As a surprised Ryan Adams confirms, "Travelling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops."
The year is 2010 and NASA launches the last of America's deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Lone Ranger 420 and its pilot, Captain Ryan "Not Bryan" Adams, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems, and returns Ryan Adams to Earth...500 years later. [Cue the music.]
Yes, folks, what we have here is Ryan Adams' "Sci-fi" album. Well, to be more precise, it's a "Sci-fi Metal" album. Seriously. For those of us Adams Addicts who've waited patiently for two years since Cardinology -- a lifetime in RA terms, since this is the mentalist who released three albums in one year, remember? -- this is our great reward. A cosmic metal mutha with songtitles like "Electro Snake" and "Ghorgon Master of War". Surely Sir taketh the piss? Well, yes and no. Let's just say Orion as a piece of entertainment is value for money, priceless almost. You can't listen to Orion and keep a straight face -- it'd make the Lincoln Memorial smile. The Muthaship has landed, so let's take a(n uneasy) peek under the hood.
How much you're gonna appreciate Orion is dependent on your penchant for early '80s LA hardcore like Black Flag (Adams has their bars tattooed on his arm) or even the initial madcap rampages of Iron Maiden and Metallica. Nearly all of the lucky thirteen here are delivered in two-minute hit'n'run shotgun frenzies, with 400-mph tommy gun drums and hollered through a forty-a-day Marlboro fog with all the conviction of a damned soul. It's simultaneously head scratching and head spinning, and garnished with some full-on Spinal Tap "Jazz Odyssey" gonzo madness.
Although it's nigh on impossible to follow the "story" of Orion -- did I forget to say it was a concept album? -- you can filter enough to realize there's some sort of "Imminent Galactic War" involving "Battleships", "Metallic Spiders", "Mind Control", and "Armies of Evil". Hey, it does what it says on the tin! So less "Boy Meets Girl", more "Robot Boy Deactivates Intergalactic Forcefield and Charms Electro Snake". Oh and someone/thing donned "Ghorgon" seems pretty important. Two of the songs climax, somewhat bloody hilariously, with impassioned howls of, by turns, "GHORGON! MASTER OF WAR!" and simply "GHORGON!". I've no idea who this Ghorgon fella is, but I'm guessing his nickname isn't "Tiddles".
Hell, you want apocalypse now? Orion's so apocalyptic it makes Muse look like Miley Cyrus. Although to be honest, I think the intergalactic war lasts, oh, about 26 minutes, as it seems all wrapped up by the time of the penultimate track "2000 Ships". Well, I assume it's over, because it's an instrumental and Captain Adams is no longer shrieking, "Warriors of destiny! / Fire!... / Fire Away!" through a loudspeaker. No electric spiders, sparkin' snakes, or updates about "Imminent wooooaaarrr" through the Tannoy either. Just tumbleweeds, floaty feedback, and fidgety piano tinkering. Although the armies may have just been on a teabreak as the credits roll with "End of Days", which seemingly suggests a renewed attack: "NOOO! / Imminent extermination / End of days!", roars our leader, flag aloft, defiant to the end. One more swing of the sword before a swoop of grevious angels whisk this warship off into the celestial sphere.
Despite the drill instructor pace and "none more silver" attitude, there are times when you can spot Adams' cubans beneath the homemade Dalek costume. "Victims of the Brigade" is a fiesty sister of Gold's "Enemy Fire", whilst the choppy Zeppelin-esque "By Force" would've swaggered convincingly onto 2003's skinny-tied Rock N Roll album. Ditto the stop-start blistering boogie of "Electro Snake" itself, although he would have had to tone down the looney tunes references to "skeletal wires, slithering away". There are a few real treats, though, for patient fans. "Disappyramid" cloaks gorgeous pop candy beneath thick layers of Kiss make-up, a go-go beat, Kim Gordon bass, and our deranged hero stutter-spluttering "D-d-d-d-disappyramid", whilst "Fire & Ice" features a heartbleeding music box riff and hypnotic merry-go-round fade. Of course, it also includes musings about "nuclear warheads", but, hey, we're not in Kansas anymore.
So with a dying scream of "GHORGON!", I'll suggest Orion clearly isn't for everyone, but, damn, it's so entertaining it's impossible not to admire its...madness. It reminded me constantly of the closing act of Mike Hodges' Flash Gordon -- vibrant, garish, goofy, and backed by the pomp of Queen's OTT soundtrack, but with a winged Brian Blessed bellowing "GORGHON'S ALIVE!?!". It is without doubt utter nonsense, but undeniably great, great fun. It's 28 minutes, trapped Tron-style inside a Space Invaders machine. It's played with such conviction (it's a blast to hear Adams chew up and spit out a guitar) and is clearly a committed trip for its pilot. Starship Orion is destined to become the stuff of folklore, but let's just hope it's not part of a trilogy. Now Captain Adams, if you will, turn this puppy around, release those retro rockets, and, pur-lease, set phasers to stun.