Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 58]

OMD – History Of Modern | 2010 – 3

[continued from last post]

“Side Two” [as even the CD calls it] began with “The Future, The Past, And Forever After.” OMD fandom and critics in general largely consider this track one of the worst on the album. I was seduced by its beatbox programming, but even so, after eight years top live with it, I can see the cracks in its armor. I dislike the gospel-lite female backing vocals that were call-and-reposnse with McCluskey’s leads, and the lyrical quote from the primordial rock number “Shake, Rattle + Roll” had no absolutely no place on an album called “History of Modern.” I did like the Kraftwerk inspired middle eight that involved phasing the train engine sample for an effect not unlike parts of the middle of “Autobahn” mashed up with “Trans Europe Express.”

I found it interesting that the “Sister Marie Says” melody was deemed too close to that of “Enola Gay” back in 1981, but now it was fine. The conceit of the song was where I didn’t follow since I had never heard of the nun-wannabe who the song references. Apparently, “Sister Mary Gabriel” [née Sofia Richmond a.k.a. Sofia Paprocski, Zofia Sagatis, Sofia Marie Angel…] was a crackpot who published full page ads in major UK newspapers in the early 90s warning of an apocalyptic event that clearly didn’t happen. We in The States had no idea who she was. I thought this song was about a nun who taught young McCluskey in school! At any rate it was a bit of lightweight OMD pop with a slightly interesting story behind it. There were better songs that could have been singles from the album [this was #2] but… there was also worse.

The origin of “Pulse” …what was Andy thinking here?

There was nothing lightweight about the criminally wrong “Pulse;” a song that was apparently released as a Danish single in 2005 from the dancepop duo Brother + Sister [L]. It was a profoundly wrong action for this band, striving to re-establish themselves after a long layoff. Using Eurotrash dancepop as a template for growth was a huge mistake. McCluskey may have written a new song over their melody and the sample netted the writers of that opus a cut from OMD’s completely wrong-headed descent into sleazy electro/hip hop. The backing track owed a lot to “I Feel Love,” which usually is a way to get on my good side, but not here. Hearing McCluskey drop the f-bomb amidst the heavy breathing and slurred innuendo was most troubling. The vibe was so far off the OMD gameboard, that only a dalliance at death metal could have been more egregious. As bad as two other songs on this album were, they didn’t have a patch on this one for sheer dismaying debacle.

The album whipped itself into shape with the last three songs. “Green” was an old mid-tempo ballad that Andy and Stuart Kershaw had written in the 90s and fortunately, Mr. Humphreys heard it, and wrote a new melody for it that imbued it with much more OMD DNA that it may have had at the onset. I especially liked the dark, dubbed out outro that reminded me of Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure.”

Even better was “Bondage Of Fate” a waltz-time track that used a sample of Hannah Peel’s apparently unreleased “Organ Song” to build a weirdly fragile song around. Subtle and sibilant insect noises figured in the complex and unique soundbed. It was all very delicate and demure until the middle eight when it erupted into a full-bodied waltz-march until the energy evaporated and it returned to its unique, weird placidity. This one was definitely OMD mapping out new territories that sounded like little else, other than themselves.

Finally, the album ended with its best song. “The Right Side” was OMD trying to rewrite their favorite Kraftwerk song, “Europe Endless.” Coincidentally, it’s my favorite Kraftwerk song as well, so I give OMD a full pass on this since they have returned subsequently to this notion on later albums. While “Europe Endless” is a beauty of a Kraftwerk song, of course OMD had to put their own melancholic stamp on things, with lyrics that set up guaranteed misery then examine the difficulty in finding anything but that. The trance repetition of the music soon moved the listener beyond transitory pain or pleasure and into the infinite. The first time I listened to this and it faded out at the six minute park, I was pleasantly surprised when it came back to life for an additional 2:25 “dub movement” that the band, thinking that they should not moderate such pleasure, added to the original song for a longer, more luxurious vibe.

I loved this album on release, even through its faults. Just because it actually tried to reconnect with whatever possibly atrophied mojo they still had access to. There was clearly material here that would have been huge improvements to much of the material on their 1985-1998 albums had it been there instead. I still love it, because it was the best album they had released since the time of “Junk Culture,” by my reckoning.

It could have sounded better; Paul was a firm believer in soft synths just because he fancied things staying in tune over time…the wimp! There were some horrible songs attempted that were clearly written with others in mind [who were absolutely not OMD] to perform them; yet they happened anyway [“If You Want It,” “Pulse.”]. A third song was more of an OMD song [“Sometimes”] yet one that I would think few fans were clamoring for. Through it all Paul Humphreys didn’t manage to snag the mic. For OMD’s longest album, after a decade plus [two decades plus for three quarters of the band] in mothballs, I would have thought that this would not have happened, but I was wrong.

One interesting detail could be found in the credits of the album. All of the tracks were credited as written by OMD or OMD/other in the case of a few songs with outside writing credits. When Paul Humphreys, followed by Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper, left the band in 1988/1989, Andy was granted the OMD name for his own purposes. When bands initially form, the founding members sign contracts and they each usually have shares in the band. If a member leaves, then rejoins at a later date, it is much more likely for that member who left to be regarded at that point as an employee of the band, not a full member. Songwriting credits will usually bear this out with songs possibly attributed to BAND NAME/strayaway member and not just BAND NAME.

On this album, I know for a fact that Paul co-wrote at least “Green” since the DVD that came with the boxed version of this album said as much point blank. Yet, on the disc, “Green” was credited to OMD, not OMD/Kershaw/Humphreys, implying that McCluskey ceded band membership to the others again, which is not usually the norm, though it may have been a negotiated condition of reformation. In any case, it was the right thing to do and it may be the reason why the band’s reformation is still going on strong 12 years later.

