William Orbit: Orbit US CD 
- Love My Way
- Fool To Myself
- Heartbroken Highway
- Escape To Mexico
- Rider In Black
- Swamp Dog
- Feel Like Jumping
- Blue Street
- Cluny Ann
- The Night Runs Forever
- Cry One More Tear
I was surprised to see that William Orbit of Torch Song had released a “solo” album in 1987 when I happened to be shopping for discs so I immediately made it part of the Record Cell. To put it mildly, I was a huge fan of “Wish Thing,” the Torch Song debut album. Even that took a year of hunting until I finally found a promo copy a year or two after it came out. Having this William Orbit album pop out of nowhere was how things just happened back then! As far as the second Torch Song album, 1986’s “Ecstasy,” we didn’t even know about such things back in that age of ignorance. It wasn’t until I got editions 2-4 of the Trouser Press Record Guide in the early 90s that I found out that there had been a second Torch Song album several years earlier! And that didn’t enter the record cell for another decade plus!
So in my William Orbit timeline, this was album number two. I saw that Rico Conning was still involved, and even Laurie Mayer turned in a backing vocal, but the new lead vocalist was Peta Nikolich. It opened with a cover version of “Love My Way,” which had been a hit for Psychedelic Furs. Previously, Torch Song had done amazing things with other people’s songs. Their earlier version of “Ode To Billie Joe” was a classic of its kind. Their awe-inspiring cover of “Can’t Find My Way Home” from “Ecstasy” is possibly my favorite cover, ever. This, was a polite cover version of diminishing returns, enlivened only by the dusky vocals of Ms. Nikolich; as far a cry from Richard Butler as conceivable.
As the album quickly regained its footing, it then seemed to find a mood that put it at a very different place as compared to the Torch Song debut. The songs, seemed to be the sort of things that maybe Chris Isaak might have penned for his second album. Yet they were produced with synths, drum machines and somewhat berserk basses and guitars. The titles back up my thesis. “Heartbroken Highway” sounded every inch an Isaak tune. “Escape To Mexico” should have been covered by Isaak on his “Baja Sessions” album… if there were any justice! It’s been some years since I’ve spun this album. I’m really appreciating “Escape To Mexico” in a new light as just a superb, gorgeous song with a verse structure of uncommon beauty. The singing by Ms. Nikoloch was just lovely here.
Opening with a synthetic whipcrack, “Rider In Black” was another immediate grabber of the Isaak persuasion. The guitars by Rico Conning and Orbit were like good marinara; thick and zesty as they again pointed in the same direction that Isaak was. The fusion of spaghetti western/Morricone sound together with the machines and the singing of Nikolich, made me think that this was almost the perfect fusion of Chris Isaak and Colourbox. Given that Colourbox had recorded their 1985 self-titled album at Orbit’s Guerilla Studios with Rico Conning engineering, this made perfect sense! And capping the tight little test tube of intermixed DNA were the vocals of Peta Nikolich; occupying a similar niche as did Lorita Grahame in Colourbox.
When the second cover version came in the person of Jackie Mittoo’s 1968 rocksteady track “Feel Like Jumping,” the comparisons to Colourbox only got stronger. Both of the tech-drenched bands covered a reggae hit in their eclectic programs. With Colourbox taking in U-Roy’s “Say You.” This sounded much more successful than the Furs cover had earlier been, though that may have come down to the over familiarity I had with that 1983 hit as compared to early reggae.
For me, the big showstopper to this album was the rare turn at the mic by Orbit himself. In short, I was mesmerized to hear the song “Cluny Ann” when this album came out and it still packed a wallop 32 years later. After Torch Song had dared to infuse synthesizers into the country music classic “Ode To Billie Joe,” I felt that anything was possible, and the next step was for Orbit to write and perform “Cluny Ann” with prominent [real] banjo cheek-by-jowel with drum machines and synths as he cast his baritone pipes on this heartbreaker of a song. It’s Appalachian music by way of Berlin years before Billie Ray Martin made her own inroads later on.
That was the emotional peak of the album for me, but Ms. Nikolich delivered a fantastic coda to the album with the climactic “Cry One More Tear.” The brief closing tune took things out on a suitable energy level. I can remember that this album was slightly disappointing compared to “Wish Thing” was at the time. Almost anything else would be. But hearing it again for the first time in years, I can really appreciate how this album hit many of the same marks that their associates Colourbox had done in 1985. This one slots in very well next to “Colourbox.” Both albums were by known tech-heads exploring the tributaries outside of their dance rock wheel house in an eclectic fashion; meeting more traditional pop rock forms head on. Each with a warm, female vocalist up front who would in effect disappear after their one turn in the spotlight. In the case of Orbit, it also looked as if he had been paying attention to the emergence of Chris Isaak [as had we all] in the years immediately previous to this album.
– 30 –
I’m as big an 80’s Orbit fan as they come, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard this! Luckily a quick search reveals that it is available on Apple Music (my streaming poison of choice) so I’m listening right now. Yay!
I asked Laurie Mayer on Twitter about possible re-releases of Torch Song and she said they were looking into it, however that was ages ago and of course nothing has happened. I would kill for good quality copies of that material. I should pick up some used vinyl copies and digitize them myself.
jsd – This bad boy is getting up there in price on CD. I like this more now than I did in 1987. But anything next to a song like “Telepathy” comes up weak by comparison. This could have been a hit, or at least a bigger cult item, but I put that down to MCA taking over distribution of I.R.S. in the late 80s. That label was never the same afterward. The A+M era was where it was at.