Adventures Beyond The Udderworld
‘COW / Chill Out, World!’ is The Orb’s 83rd album. Give or take.
With one exception, the title of each of these 10 tracks includes a reference to its position in the running order of the record. So we begin with ‘First, Consider The Lilies’, which is followed in turn by ‘Wireless Mk 2’, ‘Siren 33 (Orphee Mirror) and ‘4am Exhale (Chill Out, World!)’. You get the idea. The eighth track is ‘Just Because I Really Really Luv Ya’, but that’s not the exception I was talking about. Come on, put some brain cells into it. No, the anomaly is the sixth track, ‘Sex (Panoramic Sex Heal’). See what they did there? Hohoho.
Alex Paterson says ‘COW’ is The Orb’s most ambient album yet. He’s not wrong. It’s a zero beats zone – and the result is extremely liberating. This is The Orb unbridled, untethered, unrestrained. Remember the opening credits of ‘The Adventures Of Black Beauty’? That.
‘COW’ was recorded over a short period of time – six months or so, a short period of time for Paterson and his partner Thomas Fehlmann anyway – and many of the tracks are based on field recordings made by Paterson on his iPhone. ‘9 Elms Over River Eno (Channel 9)’, for instance, is constructed entirely from sounds captured at last year’s Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina, including the swashing of the Eno river. Yes, there really is a river called the Eno. No, there’s no connection with Brian. Mind you, talking of Brian, his brother Roger guests on the album. So does Paterson’s old mucker Youth.
There is an obvious parallel between ’COW / Chill Out, World!’ and The KLF’s ‘Chill Out’. Don’t forget that Paterson had an uncredited role on ‘Chill Out’ and KLF man Jimmy Cauty was his original partner in The Orb. Not that ‘4am Exhale (Chill Out, World!)’ is any sort of follow-up to The KLF’s ‘3am Somewhere Out Of Beaumont’. There’s a parallel between this album and Pink Floyd’s ‘Atom Heart Mother’ too. Picture the cover of ’Atom Heart Mother’. Maybe the closing track of ‘COW’, ‘The 10 Sultans Of Rudyard (Moo Moo Mix)’, will help you.
Despite the ‘Sex’ gag and the ‘Consider The Lilies’ reference, which Monty Python aficionados will recognise from ‘Life Of Brian’, The Orb’s much vaunted sense of humour doesn’t seem to be much in evidence. The frequent bursts of birdsong, that most hackneyed element of “relaxation music”, do get kind of funny, though. I’m sure I can hear pan pipes as well. I’m heading back in again in a minute to check for whale noises.
The blending of a cuckoo call with a softly bleeping electronic alarm in ‘5th Dimensions’ is brilliant. It’s over in five seconds, but what a glorious five seconds it is.
I reckon ‘COW’ is up there with ‘Pomme Fritz’, my second favourite Orb album after ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’, and it’s a radically different animal to last year’s ‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’. Unlike ‘Moonbuilding’, unlike most of The Orb’s releases over the last quarter of a century or more, it’s not about another place or another time. The starting point is this world, the right here and the right now, a place and a time where we’re served up a daily diet of mass misery and mass destruction and mass carnage interspersed with buy-this-and-get-happy messages from a never-ending stream of sponsors. But before ‘First, Consider The Lilies’ is even underway, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann have turned their backs on the whole caboodle and are encouraging us to do the same, even if it’s only for an hour or so. The end result is an important political statement. What’s really great about ‘COW’, to quote Don Logan in ‘Sexy Beast’, is the sheer fuck off-ness of it all.
You know the “10 things…” thing? I lied about that.
If you want to get the most out of ‘COW / Chill Out, World!’, you have to hear it without distractions. This is not background music. But it’s not foreground music either. You don’t need to listen to it, you just need to experience it. Let it wash over you and seep into you, trickling along your bones and slowly soaking your soul, and while that’s happening try your very hardest to think of absolutely nothing. And if you do find yourself thinking of something, think absolutely nothing of it.