I was happy that OMD had come back from the dead for a second time, ad this time, the results were much, much better than what we had gotten in 1991 under the OMD name. This actually seemed like and OMD album, barring two or three  horrendous missteps that should have been caught during the pre-production stage. Better still, I was able to look forward to OMD touring The States under their own power again. Maybe this time, I could manage to catch a show that was not an opening act for some lesser band?

Next: …Headliners Again

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4 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 58]

  1. Echorich says:

    If for no other reason, I prefer side two of HoM because it is basically audacious. The toy with the the sound of German Eurodisco, Kraftwerk and most importantly, their own. The almost panting effects of the opening of The Future, The Past, And Forever After as it opens up into a faux ZTT/Moroder collaboration captures me every time I hear it. It’s the Moroder-esque feel that allows me to give Andy a pass on his strained vocal delivery. It’s deliciously wrong in so many wonderful ways.
    The opening of Sister Marie Says has this wonderfully wrong feel that Jeff Lynne and company are about to sing an OMD song! But where ELO’s Rockaria turns into their take on a Chubby Checker song, Sister Marie Says is OMD vamping/camping their way through their signature sound. Every time I hear SMS, I get this image of Toni Basil and her dancers cheerleading in habits around Andy and Paul.
    Pulse is OMD taking a Prince song and having their way with it. It’s so ridiculous that I smile whenever I play it.
    I have to say that I don’t think I want to hear Paul sing Green. He certainly OMD’d the Kershaw song, but I works for me with Andy handling vocals. It is one of most finished sounding songs on HoM for me.
    Bondage Of Fate is by far, the most Modern song on HoM. That there is any association with Hannah Peel just shows the guys were aware of or traveling in the same circles of others who were pushing the boundaries of Electronic Pop. Bondage Of Fate stands head and shoulders above the rest of the album.
    Finally, well sort of, The Right Side? is the kind of OMD song that I waited for decades to hear. With just one listen, it erases the Andy McCluskey era of OMD for me. It doesn’t just contain Kraftwerk DNA, but it’s got bucket loads of OMD DNA bursting at the seams.
    Ok, so the real “finally…” Aretha Franklin singing Save Me over Messages? NO. This will just not do. History Of Modern ends with The Right Side?.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – When this album was new “Bondage Of Fate” often got stuck on repeat along with “The Right Side.” To this day, it’s hard while in the car not to hit that “repeat” button when “The Right Side” is playing. The beauty, complexity and ambiguity of it is pure OMD to these ears. These two songs are on a whole different level to the rest of the often fine album. “Green” would have been a real highlight of any Phase II album it would have been on, at least with the Humphreys music. I think I have the demo on the HOM demos CD that the BSOG came with. I recall it being decidedly different, and I should have listened to it before penning this post, dash it all! I may correct this later.

      I bought the UK boxed edition with all of the bells and whistles, so thankfully, the copy of the album in there on CD and [black covered LP] lacks a song I completely forgot about until you mentioned it! Yes, ending the US edition of the album with the grievous “Save Me” Aretha Franklin/”Messages” mashup was stunningly wrong. I forgot that I did actually own the song. When I bought a VIP package to see OMD in 2011, it came with my choice of the new album in the goodie bag. Since I had the UK CD and a special black design LP variant [accompanying this post], I opted for the straight US 2xLP edition with, yes, “Save Me” as the final track. There was a DL coupon in the cover, so I have a DL version of the album so I could hear “Save Me,” which I played. Once.


  2. Richard Anvil says:

    Just spotted the obvious mistake you wrote about ‘Sister Marie Says’. If it was written in 1981 how could it be about a nun who posted ads in the 90’s? So as you know the story behind this is pretty obscure as I’m in the UK and never heard of her until OMD released the song.
    When this album came out I did a long review as it was both my greatest dream and my worst nightmare in one. Andy is well known for not wanting to waste any unused songs so obviously decided to use the songs he’d written for his girl bands, which as you stated are pretty awful. I personally found If You Want It rather creepy with a 50+ male singing to some unknown female about taking a one night stand chance with him, so I agree it was a staggeringly terrible choice for first single.
    On my iPod I split the album up by removing all the obvious girl band fodder and replacing them with the rather wonderful b sides which are so OMD; The Grand Deception, Area 1 and VCR (a cover version of The XX which harks back to Waiting For The Man by OMD). That way I get a much more OMD album and don’t have to press fast forward when the naff tracks come on.

    History of Modern (part 1) is one of the best singles the band have ever released. I was disappointed that there was no Paul vocals track, but I think this shows who was in the driving seat for the direction on the album. Thankfully all the unused tracks were used up so we got new tracks written by the band for the follow up album (except Kissing The Machine identical to original version).


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Richard Anvil – Actually, I can’t think of anyone I like who doesn’t waste songs, except for John Foxx. Foxx reissues will have things you’ve not even heard about – and they will be stunning! While OMD, Bowie, Ferry, and Simple Minds are well known to never waste a single song scrap; taking decades to finally use something up. I recall reading that the music for SMS was written around the time of A+M but they shelved it since it was too similar to “Enola Gay.” It was in the 90s when Andy tried to finish the song but it never made it over the transom. Given that HOM may have been the final OMD album, I think that reusing those girl band songs was a huge mistake. Had they not moved onward and upward, it would have been a frustrating legacy.

      Your personal edit of the album would be astoundingly good as the real thing. So many bands twist in the wind and compromise on their albums [say like… Duran Duran] and you smack your forehead when you hear what was relegated to a bonus track elsewhere!


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