[continued from last post]
The first album after their reformation of 2006 was 2010’s “History Of Modern.” The bulk of it was the sound of OMD trying to see if they could fit back in their own skin. After many years had passed. The album was a pretty weird mixed bag, but most of it wiped the floor with the five OMD albums that preceded it. What bothered me after a fashion, was the sloppiness and hedging of their bets that still managed to hold it ultimately in thrall to their fear of not succeeding. The fact that they issued the most complacent and compromised song on it as their lead off single following a dozen years of layoff showed incredibly bad judgement.
“If You Want It” sounded for all the world like some leftover 90s pop single McCluskey had written for one of his prefabricated girl groups. It made for a completely dispiriting re-introduction of OMD to the marketplace. The next single was the “Enola Gay” pastiche of “Sister Marie Says.” A better song; one which actually felt like them, but surely a minor deep cut on the album. It remained until the third single, “History of Modern [part 1],” until the band managed to throw a bone to their fan base with a rousingly good, even classic, OMD song, but the notion of too little, too late sprang to mind. “History Of Modern” eked out a #28 berth on the UK LP charts. Four spots lower than the previous “Universal,” which was their presumed swan song. Their next attempt came much closer to the mark.
“Metroland” was the lead off single from “English Electric” and while it was the second pastiche they had done of “Europe Endless” over two consecutive albums [“History Of Modern” had sported the more stunning and emotionally complex “The Right Side”], it beat the schlager-pop of “If You Want It” hands down. Better, the other two singles were also good, though none have achieved the modern classic status accorded to “History of Modern [part 1],” which got played at each of the three concerts I’ve seen of the reformed OMD. The editorial had that guided “English Electric” was far more assured than the tentative probing of “History of Modern.” My only disappointment with the album was that perhaps it was too assured. The restricted sonic palette gave it a kind of cohesion but perhaps more than I would have preferred. My favorite songs were the ones that almost didn’t seem to fit. “Final Song” and “Our System.”
The band thought that they could hardly do better at the time and briefly pondered hanging it up. I did not see it that way. Even though the album itself peaked at a tantalizing #12 on the UK album charts. While the songs and the thematic sweep of the material were effective, I felt that their methods of actually making the music could stand some improvement. As a long-term fan, I held them to the standard of the first few albums where pre-digital tech was used to record the music. By the mid 80s, digital keyboards began to crowd out more fussy [but better sounding] analog synths and this contributed to the sense of boredom that I had with electronic music of that time. When this coincided with OMD also aiming for the pop mainstream, the sense of disappointment was profound. I recognized that they were trying to make better songs that were truer to their nature now, but the Pro Tools era sounds a certain way. And I wanted to see them break free of the sonic shackles that held their music back.
Their single of the song “Dresden” had a fantastic remix of the track by John Foxx + The Maths; as perfect an imagining of a modern OMD song as I could ever hope to hear! When OMD picked John Foxx + The Maths to open for their “English Electric” UK tour, I had hoped that something more could come from it, and we didn’t have to wait long until this manifested. This was a rare form of immediate gratification, but if avoided the notion that I had first posited; namely, the idea of JF+TM producing OMD’s next album. While that did not happen, their next album managed to convince me in ways that “English Electric” stopped short of.
Next: …Plateaus Reached, Then What?
I have a harder time with History Of Modern, 8 years on, than I did at its release. Now this isn’t to say I don’t like the album. Songs like Save Me and If You Want It just cause me to hit skip. History Of Modern Part 1 is a fine song. In fact it is the OMD song that would have made them MASSIVE in say, 1987 or 1989. Every time I have seen them since they started returning to the US, this is a song that grabs ALL of the audience by the scruff of the neck and causes them to shake their shoulders and asses in unison. But it’s just that that sort of diminishes the track’s importance to me, making it seem a bit calculated. It also angers me a bit that this could have been OMD in, say, 1989 if they had put their minds to it, had the confidence to get to it, had stayed together.
English Electric is the album that satisfies the long term fan in me – that OMD had really come back. It finds its roots in the two most important albums of their canon for me, Dazzle Ships and Architecture + Morality. It celebrates not only the OMD of my youth, but the influence that Kraftwerk and their Motorik allies had on the band. In the past few years, my favorite track has become The Future Is Silent. It’s brazen in the sounds that inform it. It’s an electro-pop travelogue of sorts. Oh and you can dance to it. It devolves into a song that sees no shame in bringing the listener right back to 1980 and Joan of Arc/Maid Of Orleans with a certain emotional reverie that tends to choke me up a bit when I hear it. It actually melds both the Pop and Torch Song qualities of those earlier singles and shoots for the moon with an extra booster rocket, hitting the mark for me.
To put English Electric to bed, I have to agree with your assessment of JT+M’s Remix of Dresden. Foxx + Co build up walls of electronic majesty and then tear them down with a wonderful precision. The remix pulls Andy’s vocals into the machinery of the song making his vocals sound at once both ecstatic and aggressive.