Review: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – English Electric

This is more like it. When the “classic” OMD lineup reunited a couple of years ago to record new material for the first time since 1988 it was with bated breath fans of olde waited for the inevitable genius therein but instead we were treated to a lukewarm collection that felt more like the late-era McCluskey-only projects instead of what we remembered. But this time Paul Humphries seems to have been given more reign and this one is a keeper.

So, this out of the way first, it ain’t perfect. Not enough of the songs really pop and the memorable hooks could be in greater supply, but on the whole, this is the album we’ve been waiting for. There are so many delightful quirks and crannies it’s hard to know where to start. 

At its core this is an album that knows its history and isn’t afraid to mine it (in fact it’s almost self-conscious in its effort to capture their “classic” sound). The tinny sounds, the choral synths, the quirky computer-voice interludes, the distinct McCluskey bass (in fact we have opined before how we believe the bass guitar is the most pointless instrument of all for an electronic band, but the exception to that rule is and has always been Andy McCluskey’s distinctive thudding). Mere weeks ago we yearned for the once-dominant synth riff and this album has them in spades, “Night Café”, “Dresden”, “Kissing the Machine” – in fact, it’s easier to make a list of tracks on this album that don’t employ the device, and few are as good at it as these guys.

It’s also nice to hear Humphries take to the mic again. History of Modern disappointed in the absence of a Humphries vocal, but on this album one of the very best songs, “Stay With Me” let’s him purr again and it’s so, so welcome. In fact his influence is in every nook of the album, from the plinky-plink sequences, or the aforementioned solos, we see how good OMD can be when there’s a true balance between the two principals.

The running theme of the sanitized future is well-used with clever interludes that recall the more interesting aspects of the oft-misunderstood and unfairly dismissed Dazzle Ships. It’s another effective callback to the past while gazing at the idealized future. Something that could have been cheesy in the extreme had it not worked but it does. They achieve balance on even their riskier conceits.

It’s a lovely return to form and stands as not just the stronger of their two post-reunion albums but perhaps their strongest since the early-80s heyday (a period that passed as the terrific Junk Culture made way for the more commercially aggressive Crush). This is the album we were waiting for. This is the album that makes of slaver for more, much more to come…

Watch: Metroland

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4 Responses to “Review: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – English Electric”

  1. I really like it too. I sense some moments not unlike those I had after slitting open Architecture & Morality all those years ago. It definitely doesn’t give me goosebumps the way A&M still does, but I’m a pretty happy ‘waver’ these days!!

  2. it is really better than history of modern and is a trip back but forward too! Nice review.

  3. Agree with all of this, except I think you’re being a tad harsh on History of Modern in hindsight; while it’s definitely patchy and there are long stretches of it I haven’t found myself frequently going back to, the two title tracks and “Sometimes” (which I thought was Paul sort-of-singing?) struck me straight away as good enough to stand up to history, and a few other tracks I didn’t initially care for have grown on me (even “If You Want It”, which at first listen sounds like an outtake from Universal).

    If History of Modern was a plausible alternate-universe follow-up to The Pacific Age – something they might have made next instead of Sugar Tax had the duo stayed together – well, I think English Electric sounds like a plausible alternate-universe follow-up to Dazzle Ships (not that it would necessarily replace Junk Culture, it’s more somethng that seems to slot in quite neatly between them). Certainly right now it’s my favourite OMD album since the first four.

  4. Great review. It hits it on the head. I disagree with the sad words towards HOM. yes, no home run but certainly has it’s good moments.

    English Electric over night has become my favorite… sits well next to A&M and Dazzle Ships. I loved when in an interview McCluskey said that now they are making music the way they want to make music. It shines thru in this new release.

    It will be another great tour for OMD.

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