Like the punks before them, no-one expected the rave pioneers of the late 80s to still be around thirty years on. And yet here we are. Some – The Chemical Brothers, Underworld – are still moving forward and producing some of their best work. Others – The Prodigy – appear to be trading on former glories. Orbital’s fate is somewhere between the two. Optical Delusion maintains forward momentum, but lacks the punch of their best earlier material.
The pandemic looms large, as it has over seemingly every new album release this decade. We can only hope the cupboards are now emptied of material cooked up in lockdown. Lead track Ringa Ringa (The Old Pandemic Folk Song) calls on the Mediaeval Babes to deliver the freshly re-relevant nursery rhyme over flashing bass and beats. There’s a whiff of the novelty record about it, but the hook is simple and effective. Elsewhere, we’re introduced to The New Abnormal – a squelchy, popping track oddly reminiscent of the theme to 80’s Ronnie Corbett vehicle Sorry! – and Requiem for the Pre-Apocalypse, a skittering instrumental whose uplifting moments suggest joy that the pre-apocalypse is dead, not fear the actual apocalypse is on its way.
Day One, featuring singer Dina Ipavic, is a flashback to the high, mystical female vocals that led 90s anthems like It’s A Fine Day and Sun Rising. Other guests are a mixed bag. The rich vocals of Anna B Savage (with her own album out this week) make eco-anthem Home the most captivating, if not the most immediate, track on the album. On the downside, while we seldom stint in our praise for Sleaford Mods on these pages, there is such a thing as overexposure. When Jason Williamson steps up to do his trademark radge-ranting over Dirty Rat, the first thought is “here he goes again”. There are only so many ways to “Fuck The Tories!” and this isn’t the best of them.
Neither a disappointment, nor a stonking revival, Optical Delusion does tick over quite nicely for those whose rave days have largely been replaced by school runs and trips to the retail park. Cracking cover art, too.