Record Review: OMD – English Electric [tin – part 2]

omd-english-electric-cd

We were discussing the admittedly catchy “Night Café” which negotiates its painful landscape via the song’s stately, mid-tempo vibe that’s strongly redolent of earlier songs like “She’s Leaving” or “Souvenir.” Where “Night Café” falters, is that not only has it been done before, but it had been done far better. “Souvenir” is built upon a massive, swelling percussion foundation that was, in 1981, completely analog. Moby produced a remix of “Souvenir” in the 90s, and while the winsome melody survived his meddling intact, the new rhythm bed he substituted, was but a shadow of its former self.

McCluskey offered that the brief for the album was “what does the future sound like?” and “The Future Will Be Silent” addresses the topic bluntly enough with synthetic voices taking center stage on this jaunty, brief electropop track.  The backing track veers close to more vintage Kraftwerk sounds as McCluskey whispers the song’s title while backing vocals offer “Stop/Go” in a manner eerily similar to the “Yes/No” voices from Kraftwerk’s “Sex Object.” By the middle eight, tinkly, percolating synth riffs seemingly lifted from somewhere on “Computerworld” have been added to the mix.  Apparently, the future sounds like Kraftwerk from 25-30 years ago!

When “Helen Of Troy” makes an appearance, as another stately, mid-tempo ballad, the thought occurs that Helen is filling in for Joan of Arc. This is a track co-written by Greek synthpoppers Fotonovela and it hits the “Architecture + Morality” target full on. Listening to this makes it seem like 1981 all over again; only played out on a laptop instead of analog synths and Mellotrons held together with bailing wire. Classy, but lacking in execution.

When the next track fades up, I almost thought that “The Misunderstanding” had been mastered on the disc instead, as that tune’s spectral chorale seemingly appears before sounds from NASA’s Voyager satellite are beaming information back to earth. “Our System” is a thrilling OMD track, one of two on this album, that casts their efforts in the best possible light. Sure, the choral samples are a distinctly OMD touch, but perhaps due to the NASA samples used for the music bed, this track sounds apart from the laptop perfection of the album as a whole. When Malcolm Holmes enters the song after the middle eight on some thunderous acoustic drums, the injection of life onto the song, which began as a somewhat chilling message from space is completed.

While the track succeeds musically better than anything else here, the lyrical conceit of using a scientific metaphor to comment on the human condition is OMD at their most adroit and compelling. This is the type of song that they can do better than anyone else on the planet, as it’s absolutely 100% true to their humanist sci-geek core values. Anyone can make melodic synth pop with not much to say. Their ability to say something actually worth hearing is singular here, and serves to distance them from their peers most effectively.

Twenty years ago, McCluskey co-wrote a nifty little number with Karl Bartos for his wonderful Elektric Music “Esperanto” album. On that album, “Kissing The Machine” stood out like a proverbial sore thumb, from the eclectic “first side” of that album. It’s a great song, but seemingly, it was bolted onto the “Esperanto” album. Surprisingly, it makes another appearance here in what I can only call the OMD remix of the track. McCluskey’s original vocal was used as well as Bartos’ evocative lead synth. Paul Humphreys rebuilt the track from the ground up and enlisted his partner Claudia Brücken, to take over the voice of “the machine” in a huge step-up from the original synthetic voice. That said, it sounds like something that might have been used for a B-side instead as it brings little new, apart from Brücken, to the mix. Grousing aside at the temerity to recycle 20 year old material, I have to admit, that the track slots into this record like a hand in glove compared to its original appearance.

“Decimal” is another synthetic-voiced interlude that sounds like a viral DNA mashup of “Your Call’s Very Important To Us. Please Hold” from Sparks dazzling “L’il Beethoven” with the phoneme salad portions of Kraftwerk’s “Numbers.” But then, you probably already knew that from the embedded player in the last posting. It doesn’t add much to the game, but it’s more provocative than the number that follows.

Next: …Wrapping up the album proper

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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