on 10 April 2013
Since Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys announced their reformation at a fan convention in 2005, OMD have enjoyed something of a career renaissance. Reunited along with Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes, the classic 4-piece performed their 1981 masterpiece, "Architecture & Morality", in full for the first time on 2007's highly successful tour. With the synthpop pioneers back in vogue, and with long overdue critical acclaim for the albums created during the band's Imperial phase in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was fresh impetus to deliver some new product, and this eventually materialised in 2010...
In truth, McCluskey had been stockpiling material since 1996's "Universal", the last of a trio of `solo' albums that McCluskey had recorded under the OMD moniker for Virgin Records. "History Of Modern" was essentially another solo work, with Humphreys committed to other projects (such as his work with partner Claudia Brucken in OneTwo). Disappointingly it was a rather unbalanced affair, with outtakes ("Sister Marie Says") nestling alongside Atomic Kitten rejects (see the rather strained "If You Want It") and a smattering of new compositions that had been written by McCluskey after his commitment to other girl acts such as The Genie Queen had lapsed. Significantly, however, Humphreys collaborated with McCluskey on the album's two best cuts - "Green" (originally demoed by McCluskey in the early 90s) and the enchanting "New Holy Ground", the track that came the closest to mirroring that classic OMD sound. Fast-forward 3 years and we have 12th album, "English Electric", with both McCluskey and Humphreys pulling the choral strings...
It is OMD's fourth album, "Dazzle Ships", that provides the blueprint for this lovingly crafted album, with sound tapestries interspersed throughout the assured 12-track set. "Please be Seated", the first of four sound collages, starts "English Electric", PA announcement style (with tantalising echoes of "Radio Waves" and "Introducing Radios") before the first song proper, "Metroland", begins its 7-minute-plus synthpop odyssey. Picking up where "The Right Side" left off on the previous album, it is another unashamed doffing of the cap to Kraftwerk (see "Europe Endless"). The track (much like The Human League's excellent "Night People") was cruelly edited and released as the album's first single in March this year. Third track "Night Café" maintains the momentum, with a teasing intro that evokes their first hit "Messages", with lyrics inspired by the work of American painter Edward Hopper (who had influenced the sleeve design for 1985's "Crush") and intriguingly described by Humphreys as "Souvenir meets She's Leaving".
With the previous tracks being steeped so evidently in the past, by contrast, "The Future Will Be Silent" is a more experimental affair, featuring a whispered vocal from McCluskey, robotic voices, Kraftwerk-like melodic interspersions and even a hint of dubstep, as if to emphasize that the 21st century version of OMD is much more than a nostalgia trip. "Helen of Troy", a collaboration with Greek act Fotonovella, is more traditional OMD fare, allowing former history student McCluskey to indulge the listener with a semi-sequel to OMD's classic brace of "Joan of Arc" tracks, with his paean to the mythological Greek warrior (previously immortalized in Icehouse's excellent "Trojan Blue" from 1982's "Primitive Man"). Bearing rhythmical similarities to the aforementioned "Joan of Arc", and containing the duo's trademark choral flourishes, this is classic OMD. Track six, the beautiful "Our System", continues in the same 'old school' vein; a slow building choral-heavy workout featuring samples of NASA Voyager recordings and some effective cascading drums from Mal Holmes in the coda.
While McCluskey's insistence on ostensibly using the previous album to 'clear the decks' rendered the project more OCD than OMD at times, "English Electric" benefits hugely from its compositions being conceived within a narrower timeframe, making it a far more cohesive affair. The one exception is "Kissing The Machine", a collaboration with former Kraftwerk meister Karl Bartos that was originally released under the guise of Elektric Music in 1993. Humphreys has transformed the electro ballad, giving it a more uptempo and contemporary sheen; even enlisting the services of partner Claudia Brucken to provide the spoken word vocal mid-song. While many fans have bemoaned the track's inclusion, it does fit the album's retro-modern template. And it's a great song that deserves a wider audience. Fans of Kraftwerk (and indeed this record) would also be advised to check out Karl Bartos's excellent new album, "Off The Record".
It was "Decimal", another musical mosaic that offered OMD fans their first taste of the new album earlier this year. Playing like a 21st Century "Time Zones", this curious soundbite perfectly bridges the gap between the previous track and the simply gorgeous ballad "Stay With Me", which features a rare Humphreys vocal (his first lead on an OMD album since "(Forever) Live And Die" in 1986). Another single contender.
"Dresden" (wisely chosen as the album's second single) is structurally similar to "Sister Marie Says" (itself something of a musical cousin of "Enola Gay"), and further enhances the album's classic OMD status, with its driving bass line and a monstrous synth motif that has the potential to be as ubiquitous as the one that permeates Muse's "Starlight".
