Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - History Of Modern

There’s precious little else wrong, save the odd dodgy lyric.


Revisionists have got to grips with Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (let’s use OMD) recently, boiling them down to their more experimental passages on 1983’s serious electronic classic Dazzle Ships, glossing over later Brat Pack anthems ‘If You Leave’, ‘(Forever) Live And Die’ and the successful early-90s full-pop comeback ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’. Fat, singalong hits don’t fit with a narrative that rates OMD a profound influence on hip 21st century acts like LCD Soundsystem and The xx. And let’s not deny this footprint: OMD’s formative singles Messages, Electricity, Enola Gay and Souvenir – a roll-call of evergreen synth riffs – are a bedrock of modern 80s revivalism. It’s just that while they were toiling for the advancement of earnest electronica, they were also firing out whopping great mainstream chart bullets.

Their first album in 14 years, ‘History Of Modern’, from its austere title to its Peter Saville-designed cover, wants us to believe it’s an industrial monolith made by grey-shirted scholars with unfussy haircuts, but it’s as soaked in big late-80s chords as it is bound by strict electronic principles. Still, there’s nothing unwieldy about this combination; the fit is as smooth as OMD’s original progression. If you keep in mind they were always most at ease at the poppier end of the spectrum, there’s nothing to disappoint here.

Indeed, there’s oodles to delight. Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys still have a peerless knack for catchy music box synth signatures, poking familiar refrains onto ‘History Of Modern (Part I)’, ‘Green’ and opener ‘New Babies: New Toys’ – the last one cantering in behind some surprise guitar distortion that threatens that austere monolith after all. And they can still nail the sort of melody that occasionally escapes their natural successors. This skill’s a blessing and a curse – all good when they’re summoning the spirit of Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Madam Butterfly’ on the bewitching ‘Sometimes’ or coaxing a gloomy prettiness out of ‘Bondage Of Fate’; not so fab on the empowerment bluster of ‘If You Want It’ when they’re reminding you of McCluskey’s penance as Atomic Kitten svengali.

There’s precious little else wrong, save the odd dodgy lyric. ‘The Future, The Past And Forever After’ transcends trite lines - “Like a sacrifice in the church of life it will call to you… Like a speeding train on wheels of steel it will run to you” - with the considerable help of a belting Coldcut synth bass and expansive early techno chords. Eight-minute kiss-off ‘The Right Side?’ takes a cute slip-road off the ‘Autobahn’ – or, more precisely, ‘Europe Endless’ – clicking along quietly and attractively with shy power. It’s a deft summary of OMD’s lasting facility, mixing impeccable electro with shameless breathy hooks. As McCluskey gargles on ‘New Holy Ground’, “There’s no time for theory…” - well, there’s some, but OMD save equal space for uncool pure pop appeal.