their navels.

Just as significantly, though, was that photo of the Battersea Power Station on the cover of the Orb’s debut album, the enduring 1991 classic, “The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld.” The connection was instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever stared at the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Animals” while pondering the meaning of life and losing oneself in David Gilmour’s breathtaking guitar solo on “Dogs.” And just to make sure we got the link, Paterson featured Battersea again on the cover of “Orb Live 93,” this time with a stuffed sheep flying over it, his version of Floyd’s infamous inflatable pig.

The collaboration between Gilmour and Paterson is, therefore, about two decades overdue. And while it doesn’t necessarily justify that long wait, it is a more rewarding meeting of two psychedelic/headphone avatars from different generations than, say, Sir Paul McCartney’s two joint efforts with Youth as the Fireman. (And it was Youth, Paterson’s former band mate in Killing Joke, who made the connection here, too. “Youth approached [Gilmour] with the idea of remixing a Graham Nash song called ‘Chicago’ and we took it one stage further and said, ‘Look, we’ve got enough guitar loops here to make an album,’” Paterson has said.)

Sorry, Floyd fans, but no, there is nothing as brilliantly elegiac as the Gilmour guitar solo on “Dogs.” Nor, for that matter, is there anything as beautiful as his wordless vocals on the title track of “A Saucerful of Secrets.” Mostly, his guitar noodles and snippets of vocal are looped, manipulated, transformed, or merely used to enhance those familiar, gently percolating Paterson grooves, repetitive synth riffs, and whooshes of passing-U.F.O. ambience over two long pieces of music designated as what would once have been album sides (the “Metallic Side” and the “Spheres Side,” of course).

Inspired, perhaps, by the acknowledgment of one of his heroes, Paterson turns out his best trance-out tracks since “Orblivion” in 1997. But even more encouragingly, Gilmour does much better work than anything he gave us on the post-Roger Waters Floyd offerings “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” and “The Division Bell,” and it’s good to know he’s still got it in him.

The Orb, “Metallic Spheres” (Columbia) [rating:3/4]