Call me a sentimentalist, but there's something inside me that still gets a little bit excited about a new album from The Orb. They were literally one of the first artists (along with Aphex Twin) who really got me into electronic music, and despite some lackluster efforts from them in the past couple years, I'm still interested in hearing what they're doing. Old habits die hard, I suppose.
It's not as if they've been completely stinking up the joint, either, though. Although Cydonia and Bicycles And Tricycles had their down moments, each had enough redeemable moments that they're ultimately fairly enjoyable, and Okie Dokie It's The Orb was largely a return to form for them while still exploring some new boundaries. Heck, even their two-part Orbsessions b-sides/live albums had some great moments each, but with The Dream it seems like they're possibly very truly hit a wall.
The frustrating part is that it actually starts out on a fine note with the album-titled track "The Dream." Blurring together fuzzy layers of guitars, synths, and percolating beats, (along with some floaty vocals), it sounds sort of like a throwback to old days as odd samples blurt into the mix and the whole thing swoops along with a playful glide. Sadly, from there out, it's a mixed bag that more than often falls on the side of simply being not-that-great. Gone are the extended tripped-out excursions that mixed together everything from dub to kraut with a sense of humor and in their place is a batch of very pop-oriented tracks that sound sort of like The Orb, but are downright bad and often ill-advised as they whip out lite reggae and even dabblings of hip-hop.
It's not that I have anything against the group doing something more poppy, it's just that the result sounds far too polished and plain boring compared to their regular work. "Vuja De" is the first sign that things aren't right, as over-the-top 80s-style vocals jam out with harmonica, scattershot samples, and a lurching beat. "The Truth Is..." is even more cringe-worthy, as the melodic progression and vocals sound close to cribbed (and not in a good way) from Saint Etiene's great cover version of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart."
In looking at the credits, I notice one major contributor missing, and given his great recent work, it's no surprise to see that Thomas Fehlmann isn't part of the proceedings this time out. In places (such as the steller "High Noon" and bass-bombing "Codes"), Dr Alex Paterson and gang (which includes Steve Hillage, Andy Kane and Eric Walker) hit on something great, but for most fans of the group this fifteen song, seventy-minute album will likely leave them wanting.