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Sunday, 16 January, 2000, 13:31 GMT
CD Review: William Orbit

Hooked on classics: Super-producer William Orbit
By the BBC's Chris Charles

It's not every day you look at the credits of a contemporary album to read "tracks seven and 11 written by Ludwig van Beethoven".

In fact it makes quite a pleasant change from the usual diet of force-fed guitar rock and sugar candy pop.

Roll over Beethoven: Contemporary hit for Ludwig
It's when you're asked to conjure up a few hundred words on classical classics with a 21st century twist that the fun really begins.

I mean, you wouldn't call in a plumber to fix your gas leak, any more than you would expect a cake decorator to take a look at your ailing washing machine. Oh well, in for a penny....

There's not many musicians out there who could pull this off. Imagine the results of Fatboy Slim dabbling with Chopin's finest work or Paul Oakenfold attempting to haul Johann Strauss on to the dance floor. It doesn't bear thinking about.

Fortunately William Orbit has a fair grasp of the situation and doesn't attempt to tinker too much with this collection of primecuts from an age when mixing was done in a bowl and scratching was confined to bed bug-ridden tenements.

Orbit worked with Blur on their last album, 13
These are the sort of pieces you would expect to hear wafting down from grand old houses in the leafy lanes of Hampstead on a Sunday morning.

We're talking Xerxes by Handel and Ravel's Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte - both of which are given a gentle nudge into the 21st century by the use of computer wizardry, but are essentially left to their own devices.

Eric Satie's Ogive Number 1, meanwhile, drifts into the landscapes of the mind, filling it with images of deep blue lagoons, occasionally rippled by the bizarre sounds of passing helicopters - territory previously and peerlessly occupied by The Orb.

Orbit, propelled into the super-producers' league following his work with Madonna and Blur, has a large array of tricks up his sleeve, but mercifully resists the temptation to beef things up with intrusive, thumping dance beats, which made Hooked On Classics such a glorious failure.

Orbit worked on all but one track of Madonna's Ray Of Light album
That said, the purists will not be too impressed with his treatment of Beethoven's Triple Concerto, which descends into a cacophony of reverb and eerie church bells, which sound like they've been tugged by a troupe of tanked-up campanologists.

But if that is ridiculous, then his interpretation of Barber's Adagio for Strings is simply sublime.

Nine minutes of soothing, soaring strings that could reduce a rabid dog to man's best friend in seconds which brought classical music to the attention of the masses when it nestled in the upper echelons of the UK Top 40 over Christmas.

And this is essentially why Pieces In A Modern Style is so important.

While it's unlikely to convert screaming boy band fans into demure Debussy devotees overnight, it may add another string to their bows and help convince them that music is not all about looking pretty and unconvincing five-part harmonies.

And that can't be a bad thing, can it?

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