In the late 70s OMD were early synthesizer adopters and pop musicians with a serious avant-garde bent, who were looking to Kraftwerk and Harmonia for inspiration before most people had even got to grips with punk. This combined with a warm-hearted, Liverpudlian melodic sensibility saw them turn out four great albums, two of which (Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships) were touched with genius. Like other bands to emerge from the post-punk era, such as Simple Minds, they came to a perceived crossroads and elected to take the route marked Top of the Pops, not realising – and why would they? – just how much the acid house revolution was going to change the future of electronic music. And, like Simple Minds, this fateful course change was taken after their inclusion on a John Hughes movie soundtrack.
Their first studio album in 14 years, and 11th overall, starts off with New Babies: New Toys which tries to place them back at this point, given that it sounds like a slightly electro-punk take on 1986’s If You Leave, the theme song to Pretty in Pink. What follows is, to put it politely, pretty much awful. The Future, The Past, and Forever After, from its unnecessary Oxford coma onwards, is just plain unacceptable. It’s obviously supposed to be a hymn to modernism which declares that the future is unstoppable, like an arrow or speeding train "on wheels of steel". Fair enough, but despite playing their ace card (dressing Kraftwerk up in smart new clothes and sending them down the disco) they fall flat on their faces. The electronically synthesised Doppler effect of cars rushing along the autobahn alone would have sounded cheesy in 1982. This album does nothing to alter the notion that OMD have only travelled in the wrong direction since Dazzle Ships and, post Atomic Kitten, Andy McCluskey’s songwriting ability seems to have slipped down to the standard of My Lovely Horse from Father Ted.
There is one redeeming moment here, and it comes right at the end. Perhaps unsurprisingly they’re at their best when behaving like it’s 1982, performing a respectful and TOTP-friendly tribute to their German masters. The Right Side? is a genuinely lovely track and bears many replays, even if it is a little too similar to Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless from Trans-Europe Express for it to go without comment.
Like Simple Minds, it’s not too late for OMD to stride all the way back to greatness. But this album isn’t even a stumble in the right direction, and the clock, as always, is ticking.
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History of Modern (Deluxe)