Friday, October 22, 2010

OMD: History Of Modern

Bright orange is always good. That Peter Saville [New Order] cover art works beautifully for OMD and recalls Very by the Pet Shop Boys.

You have to hand it to OMD for being as clever as ever with their latest effort, History Of Modern [2010]. It's not so much an oxymoron, but rather a musical retrospective applying the techniques of their past, historic classics like Architecture & Morality [1981] with a touch of the modern.

Founders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys have reunited since departing company back in 1989 at the height of their commercial success following the release of The Pacific Age [1986] and The Best Of OMD [1988]. It certainly seemed like a logical point to shake things up. It's been a long road to hoe for both artists. Paul Humphreys dabbled with his own The Listening Pool [with fellow OMD members Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes] releasing Still Life [1994]. He later forged OneTwo with former Propaganda singer Claudia Brucken for a CD Instead [2007] and an earlier CD Ep Item [2004]. The Ep turned out one amazing track featuring Paul Humphreys on vocal called Sister. The song was classic Humphreys a la Secret and Forever Live And Die.

Yes, my OMD collection in my Fanboy Cave.

Meanwhile, McCluskey was continuing the tradition of the OMD name with lesser returns but greater success financially than Humphreys. Let's face it, there's much value in a name [example- Tears For Fears' Roland Orzabal carried on without Curt Smith]. McCluskey gave us three successive pop classic recordings sans Humphreys in Sugar Tax [1991], Liberator [1993] and Universal [1996]. He hung up his hat and placed the OMD moniker on hiatus and looked into the production realm for other pop acts [Atomic Kitten] to lesser success. It seemed like the OMD day had dawned and another act [like the wonderful Thompson Twins] had faded into the sunset. But like any retired group, acts are never dead completely [The Eagles].

Revitalized in 2006, OMD got the band back together. Their latest recording, History Of Modern, is classic 80s pop magnificence most of the time. It's McCluskey's first recording with the OMD name since Universal. Unlike the previous three projects created without Humpheys the duo's presence as a unified front is easily recognizable. Just as Roland Orzabal rejoined Curt Smith for Tears For Fears' Everybody Loves A Happy Ending [2004], OMD's reunion is a sweet and welcomed audio tour de force.

Reaching back to the kind of wonder that filled classic OMD works like Architecture & Morality, History Of Modern pays tribute to the aforementioned classic's two part Maid Of Orleans [Waltz Joan Of Arc] and Joan Of Arc with this effort's History Of Modern Part I and Part II, two bona fide originals with their own distinct styles. Like those unforgettable earlier tracks these two songs are infinitely listenable and will hold up.

To be honest, and I'm breaking with formula here [because I wanted to simply focus on classic recordings], The History Of Modern isn't splendid from start to finish, but it does start strong and finish strong. It's often few and far between when a fan of the 80s gets to enjoy a proper band's return to form and OMD's project certainly offers cause for celebration here and the respect of a proper purchase. The last such arrival that was equally strong, and arguably better was Prefab Sprout's Let's Change The World With Music [2009], but OMD is right there thanks to some standout selections. OMD opens up the doors to their glorious past through song and sound and their are some amazing moments here.

Apart from the two part title track OMD lays down one of the best, balls-to-the-wall bass lines I've heard in some time. While certainly not known for bass lines, not since New Order has a group delivered as potent an opener as the one here on The History Of Modern. The high energy show opener will have you jumping out of your car seat. New Babies New Toys is an instant classic. It's the kind of song that makes one pleased as blood pudding that McCluskey and Humphrey's intend on getting a second reunion effort recorded and delivered within the next two years. We can only hope they stay on task.

Sister Marie Says, the second single, is vintage early-era OMD a la Enola Gay and thus a classic OMD pop number. You can't deny its production power complete with operatic, disembodied voices to enhance the pomp and circumstance factor driven by the synth riff of yesterday.

If You Want It is straight up OMD as their lead off single. The song is filled with grand, epic, OMD flavor and despite being the weakest choice for a lead off single it will grow on you following your initial rejection of the song.

Pulse is intriguing and offers OMD in b-side mode, but it is catchy. Speaking of b-sides, be sure to check out the If You Want It single. It features Alone which is a wonderful new b-side to add to the plethora of b-side spectacles from across OMD's long career [1978-present].

RFWK sees OMD riffing on Karl Bartos and Elektric Music. The song is nearly identical to a song from the former Kraftwerk man's Esperanto [1993] project. On that collection, Andy McCluskey applied guest vocals in full to a song called Kissing The Machine. RFWK is nearly that song without being quite as catchy. Still, it's a better audio master and is a decent fill-in.

Finally, History Of Modern ends with the epic eight minute plus The Right Side and its synthetic simplicity will have you grooving right along and never tiring. It's easily one of their strongest closers in memory.

History of Modern isn't perfect, but it's pretty damn close. Two thirds of the project make it a must buy in the way The Human League's Secrets [2001] was worthy addition to the music universe. OMD formed in 1978 and to see them still recording is such a pleasure for me. I hope, along with acts like The Human League, Paddy McAloon [Prefab Sprout] and Roland Orzabal [Tears For Fears], these expressive artists and musicians continue to make music and designing some of the best pop music that ever was, because they don't make music like this anymore. At the very least no one makes new music better than originals like OMD. Now if we could only bring Tom Bailey out of Thompson Twins retirement and hang up his International Observer.

OMD Discography:
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [1980]
Organisation [1980]
Architecture & Morality [1981]
Dazzle Ships [1983]
Junk Culture [1984]
Crush [1985]
The Pacific Age [1986]
The Best Of OMD [1988]
Sugar Tax [1991]*
Liberator [1993]
Universal [1996]
The OMD Singles [1998]*
Navigation: The OMD B-Sides [2001]
Messages: Greatest Hits [2008]
History Of Modern [2010]*


le0pard13 said...

My OMD music listening is scant. I'm going to check out more of their tracks. Keep up the music posts, my friend. Thanks.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hey L13

Thanks for the vote of confidence!

If you get them from itunes there are certainly songs worth noting outside of the classic If You Leave from Pretty In Pink.

If I had to recommend a CD by them from the discography I noted I would say you can't go wrong with the following:

The OMD Singles
History Of Modern
Sugar Tax

I love all three.

There earlier work, while notably impressive can be difficult to listen to on the whole. I think the best of their songs are available on the Singles package.

Joan Of Arc, etc... are all there. Have fun!