Wednesday, December 23, 2009

universal themes

Rather than bore everyone with a tedious list of favorites from 2009, I'll focus on current and forthcoming releases which excite me.

2009 marks the 30th anniversary of "Electricity", the debut single by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. The plinky, driving slice of electronics, originally released on the Factory label, still sounds fresh these days.

With acts like La Roux and Little Boots, who have clearly listened to OMD's towering, pop landmarks, along with all things electro making waves these days, it makes sense for one of the originators to regroup after twenty years. Hard to believe it has been thirteen years since Andy McCluskey mothballed the final incarnation of OMD.

Not much has been heard of OMD's forthcoming, eleventh longplayer, "History Of Modern". However, if you saunter over to their official website, you can download a demo of "Sister Marie Says" which, if reports are correct, will be the first single released from the new album.

It's clear to hear why they sat on this song for over 25 years. It's sounds like "Enola Gay" done sideways. And with them wanting to adhere to their experimental roots in the early 80s, they knew they would be giving their record company exactly what they wanted and expected. From the heavenly, operatic intro through to the driving bass and buzzy, lead, synth line, it's a major earworm that dares you not to give it multiple listens. One can almost see Andy McCluskey dancing with his bass slung around his chest dancing with arms and legs akimbo.

Still, it makes sense to unearth this gem now as it fits in perfectly with their entire catalog. "Sister Marie Says" catches them doing what they do best. It's a perfect, little, pop song. Something for which OMD doesn't often get much praise. What's very clear upon looking back at the 80s is that there were few groups that sounded similar. OMD stood out from the crowd but didn't garner much credibility. Hopefully, the passage of time will correct that.

Their recorded output, much like Pet Shop Boys, New Order and Depeche Mode, is nearly immaculate. Unfortunately, for Paul and Andy, they weren't stylish, ironic, witty, wry or dark. Although, one could argue that their penchant for religious imagery and inanimate objects, while simultaneously blending them with universal themes of life and love, should have placed them in good stead with their contemporaries' fanbases.

After 30 singles across 1o albums, I think it's about time to reevaluate OMD's influential status in the pantheon of pop.


  1. OMD are a special group for me in that they alone are the band I became a fan of upon hearing their first single. Ultravox, Simple Minds, Roxy Music, Japan etc. all had whiskers by the time I finally heard them, but I was fortunate enough to have heard the Factory 7" of "Electricity" on a program called "The Import Hour" that local DJ Mike Cooper hosted on WORJ-FM. Subsequently, I began buying OMD records as soon as I could.

    Let us not forget that like the aforementioned New Order, they also commanded the mighty Peter Saville to design their sleeves for many years through their vital first five albums as well as their last album, the excellent "Universal." He remains a friend to this day and is also designing "A History Of Modern." Saville, tellingly, includes only one Ultravox image in his "Designed By Peter Saville" art book, and that's confined to a sidebar! Apparently, he considered them borderline kitsch and "work for hire," while a multitude of classic OMD designs appear in the tome.

    Two OMD albums (Architecture + Morality, Dazzle Ships) have their titles courtesy of Saville (or his girlfriend at the time, Martha Ladly). And it was Saville's Karmann Ghia that Paul drove in the video for the classic "Souvenir." He has by far the closest relationship with OMD, apart from Joy Division and New Order, of all of his clients. Last year designer Saville and the band collaborated along with their film maker friend Hambi Haralambous (ex-Hambi + The Dance) to create an art installation at the FACT museum in Liverpool called The Energy Suite.

    So what's not stylish to the max about that? And is not the boppy dance track "Enola Gay" dripping with the darkest irony possible? Methinks you sell the group short, possibly due to Andy's spastic dancing. Okay, so the wheels started to come off the franchise when they sold out in the mid-80s, but the years in which they sold the biggest bucketloads of records (80-84) were marked with experimentation, wit, style, and a unique point of view that did indeed stand apart from the thematic scope of most of their peers.

    OMD, more than others, were a group formed of people who I felt were sharing many if not all of my values. I may have loved records by Roxy, John Foxx, Ultravox, Simple Minds, Japan, et. al. but I didn't feel a kinship to those artists in the way that I did with OMD. Who else would have dusted off a Mellotron in 1981 and made it sound hip again?

  2. @Jim - Great response! Thanks.

    I think you might have misinterpreted my opinion. I adore OMD. Always have since the very first single, which I first heard in the early 80s on WLIR, an alternative station in Long Island that had a rabid listenership throughout the decade.

    I didn't mention Peter Saville's designs because I wanted to focus on solely on the music. And what glorious music it is! I felt the first and last (for now) single sleeves spoke volumes on their own without notation.

    As I mentioned, they hardly ever released a duff track. Every one of their albums, even the ones where they went more mainstream, are bristling with the finest pop music. They are songsmiths. But I think they get the short end of the stick when it comes to name checking influential bands of that era. To me, they are as vital as PSB, DM and NO.

    Yes, their sleeves are stylish. And I'm someone who loves packaging and artwork. So OMD always hold a special place in my heart. They have mastered the combination of artwork and music much the same way PSB and DM have. I think the critics, journalists and some of their contemporaries didn't find them to be as important as I believe they are.