Arguably the album's two strangest tracks are reserved for the climax. "Atomic Ranch", the penultimate track, boasts cacophonous sound effects and, ostensibly, a statement about modern consumerism. The ephemeral - and aptly titled - "Final Song" is further challenging. Sonically sounding like a revisit of old b-sides "Annex" and "Navigation", it features a typically abstract lyric from McCluskey, while some unexpected near-operatic female vocals add an unusual flavour to the mix.
Thirty-five years since their formation, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark have crafted an album that comfortably nestles alongside the best work created by the core duo of McCluskey and Humphreys. Whilst it sometimes feels a bit clinical in its execution, this is a beautifully produced (and perfectly sequenced) set of songs, with an attention to detail lacking from previous albums. A real surprise in fact. (9/10)
on 5 December 2013
At last, OMD are back to their best! With echoes of Dazzle Ships and a few quite quirky numbers, OMD are really on form. I've been playing this non-stop since purchase. This is a contender for my favourite album of 2013.
on 8 April 2013
I loved OMD in the early 80's. For me, tracks such as 'Statues' and 'Stanlow' on the Organisation album were the pinacle of OMD excellence. They were dark, brooding and atmospheric pieces of work. But I also loved the more catchy pop elements of OMD, as they were always infused with great synth sounds. I just found I got less interested in them as they became more mainstream through the mid-80's and onwards.
So it was a big surprise to me, to find this album of interest. I'd assumed that OMD were very much past their sell by date, but I'm amazed to hear that this album is a hark back to the more catchy / experimental sides of OMD that I loved back in the earl 80's, and at the same time, sounding fresh and contemporary.
It's a beautifully produced album. Good songs, good sounds, harking back to the classic sounds of OMD and the more electronic and 'Kraftwerk' influenced sounds of Messages and Enola Gay.
It's not a classic, it isn't better than those earlier albums, but it's a very welcome return to what I think OMD do best: merging catchy electro pop with atmospherics. It's a great record and they should be proud of themselves. I would be if I were them :-)
on 20 December 2015
I have to say upfront that I was never a big OMD fan even though I quite liked Enola Gay. I listen to mostly prog rock such as IQ, Genesis, Physics House Band and Public Service Broadcasting amongst others and I'm always on the lookout for something a little different. Listening to the bulk of OMD's other stuff recently, it is essentially pleasant but (to my mind) nothing special and I would not listen to these again. However, this album is an actual revelation! It's almost like overnight they have grown up into something far more mature. The production values are superb and the songs themselves are cleverly (and thoughtfully) put together with lyrics that are considered and poignant. In an interview, they stated that they worked together in the same location for this album instead of remotely - and it shows. There is nothing like being in the same room to hammer out disagreements and to obtain perfection. Track 1 isn't really a proper track, as such, but is a scene-setter intro for the rest of the album which is a really nice touch. The album proper starts with the absolutely superb Metroland. At over 7 minutes in length this song is allowed to breath and I never stop playing this track, playing it at least once a day. It is one of my favourite pop tunes of all time and the lyrics are plain clever. Give it some volume! Interestingly, my other favourite track is the final track on the album - Final Song. Usually most albums tail off after a couple or three decent tracks. This album just keeps going and finishes on a high (to me) with a strange ethereal offering, Final Song. There is something catchy about it that I can't quite put my finger on. Brilliant. To summarize, you will like this album even if you don't like OMD. Buy it!
on 7 February 2014
A return to form by one of the best 80s bands. Probably slightly over produced compared to rawer sound of early albums, up to A&M. Nevertheless some really good tunes.
on 7 May 2013
I love OMD (& have been a fan since the excellent remixed Messages single in 1980), & this new album seems to be carrying on the good work that was started in 2011 with the excellent comeback album History of Modern.
Unlike H of M though, this album seems to lack that killer, centrepiece, catchy single (the Enola Gay-esque Sister Marie Says). Having said that, Metroland is a probably the strongest contender here, with its slow-build & classic, clean OMD structure.
Other tracks I liked were Dresden, Night Café, & Stay with Me - the latter with Paul on vocals. It was nice to hear him sing again, as H of M was the only OMD album he hadn't performed vocals on for at least one song. There's also Helen of Troy, obviously an intentional nod (& belated follow-up) to Joan of Arc, & bearing a similar style, although perhaps not quite on a par with its illustrious predecessor.
Our System also harks back to another old OMD song (The Romance of the Telescope) - the 'system' being not only the human system of how we relate to each other, but the solar system itself.
As other reviewers have pointed out, there's more than a hint here of the experimentation of 1983's Dazzleships, with the spoken-word passages & short interludes between song tracks. The album certainly grows on you with repeated listens, & there's much to be enjoyed from start to finish.
As a whole, it certainly feels unashamedly reminscent of their early work (& Kraftwerk-esque), with the nicely-stripped down, monophonic, pure-synth structure which was the hallmark of their early albums. One song was co-written by Andy & a member of Kraftwerk too!
