by: Orbital

One of the first dance acts that fully embraced the concept of the traditional studio album, head-mounted torch-wearing brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll, aka Orbital, were instrumental in the success of the early-'90s rave scene thanks to their intelligent blend of ambient techno, industrial electro, and inventive sampling. Five years after announcing their split, the Hartnolls took a break from their various solo projects to re-form in time for a headlining slot at the Big Chill Festival and the release of 20, their third greatest-hits collection following Work 1989-2002 and 2005's Halcyon. Timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of their debut single, "Chime," the two-disc, 20-track collection is a much more extensive and lengthy retrospective than its predecessors, clocking in at a remarkably generous nearly three-hour running time thanks to several ten-plus-minute pulsating groundbreaking classics. All of their seven LPs are covered, from 1991's self-titled debut to 2004's swan song Blue Album, with both live performances and remixes from the likes of Hervé and Tom Middleton thrown into the mix alongside original single and radio edits such as the ethereal progressive trance of final hit "One Perfect Sunrise," the skittering "Are We Here," which features an early appearance from Alison Goldfrapp, and the mystical "Funny Break (One Is Enough)," which proves that Orbital are capable of creating infectious melodies in addition to their trademark knob-twiddling. Predating the "cut-and-paste" formula of the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy by a good couple of years, there's unsurprisingly a veritable treasure trove of intriguing and completely random samples waiting to be discovered throughout the compilation. There are snatches of Afrika Bambaataa's "Timezone" and Butthole Surfers' "Sweat Loaf" on their joint biggest hit, "Satan," Opus III's "It's a Fine Day" on their huge club anthem "Halcyon," Scott Walker's rendition of Jacques Brel's "Next" on the tribal acid house of "The Naked and the Dead," and even '80s cheesy pop duo Dollar on the stylophone-led "Style," all of which create the feel of a particularly schizophrenic but ultimately enjoyable iPod playlist. While most of their 14 U.K. Top 40 singles are included, with such an extensive back catalog there are bound to be a few notable omissions. For some reason, their impressive body of film music, which has seen them score soundtracks for Event Horizon and Octane and contribute tracks to The Beach and The Saint, the latter of which provided their joint biggest hit, is completely ignored. And for a band with such an esteemed live reputation, it's just as puzzling that there are only two such performances, none of which showcase their renowned improvisational skills, while their legendary 1994 slot at Glastonbury may have spawned its own recent album, but at least one track from its set wouldn't have gone amiss. However, 20 is undoubtedly the most comprehensive Orbital collection to date, and although its monster running time might deter some casual fans, it's a valiant attempt at balancing their more familiar and immediate hit singles with their more experimental and challenging epics. ~ Jon O'Brien

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