It’s good to have William Orbit back. After a brief and unrewarding dabble with drug addiction, the veteran English musician had a comeback of sorts with 2021’s patchy Starbeam EP, but The Painter is a more satisfying return. Orbit’s definitive work is surely All Saints’ Pure Shores, where sleek, subliminal layers of electronic effects add depth and wonder to its gorgeous melodies. While there’s no sign of Orbit resuming that imperial phase when he was first-pick producer for Madonna and U2, his distinctively ambient-classical take on dance-pop proves surprisingly durable.
Longtime collaborators Katie Melua and Beth Orton seem almost smothered by his efforts here, but there’s a gentle grandeur to first single Colours Colliding, with Polly Scattergood giving it her best Björk among some lovely strings and piano. It would be nice to have more dancefloor-friendly beats, like the Despacito dancehall kick powering Nuestra Situación, but there aren’t many artists who could create Heshima kwa Hukwe, a tribute to departed Tanzanian singer Hukwe Zawose without seeming grimly exploitative. Like the album as a whole, it’s slightly overlong and unnecessarily repetitive, but clearly made with great care and affection.