Artist and producer extraordinaire William Orbit has always had a very distinctive sound. It shines through in both his own releases as well as his productions for others (which is a growing and impressive list, including Madonna, U2 and Blur). Enough so that you might have certain expectations when finding out that he has been pegged for a three-CD compilation on the Ministry of Sound label. The title of Odyssey is appropriately vague, but largely what we're given is a cross between the Back To Mine series and something less defined. Each disc has a different style, and its own loose association with William Orbit.
Disc one is best thought of as the "chill-out" installment. This collection of songs is the closest in style to Orbit's standard oeuvre, and as such makes for a more logical opener. In addition to three of Orbit's own tracks (as well as one from his older Bassomatic days), songs such as Jon Hopkins "Second Sense" and Dusted's "Always Remember to Respect and Honour Your Mother, Part 1" are stylistic compatriots, as is Little Dragon's "Twice." There are also some of his productions for artists such as Laurie Mayer (the Orbit Mix of "Flung Variation") and All Saints ("Black Coffee"). Even Robbie Williams' "Stand Your Ground" gives a nice balance to the whole affair. All in all, this is the disc with the least surprises of the set, with the style more or less in keeping with his past output. Its unmixed nature makes it feel like a standard down-tempo compilation, but a nice enough one.
The second disc starts out surprisingly funky. Crazy P's "Cruisin'" makes you want to do just that, and the Freestyler's "So Fine" is disco-funk ear candy. School of Seven Bell's "Chain" starts to take things more in an indie-electro direction, and Stereo MCs "Sofisticated" offers a slight hip-hop edge. Eddie Harris slows things down just a touch with "It's All Right Now" before the Paul Epworth Mix of Amadou & Mariam's "Sabali" dumps a bucket of cold water on the vibe that's been established. After the R&B of Baby Baby's "Suga Suga" we find our way back to some jazzy soul with the Bill Cosby and Quincy Jones collaboration "Miss Leslie." The electro-funk of Chromeo's "Woman Friend" starts the end of the disc by going in more of a club direction before ending in the full-on trance of DJ Kharma featuring Juliet Diamond's "Hymn" (a cover of the old Ultravox hit). Again, this disc is an unmixed collection of tracks — most quite good, but none particularly akin to what we normally associate with William Orbit.
By the time we get to the third disc, expectations can be all over the map. Will it be more Orbit-ized? Will it be yet another style altogether? It's a mixed set, so should we whip out the glow sticks? The answer is mostly no to all of the above. Instead it's very dark house. The smooth sheen of Trentemoller's "Sunstroke" leads into the more tribal remix of "Dance Wiv Me" by Dizzee Rascal. There is also a nod towards some old-skool techno, as with Jiri Ceiver's "Loom." Orbit wraps up the exercise with perhaps a token, but more or less seamless, integration of his own "Water From A Vine Leaf." The tempo for the set is sustained on the more palatable side of frenetic, but Orbit holds everything together quite well. The mixing is admirably done, and shows that he is up to the challenge.
The challenge — and ultimately the problem — with this release is that it seems to only have a passing association with William Orbit. You could have substituted any number of names and faces on the cover, or even just made it a generic Ministry of Sound compilation, and probably no one would have batted an eye. And its weight of unmixed and un-remixed material makes it further feel like a glorified iTunes playlist. The songs on the first disc are nice enough, as are the second, although in highly different styles. But the third disc of Orbit's actual "doing" is too little too late and we're left with a release that feels like it's branded with a name for insufficient reasons. Die-hard collectors of all things William Orbit may find this of interest, but unless you're just horribly curious about the kind of stuff the man listens to in his free time, it's a difficult release to recommend.