Album Review: OMD – English Electric

By on Monday, 15th April 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

OMD English Electric coverOMD‘s triumphant return to popular music after 14 years was marked 3 years ago with 2010’s ‘History of Modern’, marked by the excellent and melodically memorable ‘New Babies, New Toys’ and ‘Sister Marie Says’. In 2013, they try their hand again with their latest LP, called ‘English Electric’. It’s an interesting and cheeky title to say the least: while NME rails on in search of the next “great British guitar band” as if to completely ignore the shift towards electronic and all the New Wave loving that has happened in recent years, the arrival of OMD’s new baby seems to herald a new age of embracing synthesisers, sequencers, the whole lot all over again. Or not?

I have always been one to be critical of the opening track of an album. Regardless of what iTunes’ agenda is, to me, the opening track sets the stage for what comes after and can be a good of a barometer as any as to how the party ahead will unfold. So if you groan as you queue up ‘Please Remain Seated’, don’t panic, you’re not the only one. There is a series of tone that are not unlike the tones you hear when the doors close on the Metro (the DC version of the tube). The first voice you hear is of a Chinese woman’s, and upon first listen, I thought, ok, something about a departing plane…surely there’s got to be more to that? I even had my other mother sit down with it to see if I’d missed anything. No, the journey is set to depart from Shanghai to Macau at a certain time… Nothing exciting there. Then there’s another, Western voice, though robotic, is clear enough for you to glean “the future that you have anticipated has been cancelled. Please remain seated and wait for further instructions”. Okay, that’s just creepy. (And later into the album, you get other weird moments with ‘Decimal’ and ‘Atomic Ranch’…)

Having been sufficiently creeped out by your introduction, you’re led into ‘Metroland’, punctuated by plinky plonky notes. The best thing about this song is Andy McCluskey’s voice, yearning in its earnestness, but not even he can really save this song. ‘Night Cafe’ suffers the same fate. The experimental ‘The Future Will Be Silent’ will excite those with less conventional tastes, with its unusual buzzings and what sounds like voices being pulled around tight corners like taffy. I think it sounds absolutely dotty. ‘Kissing the Machine’ has an affable melody you can hum to all right, but substantial it is not.

Then it all comes down to ‘Stay with Me’ to save the day. I remember reading years ago on the internet, with much interest, that it was the American market that grabbed onto the ‘If You Leave’ with its collective teeth and would not let go, pretty much ignoring the rest of OMD’s later catalogue. If that is still the case, then the Americans – and people around the world – are going to grab hold of this song this time around. With wistful lyrics (“only I’m the one to stop them falling / falling down like rain / if only I could stop those tears that knock you down again”) with a melody that is instantly recognisable, it’s the 2013 version of ‘If You Leave’ that will no doubt leave couples swaying in time at their upcoming UK shows. Mark my words.

Next track ‘Dresden’ finally speeds things up, thank goodness, and just about time. However, I don’t think is has anything to do with the German city. I don’t know about you, but when I think of synthesisers, and I think about dancing, and otherwise, ‘English Electric’ is just not the kind of album you take onto the dance floor with you. It’ s just…not. But you can count on this one being on the list being played at live shows this year. It’s the up tempo version of OMD most people love and remember.

Other moments on this album are so-so. ‘Helen of Troy’ is the ‘English Electric ‘version Joan of Arc’, going backwards in time to take the story of a courageous young woman of days gone by and paying tribute to her: “because I cannot cry / ever again”. ‘Our System’ gets points for unconventional song structure: beginning with post-industrial buzzing, it somehow ends up with an uplifting chorus…before it returns from whence it came, the whistlings of electronics.

Most confusing of all though is probably ‘Final Song’, which of course comes at the end. It has a weird ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ rhumba vibe to it, and womens’ gasps and operatic notes. Not exactly what springs to mind when you read ‘English Electric’. The lack of linearity of this album, coupled with seriously odd moments, makes this album a challenging one, even for those of us who are more likely to hug a Korg than a tree. I like Kraftwerk and Paul Humphreys makes the point in the video below that the album was made to sound “Kraftwerk-ian”, but I can’t relate. Maybe I’ll have a change of heart when I see them in Gateshead in May?

6/10

‘English Electric’, the new album from OMD, is out now on 100%. Watch the videos for ‘Metroland’ and ‘Decimal’ on this previous Video(s) of the Moment post. A video of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys explaining the album can be watched below. OMD begin a UK tour at the end of this month, starting on the 28th of April in Margate.

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2 Responses

8:14 pm
30th April 2013

C’mon Mary, bone up on your music history before writing your next collection of drivel. In two words ‘plinky plonky’ you completely dissed the entire genre of electronic music. Your insight reminds me of a suburban housewive telling a skilled carpenter how to hammer a nail. That ‘plinky plonky’ sound was an amazing homage to the band Kraftwerk, whose influence on modern music goes so way beyond the synthesizer or electronic music. ‘plinky plonky’….. Really? Better stick to reviewing the timeless music of Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers.

9:17 am
4th May 2013

English Electric is a great album. Not a classic, but still a great album. It owes much of its genesis to Dazzle Ships, one of OMD’s most innovative, yet overlooked albums.

Metroland is a great ‘poppy’ song that doesn’t pretend to be much else. Night Cafe conjures up images of a Berlin Cafe. Please Remain Seated is a very brave entry to an album that sounds great and conveys an important message.

Bolder than History of Modern, English Electric is a solid album mixing popular songs with sonic interludes to create a unique album that stands up to repeat listening.

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