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CD Reviews: Review of Hello Waveforms by William Orbit
Medsker Home / CD Reviews Home / Entertainment Channel / Bullz-Eye Home

Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com William Orbit: Hello Waveforms (Sanctuary 2006)

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It’s easy to make fun of Madonna for running over whoever she has to – and usually with an object that will prevent anyone from ever finding the body – to get what she wants. It is not a coincidence that she named one of her tours the Blonde Ambition tour. She is the textbook definition of ‘by all means necessary, at any cost.’ In fairness to her, however, she has been more than happy to share the credit with whoever has helped her along the way. Stephen Bray did nothing but write her the same song over and over again (“Into the Groove,” “Causing a Commotion,” “Express Yourself,” “Keep It Together”), and he never has to work another day in his life. Patrick Leonard’s production work was never as in-demand as when he was helming her records (namely two of her best, True Blue and Like a Prayer). Babyface didn’t need her quite as much as the other guys did, but I’m sure he’s not complaining about the royalties he receives each year for “Take a Bow.”

And then there’s William Orbit, who did nothing short of resurrecting Madge’s career when, surprise, she actually needed someone else more than they needed her. Orbit had been doing just fine at the time, making ambient electronica albums before the word ‘electronica’ existed (1993’s Strange Cargo III, which features Beth Orton, is the one to get) along with some side work as a remixer (Depeche Mode, Seal, and Madge’s “Erotica”). Madonna’s decision to recruit Orbit was shrewd; he had street cred, when she was fast losing hers. The end result, Ray of Light, made Madonna a superstar again, and in return Orbit…got to produce Blur’s album 13, the one where Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon basically kicked the shit out of each other on tape. Orbit’s next solo album, Pieces in a Modern Style, was an abysmal re-imagining of classical music that served as an aural suicide pill in disguise (think of “South Park’s” Stan Marsh locked in a room, forced to listen to Enya). Madonna’s still a star, but Orbit appeared to away from the experience completely drained.

Which brings us to Hello Waveforms, Orbit’s first album in six years. It is a return to form of sorts, using those vintage moody Orbit-esque keyboard blips and bleeps his fans know and love. And while the album is certainly pretty, it is far too downbeat for its own good. Not even the great Kenna (New Sacred Cow, get it, now) can save him here.

Things sure start out promisingly enough with the luscious “Sea Green,” a six-minute odyssey that is more or less an ambient dub mix of 10,000 Maniacs’ “These Are Days” (the chords are identical). “Surfin’” needs a little time to get started, and could definitely use an extra boost of energy, but wraps up rather nicely. “Spirals,” featuring Kenna and the Sugarbabes, is like a techno-sleaze Destiny’s Child B-side (that’s a good thing, in case you weren’t sure), while “Who Owns the Octopus?” is a sister to Strange Cargo III’s “A Touch of the Night,” same drum snaps and everything.

Speaking of drums, do you know what Hello Waveforms could really use? Drums. Sure, there are bubbly percussion bits all over the place, but very few of these songs have any backbone, certainly nothing along the lines of “Water from a Vine Leaf,” his, ahem, watershed moment. Take “Humming Chorus,” his latest foray into classical reinterpretation (it’s from “Madame Butterfly”). Like the Pieces in a Modern Style material, “Chorus” could use a swift kick in the kitten. More to the point, Waveforms sounds like Orbit hasn’t bought a new piece of equipment in ten years, and while I am the last one to complain when someone is making records that aren’t dead ringers for all that rat-tat-tat-tat-taaaaaaaaaat-BOOM nonsense that’s killing dance music, there are a million things Orbit could have done to make a distinctly Orbitian record without making a carbon copy of all of his other albums.

It’s great to see Orbit back doing his own thing again, but if anyone could have benefited from some variety, any variety, it’s him. He’s already made this album at least three or four times before; there’s no need for a fifth. Did Madonna really suck Orbit that dry of ideas? It’s been eight years since their collaboration; that would seem to be long enough to refill the well, but Orbit clearly needs more time.

~David Medsker




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