[continued from previous post]
So, yes. OMD quickly discovered they were “failing upward” with surprising ease. As 1979 turned into 1980, they readied their debut album for a release early in the year. We discussed the motorik art rock of “Bunker Soldiers” up front. The next song on the album was an absolute early OMD classic. “Almost” was the same version used as the B-side to the still unlucky third release of “Electricity” at the time of the album’s release on Dindisc. Much of this album is synthpop by reputation only. Many songs barely have actual synths used and alternatives [electric organs, the Selmer Pianotron®] were used because they were cheap and more available. The band did have a Korg M-500 Micro-Preset by the time of recording the album, and the lead lines here were expansive and cinematic. Since the Korg was a monosynth, the band applied a chorus to fatten it up admirably. Most of the lead lines on this album did not have the “pop” that they attained here with it.
The stuttering, white noise rhythms of the song and the rhythmic use of organ chords perfectly fit the melancholy of the number. It sounds like they had eight tracks to play in in their studio, unless they bounced four tracks. That made for a clear, powerful mix that had simplicity, clarity and punch. The stuttering repetition coupled with the melancholy of the lyric and the bass line, actually superseded much of the first album, and pointed to the much darker second one to come.
As a contract, the subsequent track, “Mystereality” could not be more different than the song that preceded it. This one really felt like a song left over from their days with The Id. It sounded like the product of teenagers with even a punning title that would have been past its expiration date by age 20, I would think. The simple, chugging rhythm box and the Pianotron sound almost like nursery rhymes and the lead instrument here was saxophone, as played by Martin Cooper, who would figure more prominently in the band’s future.
The classic track “Electricity” was a debut single of staying power that few bands get to enjoy. The Pianotron was used for the lead riff with a simple, motorik beat bashing away in the background as organ chords mirror the bass line an octave up. Very simple, but effective. The intelligent lyrics that examined power generation and where humanity has to go with it was a signifier from the get-go that OMD were not content to relive rock clichés but would mark out their own territory with a series of intellectual observations that would soon get even more ambitious than this song was.
Of course, years later McCluskey admitted to Kraftwerk when meeting them as a lifelong fan that they just took “Radioactivity” and sped it up, to which the Düsseldorf band simply stated “yes, we know.” I could not have known it at the time, myself. In 1980 I had only a copy of “Autobahn” to my name and I did not even know of, much less actually hear the “Radioactivity” album until 1982 -1983, if you can believe that! I did not know it existed until my friend Tom showed me a copy. At first I thought it was a followup to “Computerworld!”
OMD claim to have never performed a concert since day one where they did not include “Electricity” in the set, and if a band ever had to have a song that they simply had to include in their sets, than it really doesn’t get much better than this one. It remains the quintessential OMD song and a powerful précis of their entire artistic point of view. One can understand why it was released three times in a year, though the sleeve at left was the third release on Dindisc that thriftily knocked out the text in white instead of the costly thermographic process used on the first 5000 copies released by Factory in 1979.
Next: …Yet more nods to Kraftwerk
Looking forward to this and your terrific insight.
From the first single to Junk Culture,I was a fan.Not since then though.Lost interest.It’s just more of the same.But what isn’t.
They certainly could write hits and ballads with the best of them.
I own the first OMD LP with the cut out lozenges.Souvenir 10″.Plenty more.
Almost,Stanlow,Messages,Julia’s Song and Souvenir are in my top 5 from OMD.
I vividly remember seeing them in 1981 on the A&M tour with Rational Youth support,in a high school auditorium.Blew me away.Still have the badge and T-Shirt.
Jordan – Aaaaah. A “Stanlow” fan! I’ve got a lot to say about that one. It’s definitely in my top 5 as well. It was the point where a great band became more than that to me.
By the time of the debut album I was thoroughly convinced that synths were the future, not that there was any comet heading towards the guitar, bass and drum bands of The New Wave to wipe them to extinction, but I felt like all these bands that were arriving with synths as their lead instrument were just providing demonstration to those more ‘traditionally” arranged units. This is most obvious in the output of Post Punk bands that embraced rhythm in their interpretation of or deconstruction of rock and roll.
However much OMD cribbed from mid/late 70s Kraftwerk, there is a warmth to their martial beat that sets their songs apart.