Listening to…The Cinematic Orchestra

Some kind soul slipped me a copy of  The Cinematic Orchestra’s ‘Past, Present & Future’, which is a kind of unofficial ‘Best of’ allegedly put together as a ‘Licensing Sampler’ for use by publishers and (possibly) broadcasters.  This is not a new strategy; many English pop bands got hold of copies of the Publisher’s Compilations that Bob Dylan recorded in the early to mid-60’s and had hits with unreleased Dylan tunes – Manfred Mann with ‘If you gotta go, go now’ would be one example.

2007’s ‘Past, Present & Future’ is slightly different  – as the title suggests – inasmuch as one-third of the content (the ‘Past‘ of the title)is already known to us from earlier Cinematic Orchestra albums – tracks such as ‘All that you give’ with Fontella Bass’ great vocal turn and ‘Ode to the Big Sea’  from the ‘Motion’ album of 1999 have become almost standards of that nebulous territory between jazz and chill-out.  A further third of the tracks (‘Present’) are (largely) instrumental remixes from the Orchestra’s 2007  curate’s egg of an album, ‘Ma Fleur’ and only the final five tracks (‘Future’) are new here.

‘Ma Fleur’ should have been the album that pushed the Orchestra on to international fame and fortune, but it didn’t really happen – and this despite the fact that music for TV ads, TV shows and movies was (and still is) awash with Cinematic Orchestra -type stylings. 

As to why ‘Ma Fleur’ didn’t really lift the band to a new level , I think you need to consider what is different about it when compared to its predecessors.  Firstly, I think it’s a far more ‘song-based’ album; more like a kind of hybrid ‘nu-soul’ album than the band had attempted before.  Secondly, there was an absence of those propulsive, driving rhythms from the earlier CD’s, usually provided by drummer Luke Flowers, who hardly features on ‘Ma Fleur’.

Significantly, the driving rhythms are back for some of the unreleased ‘Future‘ tracks on this disc, as is the thudding acoustic bass (Phil France?) and also quite a lot of fingerpicked acoustic guitar. ‘Borrowed Time’ seems to be the immediate stand-out from the 5 ‘Future’ tracks but they’re all fairly tasty.  Hopefully, the next Cinematic Orchestra release will mark a genuine return to form; it’s not that anyone really wants them to go on making re-runs of their earlier albums, but turning into a fairly anodyne nu-soul ensemble isn’t really where they should be heading either.

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