Ten things you might not have known about Orbital’s ‘Brown Album’
“It’s like… like a cry for survival. A cry for survival. For their survival and for our survival!”
Orbital’s second album, also known as Orbital II or the ‘Brown Album‘, was released on this day (24 May) in 1993, and arguably elevated the Hartnoll brothers from bedroom producers to a stadium act, as evidenced by their legendary Glastonbury performance the following year.
It also spawned arguably the duo’s first ‘pop’ song, Halcyon, with Opus 3’s Kirsty Hawkshaw on vocals, which would go on to be a live favourite, often backed by snippets from Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth and Bon Jovi’s You Give Love a Bad Name.
To mark the anniversary of its release, and with a little help from the Tim’s Twitter Listening Party Q&A that the duo took part in a couple of weeks back, 909originals has compiled a list of ten things you might not have known about Orbital’s Brown Album.
The Star Trek sample at the start was intentionally put in there to mess with people’s heads…
The album’s opener, Time Becomes, features a snippet from actor Michael Dorn aka Worf, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, “There is the theory of the Moebius. A twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop”, which then descends into a series of tape loops.
The inclusion of the sample, however, mirrors the exact opening of Orbital’s debut album a couple of years previously – on opening track The Moebius – thereby making listeners think that they had bought the wrong album.
“I put that in to totally freak people out,” Paul Hartnoll told 909orginals a couple of years back. “The first two albums start exactly the same. I love the idea that they went out to buy the second album, and brought it home, and then the same voice starts up… ‘time becomes a loop’.
“I wanted to start the third album like that as well, but the gag was gone after the second one.”
… which was influenced by the work of minimalist composer Steve Reich
Arguably the founder of minimalism, composer Steve Reich made his name through the use of tape loops to create a compositional technique known as phasing, which is most clearly evident on 1966’s Come Out – taking a vocal phrase (“I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them”) and repeating it to create an almost rhythmic quality.
As Orbital told Twitter, the opener was “a tribute to Steve Reich’s tape delay experiments like ‘come out to show them’. We were trying to do the same thing in the digital domaine. It was a pain in the arse when cutting the album as I had to listen to it too many times!”
See also the album’s closer, Input Out, for more Reich-esque noodling.
There’s also an aural pun at the start of Planet of the Shapes
Planet of the Shapes, which kicks the Brown Album off proper – with a little help from an infamous Withnail & I quote – also features an aural ‘joke’ meant to confuse the listener. The crackling sound, akin to that of an old scratched record, was a prank aimed at convincing those that had purchased the vinyl version that something was amiss with their pressing.
“This intro was a bit of Friday afternoon fun, […] messing with the format of making something that sounded like an old scratched record while knowing it would be mostly played on the newish format of the day: CD,” Orbital told Twitter.
On the cassette version of the album, Planet of the Shapes is called Planet of the Tapes
The cassette also features a different running order, with Time Becomes leading into Lush 3-1 on the A-side and Planet of the Tapes kicking off side B, followed by Walk Now.
The title of Lush 3-1 and Lush 3-2 came from their friend Clive
The Lush suite is where the Brown Album really finds its mojo, and certainly lives up to its name – having been christened by Paul’s friend Clive while it was being put together.
“Lush, named by my friend Clive coming into the room and stating loudly while I was writing it, ‘thats lush, that is’,” as the duo told Twitter.
Impact (The Earth Is Burning) features a sample reportedly lifted from a French movie, but the brothers can’t remember what it is
One of the few vocal refrains to make it into the album, the “cry for survival” phrase was sourced from a “French film dubbed into English, which is why it was so clear”, according to the brothers, but the exact title of the move escapes them.
There are suggestions that it could be La Planete Sauvage, released in 1973, which could fit the bill in terms of the movie being about “some kind of conspiracy, alien plot”, as the Hartnolls have surmised, or 1982’s Les Maîtres du Temps, which the BBC broadcast a dubbed version of in 1991, under the title Time Masters.
Remind is a near-exact copy of a remix the duo did for Meat Beat Manifesto
Orbital toured with Meat Beat Manifesto in the early 90s, and ended up remixing the group’s track Mindstream. The Mind the Bend the Mind mix was released in February 1993, and Orbital liked the track so much that they included it on their own album, minus the vocals.
Meat Beat Manifesto’s Jack Dangers also crops up elsewhere on the Brown Album, having provided the breakbeat backdrop for Impact (The Earth Is Burning).
As you can hear, the likeness is uncanny.
Walk Now… samples a pedestrian crossing in Sydney
Orbital headed to Australia at the end of 1991 to play an illegal rave called Welcome 92, which provided the duo with some of the material for Walk Now…, including a didgeridoo and the sampled sound of a pedestrian crossing.
As Paul Hartnoll told the Gearslutz message board a few years back, “It is the sound of an Australian pedestrian crossing . Well a Sydney one anyway, I noticed they are a bit more mechanical sounding in Melbourne. The didgeridoo I sampled is the one I bought on the same trip.”
Here’s a clip of the pedestrian crossing in question – as many have pointed out, similar sounding units can also be found in Ireland.
Halcyon + On + On was inspired by Paul and Phil’s mother…
Originally released in 1992 on the Radiccio EP, Halcyon was dedicated to the Hartnolls’ mother, who was addicted to the prescription tranquilliser when they were young, Phil explained to Select Magazine in 1994.
“Well, we all had this crazy adolescence,” he said. “Because my dad was working really hard and was rarely at home while our mum was freaking out on Halcyon. […] Don’t get me wrong, mum was always very loving and caring. But they prescribed her this drug and she just kept on doubling the dose.”
The video for the track echoes this somewhat, with vocalist Kirsty Hawkshaw, who the brothers reportedly met at a Spiral Tribe rave, playing a troubled housewife trying to complete her daily chores.
… and took its name from a washing machine commercial
One of the most fondly-recalled commercials of the early 90s was for Ariston washing machines, which borrowed the musical hook from Trio’s Da Da Da and led to the oft-repeated playground catchphrase “Ariston… and on… and on… and on…”
For the reworked version of Halcyon that appears on the Brown Album, Orbital couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work another pun in there.
And while we’re on the subject of Halcyon, Orbital also recently revealed that pop Svengali Pete Waterman played a part in facilitating the Opus 3 sample at the track’s core, in exchange for a business lunch…! Now that’s a factoid we weren’t expecting.
and now with punctuation. PETE WATERMAN was a hero too in this, in that he let us have the opus 3 sample for the price of a lunch with Pete Tong! Pete was our record label boss.— Orbital (@orbitalband) May 14, 2020
Happy birthday to Orbital’s Brown Album! 🙂