Ah, 2013. The year where music’s great and good such as MBV and Bowie have come out of the shadows and released new records and where even Suede (who, lest we forget, succeeded in getting every Virgin Megastore renamed ‘Head Music’ for a day in 1997 in deference to their anticipated new record) have been pushed into the background. Into this no doubt daunting climate Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark release their third studio record in twenty years and the first since 2010’s ‘History Of Modern’.
Let’s face it, historically they’ve earned their keep; even in today’s pop landscape ‘Enola Gay’ continually lurks in the background like a wisened old sage on an inner-city estate, safe in the knowledge it could take on any of these young whippersnappers should the occasion demand it. But that was then, and this now. Glossing over the incidental opening track ‘Please Remain Seated’, the record properly gets going via the propulsive, shimmering lead single ‘Metroland’, which over its brilliantly heady seven minutes sees Andy McCluskey’s vocals veer from the dignified reflection of Bowie’s ‘Where Are We Now?’ as he croons ‘We live, and we die…..’ to his trademark soar and back again. It’s no flash in the pan either, with ‘Night Café’ similarly oozing well-crafted pop nous (even if – whisper it – it sounds a bit like Simple Minds’ ‘Alive And Kicking’).
They even pull off well-judged, modernised homages previous work, with the euphoric crescendo to ‘Our System’ simultaneously recalls their own ‘Architecture And Morality’-era choral pomp and parts of the last M83 album, ‘Stay With Me’ approximating a more winsome ‘Souvenir’, and ‘Dresden’ apes their 1980 single ‘Electricity’, albeit a version armed with an urgent vibrancy that wouldn’t look out of place on an old school platform game.
As with anything, it’s not perfect. At times it feels far too long, and the quirky incidental pieces such as ‘Please Remain Seated’ and ‘Atomic Ranch’ which may have enhanced their 1983 effort ‘Dazzle Ships’ fall flat and owing to their overlapping samples of robotic voices, begin to grate after repeated listens. Yet on the whole it remains impressively cohesive, and perhaps more importantly (and surprisingly) never feels like they’re going through the motions – when, at the start of ‘The Future Will Be Silent’ a voice asks ‘what does the future sound like?’, you can damn well believe it cares. One can only surmise what McCluskey means when he cryptically sings ‘kicking the dog that’s done no wrong, singing the words to the final song’ on album-closing ‘Final Song’ but on ‘English Electric”s evidence of OMD’s undoubted, continued songwriting skill it’d be a crying shame for its title to prove literal.