I think it's just so great that this style of music now sounds so completely in fashion - as if we've come full circle. The future you anticipated has been cancelled, as they declare on one song.
So, all-in-all a worthy follow-up to H of M, & it's good to see OMD back on the musical map with new material (supported by live shows) & not just another 80s nostalgia band resting on past glories.
The CD I'm reviewing here (the Deluxe version) comes with a smart & sturdy cardboard book-like cover, plus a bonus DVD of an interview with Paul & Andy about the making of the album, snippets from them on the key songs, & 3 short animated song videos.
on 16 April 2013
OMD were among the biggest acts during the 80s, despite never becoming the mega-act they constantly were so very close to becoming. One reason, in my opinion, is that their singles were uneven but more importantly, their albums were without exception not solid enough. This meant that they never created the fan base needed to really hit it big, meaning that songs like Secret and If You Leave never became the smash hits in the UK (If You Leave became a solid hit in the US, but they barely sold any records there).
After a hiatus that lasted almost two decades, OMD came back a couple years ago with an album, History of Modern, which is a masterpiece. It is a mixed bag of very catchy songs and slower Kraftwerk like compositions that seems to have resurrected their career in improbable ways, both critically and commercially.
They recently followed that album with this new album, English Electric. It has already charted in the UK and on the strength of History of Modern, entered the album charts at number 12, their best album chart showing since 1991!
History of Modern (HoM) is among my most favorite albums in recent years. Despite Kraftwerk influences, it has a smooth and lush production. Also, some HoM tunes had a contemporary sound that could have easily been hits, i.e. if OMD were still a force to be reckoned with in the singles charts. English Electric (EE) sounds more retro and while HoM was a mixed bag of Kraftwerk-like songs and hit tunes, EE is very much on whole Kraftwerk influenced. It actually is at points as if those two groups had joined forces in creating this album. It certainly sound like the old OMD, which I think works on this album.
There is a loose conceptual theme on the album, regarding the future. The opening track, Please Remain Seated, informs the listener that the future (s)he had anticipated has been cancelled. This is followed with the first single of the album, the 7.33 minute long Metroland (single is a shortened version of the song). It is a rather brave choice starting the album with such a long song but it works, a very catchy tune (bouncy but yet not fast paced) that holds up well during the long period. There are three electric "jams" on the album, The Future Will Be Silent, Decimal and Atomic Ranch. These are among the highlights of EE, both using an interplay of repetitive voices and electric music with great results (the Atomic Ranch video is stunning). Dresden is probably the song that comes closest to the catchy tunes on HoM and then there are a few other very good songs.
Two songs are so-so; Helen of Troy is a carbon copy of Joan of Arc, simply not as good and Stay with Me wanders somewhat aimlessly. I am not prompted towards the remote, but these songs I can live without. The final song, Final Song, is though a great way to end the album, as The Right Side on HoM.
EE is, therefore, a solid follow-up to HoM and surprisingly maybe just as good. It lacks 1-2 additional killer tracks (like HoM part 1 or Sometimes) but EE is slightly more coherent with barely a weak spot on it. EE is (like HoM) a keeper.
I really like this OMD album. To my ears, it doesn't sound as though they've moved on at all in the 30-odd years since Enola Gay first stood me on my ear - which is just fine by me. The synth and vocals sound remarkably similar to those on Organisation, and there is a fine mixture of tuneful and more spiky tracks.
English Electric struck me as a bit like a trip back to my twenties. Metroland is a great, straight-down-the-line electropop dance tune (with the prominent drum track sounding rather more like a Vince Clarke production) that I could have been dancing to in 1982. Helen Of Troy has echoes of Joan Of Arc. Kissing The Machine is a haunting tune featuring a breathy female voice speaking German and hinting at both Visage's Fade To Grey and The Mobiles' Drowning In Berlin...and so on. There are some intelligent and thoughtful lyrics throughout the album, too. In between the tuneful songs are some voice and effects tracks hinting at a dystopian future. As with some parts of albums of old, these are great for a listen or two, but now I've heard this album a few times I find I'm grateful that these days that I no longer have to get up and physically move the stylus in order to skip tracks.
This is OMD doing what they do best and doing it very well. If you like that then you'll like this album. An unmitigated classic? Probably not - but it's a very good album with some cracking songs on it and I'd certainly recommend it.
on 27 February 2015
This is what omd are best at, good high tempo albums, some really good songs on this release, a lot easier to get used to, and will probably get played more than the last album, great synth sounds, full of base and good lyrics, will soon be singing away just like Enola gay, messages, maid of Orleans etc... buy this album
on 13 April 2013
I bought two chart albums this week, this one and Depeche mode. DP went back to the shop it was so bad. This will not. Very very engaging effort from the band who started my interest in this sort of music decades ago. This is a very retro feeling collection of songs but some how each has enough of a modern twist to give it a freshness that means you just keep listening and enjoying... brilliant.