The Orbserver in the Star House incubated in the minds of Dr. Alex Paterson, the lone remaining founder of The Orb, and dub-legend Lee “Scratch” Perry for over eight years before the seminal artists reunited early in 2012 at a Berlin studio to record the album’s 11 tracks. Joining the duo were longtime Orb collaborator Thomas Fehlmann, vocal engineer Tom Theil and special engineer Tobias Freund. While observers would expect the engineers to take a (distant) back seat to the record’s key players, Paterson has been vocal about their impact on the release. As a result of that deep involvement, the resulting LP is nearly void of The Orb’s celestial ambient house, favoring updated dub and the toasting of Perry.
As the album progresses it’s easy to confuse the tracks with shelved Thievery Corporation material. “Ball of Fire”, “Thirsty”, and “Ashes” sounds like connect-the-dot world beat instrumentals for Perry to lazily construct an unintelligible flow. According to Fehlmann via press release, “Lee was so overwhelmingly creative that it only took an afternoon to [add vocals]” to four pre-recorded backing tracks. However, lyrics like “anyway you want it you can have it, anyway you need it I’ll let you have it, fire, fire, fire” gleam more of shallow urgency than a deep artistic pool.
At best, Perry’s moans of anguish are manipulated and contoured across the The Orb’s riddims. Perry claims God a “Soulman” over the track’s acid-washed beats, weaving vocal reverb through white-water electro waves. “Congo” places the Perry exclamations in the middle of a psychedelic drum circle, percussion of various depths and tempos pushing the listener to the cusp of spiritual revelation.
Instead of producing originals, “Golden Clouds” (an edit of The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds”) and “Police & Thieves” prove the team may have been more successful developing a series of remixes. Perry pulls the shades on Junior Murvin’s sun-soaked falsettos that highlight 1976’s “Police & Thieves”, transforming the reggae staple into a war warning aimed at the next generation.
As The Orb’s first foray into a vocal-centric release, The Orbserver in the Star House fails to create a synergy between the players. Paterson’s deep respect for Perry’s improvised vocals ultimately handicapping the eccentricities of each man’s production prowess.
Essential Tracks: “Soulman”