Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – English Electric

I’ve written before about the internal conflict that I suffer from when I pick up a new Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark album. They’re legends of electronic music, and a part of you feels you have to venerate them because of that. Alright, Andy McCluskey is obnoxious and entirely full of himself in interviews, but these are the people who recorded Enola Gay and Electricity, so you have to be forgiving to them, don’t you?

Well, no – they’re also the people who churned out album after album of dross in the late 1980s, and Andy McCluskey was also the man behind Atomic Kitten, so he also has a lot to answer for. And so it is entirely fair to pick up an album such as English Electric and explore it entirely on its own merits, and to forget about everything which came before it.

But that isn’t easy with OMD, because they insist on behaving like electronic royalty. Even the act of releasing a new album seems to be done with statements along the lines of, “we’re the people who recorded Enola Gay, you know.” No, that’s enough of that. Let’s not hate them too much before we’ve even pressed play.

Well, it’s difficult to cut them too much slack. The opening track Please Remain Seated is thoroughly ridiculous – it opens with the announcement that greets travellers onto the Maglev at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport, which is then “translated” into English as “The future which you anticipated has been cancelled.” Erm… OK.

The first proper track is Metroland, which has a fun clicky rhythm to it. It still sounds a lot like OMD – they never seem to have been able to avoid a bit of self-parody – but that’s not always a bad thing. Once you’ve had the synth arpeggio, the climbing counter-melody, and the pad choir, you’ve almost run out of OMD clichés. I suppose it’s good to get them out of the system as early on as possible. If only it were about Joan of Arc – that way we could tick all the boxes at once and get on with making a proper album.

What Metroland lacks is a particularly catchy chorus, but otherwise it’s pleasant enough, if you don’t mind it dragging on for seven and a half minutes. Similarly Night Café, almost a tribute to Trans-Europe Express, is nearly a good song, but it just seems to be lacking that special magical something. The Future Will Be Silent is rather silly, but it bounces along with a rather happy jaunt, and so it’s actually pretty enjoyable.

Then Helen of Troy is as close as we get to the song that everyone wants about Joan of Arc. Seemingly the previously bottomless pit of songs about poor Joan has finally been drained, so McCluskey has had to move onto other female historical figures instead. If he needs some ideas for future albums then I’m particularly looking forward to George Eliott and Margaret Thatcher. Unfortunately Komputer have done Valentina Tereshkova already.

On Our System, McCluskey sings very meaningfully about how formulaic OMD songs have become – “We sing about famous historical women / Then bring in that pad sound again.” Not really, it’s about space or something.

Slightly unexpectedly, the next track Kissing the Machine sounds very familiar, which is because it’s stolen wholesale from Elektric Music (Karl Bartos‘s) 1993 album Esperanto, on which McCluskey collaborated on a couple of tracks, including this one. Which should be enough to make it one of the best tracks on here, except even this isn’t as good as the original. McCluskey’s apparent reverse-Midas touch is still very much in effect.

With the exception of the catchy (if predictable) Stay with Me, the rest of the album is sadly forgettable for the most part. Fortunately the tracks are pretty short, so at least you get to forget them pretty quickly. Decimal features some counting for some reason, Dresden is nice but ultimately pointless, Atomic Ranch is very noisy indeed, and Final Song is just a bit aimless.

Fourteen years in the making, the comeback album History of Modern (2010) was patchy in the extreme, whereas English Electric is considerably more solid. What it really lacks is any particularly strong songs – its predecessor had a few, but this one is content to just bob along being pleasant and no more. You could be forgiven for wondering why OMD felt it was necessary to have yet another comeback just for this. Maybe next time…

You can find English Electric at all major online retailers, some with bonus tracks or a bonus DVD. Shop around for the right version.

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