Boasting a combined age somewhere in the low thousands, The Orb and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry have combined forces to create an album steeped in their combined histories. “I’ve got something to say” announces Scratch on the opening track ‘Ball of Fire’. It becomes pretty clear he doesn’t really have anything particular to say, but he’s going to say it regardless. Scratch comes across like some benign granddad, sipping a mimosa on the lawn, under an umbrella, possibly arguing with passing traffic while referring to himself in the third person. It’s the granddad I hope one day to become. He has wisdom, by the bagful, and isn’t of an inclination not to share. So he does, intoning without change in delivery, timbre, tempo. Indeed, you may need to check the tracklisting to confirm that one track has ended and another begun.
There are standout moments, however, notably ‘Golden Clouds’, already semi-celebrated as some kind of sequel to The Orb’s 1990 (nineteen ninety!!!) mega hit ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’. Scratch makes that record’s lead meanderer Ricky “Lee” Jones (spooooooky) seem coherent. The song isn’t really a redux or upgrade, more of a kind of in-joke, nicking a sample toward the end, and starting with the same interviewer-interviewee call and response gag. ‘Soulman’, with it’s dancehall snares, has Scratch almost purring the ‘chorus’. He’s a soulman, music is in his soul. It’s never been up for debate, really.
‘Hold Me Upsetter’ features sweet, undulating back vocals, while Scratch keeps himself in check, making it one of the better collaborations on the record. ‘Go Down Evil’ is similarly pared back vocally, coming across far more housey, than dubby. The break here in the centre of the album is a welcome change of pace. Thirsty brings back on point, a funked up New York house party in 1977 kind of vibe. As ‘Golden Clouds’ makes reference to the Orb’s past, so the cover of Junior Murvin’s ‘Police and Thieves’ takes us back to Perry’s Black Ark days. It is almost straight up version, with Scratch singing and a sample from the original, but it doesn’t quite work.
Overall it’s a likeable record, those of you of a certain vintage will be transported backwards, to dingy student accommodation with low wattage bulbs and poorly rolled spliffs around about three in the morning, after Sides has chucked out its Saturday night crowd. While it seems to be entirely about Scratch and his wanderings, in the background the music sounds very like the Orb, and in that spacy minimalism and reverby splashes they’ve managed to retain their own essence. There’s a tracing arc from the soundsytems of the 70s all the way up to the raves of the 90s, via punk and post punk – perhaps drawing a comparison, maybe making a statement about underground dance music and how it permeates, and indeed drives popular culture. I’ve no doubt that’s reading far too much into it, it’s more likely the protagonists here just don’t know of any other way to do what they do, and if you’re listening to it too, you’re probably too stoned to care.