PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Ryan Adams: Orion

Matt James

As a surprised Ryan Adams confirms, "Travelling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops."

Ryan Adams


Label: PAX-AM
US Release Date: 2010-05-18
UK Release Date: 2010-05-18
Artist Website

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.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.