[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.
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