The Orb have been responsible for some of the most mind-expanding, genre-defining electronic music ever made. Accordingly, when I listen to them, I expect at least a minor musical revelation -- and as far as minor revelations are concerned, Bicycles and Tricycles
delivers roughly sixty percent of the time. When it works, it works: "Hell's Kitchen" pairs an ornate melody (think In The Nursery at their most baroque) with an over-the-top assault of rumbling beats, recalling "Orblivion"'s energetic excesses, while "Land of Green Ginger" exhumes Alex Patterson's fondness for sample-driven drug-culture whimsy -- far too few groups make anything this goofily trippy any more. "Gee Strings" is more faithful to the group's trademark ambient/dub/house sound, though it would sound better at a slower tempo, and the album-closing triptych of "Tower Twenty Three", "Kompania" and "Dilmun", a sprawling skein of floating textures, reverb-soaked beats and pleasingly out-of-context instrumental samples (i.e. the harmonica in "Tower Twenty Three"), rivals the group's best work.
The remaining material, while never sub-par, is so far removed from typical Orb fodder that its presence here seems like a kitchen-sink album-padding strategy. "Aftermath"'s crispy breakbeats and languid melodic waves might have worked as an instrumental, but featured rapper MC Soom T's contribution moves the song into Ninja Tune territory -- by no means a bad thing, but very disconcerting. The sampled-melody-driven "Prime Evil" seems overly facile compared to the rest of the disc, and "From A Distance"'s feverish dance party vibe is a little too trendy, though the track's occasional sonic references to "Huge Ever-Growing Brain that Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld" are a welcome kiss to a superior past.
All told, Bicycles and Tricycles is a definite step up from the lifeless Cydonia, but there's not enough magic here to suggest that the Orb are truly back with a vengeance. It's disappointing to hear them following trends rather than inspiring them.