Remember the film Pretty in Pink? Who wants to unless you’re the venerable Liverpool-based electronic band, Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark.
The group that set the tone for the emergence of ‘80s synthpop and the legion of like-minded romantics that followed have proved on their 12th album, English Electric, that they have staying power.
The band’s return to their classic lineup (Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphries, Martin Cooper and Malcolm Hughes) brings back the appealing elements that started the Brit synthpop sound rolling back in 1978.
Unlike later practitioners of darker goth leaning acts such as Bauhaus, OMD is sunny and grand, bopping with flickering synth and bass hooks and minimal high-scaling vocals.
Their first hit, Enola Gay (about the bomber plane that nuked Hiroshima), boasts an epic, happy synth hook and thrumming beat. The lyrics are a heavily ironic underscore to the theme, though.
It’s not surprising that English Electric favours a bright ‘80s’ aesthetic as seven of OMD’s albums were recorded in that decade.
English Electric is denser than their earlier work but only marginally so. The traditional OMD elements are here: synth melodies, electric beat, keyboard washes and sparse emotive vocals.
The one thing that’s missing from the group’s salad days are the big hits. There’s no If You Leave-type tunes here, but the music is lighter than air and not in a shallow way. There’s joy in the tracks and a sense of adventure.
Although the style sticks to the melodic keyboard/synth melodies of OMD of old, there’s a spirit of exploration and play.
Helen of Troy is a classic ballad pushed along by a steady pulse and yearning vocal that flirts with a sombre sentiment but yields to a hopeful melody. It resolves in a wistful standoff between the resigned idealism of the ‘80s’ OMD and a pared down simplicity that reflects the passing years.
Even U.K. synthpop poster boys can age with relevance.
— Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new releases for The Morning Star every Friday.