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The Orb - The Orbserver in the Star House

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Artist: The Orb

Album: The Orbserver in the Star House

Label: The End

Review date: Oct. 31, 2012

In orbit for more than 75 years, Lee “Scratch” Perry can’t help but be overexposed. Such is the case with iconoclasts, after all. The Orb, on the other hand, could use some good word-of-mouth. Ever since KLF-er Jimmy Cauty left Alex Paterson holding the ball, two decades ago now, the ambient house they built from the dancefloor up hasn’t really had a great record to stand on. What better way, then, to flip it back to fortune than 11 tracks featuring The Upsetter himself? At a time when the dub housing market isn’t exactly strong, for most of The Orbserver in the Star House, Paterson, NDW-er Thomas Fehlmann and, of course, Lee “Scratch” Perry manage to do just that. Praise be to Jah; Jah is good.

Mixed signals are a hallmark of dub and The Orb alike, so unlike a lot of pet projects that have promised Perry, very rarely does The Brits’ delivery sound forced — much less exploitative. On the first cut, Perry’s a confident, verbose “Ball of Fire.” Paterson and Fehlmann beat well, too, but their accompaniment is decidedly more chill. By the third track, though, it’s Perry’s patois that sounds resigned. No longer the sun, he’s retired to become the “Man on the Moon.” Lest that shyness be construed as criminally vulgar, “I’m not girly,” he insists, several times over. On “Soulman,” Paterson and Fehlmann play Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter, respectively, as Perry does his best Sam & Dave. In fact, this is one of Perry’s best vocals in recent times, and thus one of the best, most composed songs on the album. If the test of a good mix is that it can be remixed greater, well, the recent results of Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loder are 180 grams of proof.

Remember The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds,” the single that had both Rickie Lee Jones and Steve Reich suing? It gets remade here as “Golden Clouds.” Whereas the 1990s heard Jones recalling her impossibly idyllic youth, Perry’s portrait is a darker landscape. (No, Arizona is not Jamaica.) Reich’s Electric Counterpoint sample stays pretty much as was, but once those Pat Metheny licks start in earnest, this thing becomes a hard-grooving hodge-podge too infectious to ignore. Alas, the same cannot be said for the other cover tune, Junior Murvin’s falsetto de force “Police and Thieves.” Sure, it might belong to The Clash canon now, but The Orb’s tepid Rasta update all but buries Perry’s original production.

For a collaboration that could’ve easily become a Cocoon of styles and persons past, The Orbserver in the Star House plays surprisingly spry. Actually, it often sounds like the workings of much younger men — men at the top of their game, no less. Newton once decreed that if an object experiences no net force, then its velocity will remain constant. That is, a body stays at rest until it’s put into motion. Divorced from each other here, Perry’s words or The Orb’s music would yield nothing but stasis, indeed. Together, however, this record ends up doing both bodies good.

By Logan K. Young

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