Orbital: Back to Mine

[26 June 2002]

By Wayne Franklin

The Back to Mine mix CD series, from DMC Records, lets artists from the electronic genre (like Everything But the Girl, Groove Armada and Morcheeba) choose their favorite chill-out tunes and mix them for release. Being a DJ with a pretty extensive music collection, I sometimes find it difficult selecting the right songs for a compilation. I can only imagine the struggle these artists must go through having access to more music, not to mention unlimited financial resources. However, the artists find a way to narrow their choices down to a soothing, downbeat 74-minute mix.

Brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll, otherwise known as the electronic group Orbital, are the latest artists to take on the Back to Mine challenge. Since starting in 1987, Orbital have become one of the most recognized and respected bands in the world, distancing themselves from the crowd by performing live without DAT or backing tapes, an almost unheard of practice in the electronic music world. After 10 years of non-stop touring, seven CD releases and countless remixes for artists as diverse as Madonna, Queen Latifah and David Gray, the Hartnoll’s took to their BTM duties in the following four steps (as listed on the back of the CD):

1. Invite everyone back after a night out.
2. Crack open a can of Gold Label.
3. Put on a selection of your all-time favorite tunes.
4. Get messy, start talking rubbish and let the fun begin.

Previous Back to Mine artists have chosen down tempo melodies (such as Everything But the Girl’s inclusion of Beth Orton’s “The Stars All Seem to Weep”) and soothing, finger-snapping funk grooves (such as Barry White’s “Playing Your Game, Baby”, found on Groove Armada’s collection). Orbital, however, came from a different angle, using a hodge-podge of styles, making the disc come across more like The Prodigy’s Dirtchamber Sessions, Vol. 1 than any chill out compilations I have ever heard.

The disc opens with “The Knack” by John Barry & His Orchestra, a swinging up tempo track from 1965 that would seem at home on the soundtrack to some French film where blue eye shadow and white go-go boots were all the rage. As this track ends, the listener is abruptly dropped back to Earth by Lee “Scratch” Perry & The Upsetters’ slower-paced reggae track “Justice to the People”. There is no real blend here, just a stop and start. This could have been easily accepted or overlooked, if it wasn’t repeated so many times throughout the mix.

From here, Orbital takes the listener to their proper element -– the club. Two house tracks, DSR’s “Babaloo” and Eon’s “Spice” blend seamlessly, as one would expect from such an upper echelon electronic group. However, “Love & Fury” by The Tornadoes cuts this, one of the few indications of this being an actual mix, short, with it’s early ‘60s surf sound. Unfortunately, the roller-coaster ride of genres continues for the remainder of the disc, with contributions from P.J. Harvey, The Selecter, Plaid, The Divine Comedy, Indian singer Falguni Pathak and even (gasp) Jethro Tull.

One bright spot in an otherwise hard-to-swallow gumbo of music is the never before released Orbital track “Ska’d for Life (Instrumental Mix)”, which was originally written for the film SW9, but never used. But is one song really reason enough to invest in a 19-track disc? I guess it depends on the listener.

If you are a fan of Orbital, this could be a phenomenal compilation for you, a must-have for your collection. If you are a fan of the earlier Back to Mine mixes, you may want to hold out for the other releases in this series due this year, from New Order and The Orb. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/orbital-backtomine/