Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) are an English electronic music band formed in Wirral, Merseyside in 1978. Spawned by earlier group The Id, the outfit was founded by Andy McCluskey (vocals, bass guitar) and Paul Humphreys (keyboards, vocals); amid rotating line-ups, Martin Cooper (various instruments) and Malcolm Holmes (drums) are the longest-serving additional members. OMD released their influential debut single, “Electricity“, in 1979, and gained popularity throughout Europe with the 1980 anti-war song “Enola Gay“. The band achieved broader recognition via their seminal album Architecture & Morality (1981) and its three singles, all of which were international hits. Steadily resistant to celebrity status, the group earned acclaim for their adventurous recordings, which combined sonic experimentation and atypical subject matter with musical hooks.
Although retrospectively described as a challenging masterpiece, the avant-garde Dazzle Ships (1983) eroded European support: the band embraced a more straightforward pop sound on Junk Culture (1984), while continuing to experiment via newly acquired digital samplers. This change in direction led to greater success in the United States, and yielded the 1986 hit, “If You Leave“. A year after the release of The Best of OMD (1988), creative differences rendered McCluskey the only remaining member of the group as Humphreys formed spin-off band The Listening Pool. OMD would return with a new line-up and explore the dance-pop genre: Sugar Tax (1991) and its initial singles were sizeable hits in Europe. By the mid 1990s, however, electronic music had been supplanted by alternative rock, and both OMD and The Listening Pool disbanded in 1996. McCluskey went on to found, and write multiple hits for girl group Atomic Kitten, while Humphreys performed as half of the duo Onetwo.
In 2006, the outfit reformed with Humphreys back in the fold, and began to work on material more akin to their early output. The band re-established themselves as a chart act in Europe, while enjoying a growing international fanbase and a legacy as innovators within popular music. An influence on many artists in diverse genres, their songs have been covered, remixed and sampled by numerous chart musicians, and the group are the subject of two tribute albums. The Oxford Times described OMD as being “among the most important bands Britain has ever produced”.
Electricity—-Although at this late date, this first single from the band sounds a bit rudimentary and basic, with the available technology…indeed this was groundbreaking. The synth lines are simple and without huge flourish….but considering the times, this still stands up as a damn pleasant song. The vocal is distant and a bit robotic….exactly matching the music of the times. This is brilliant.
Messages—-Full of swirling synths and promises of the things to come, this single is much in the vein as the previous track. The vocal seems much more present and up front in the song…but never allows the synth and machines to not be the star of the show. This is brilliantly distant and inhuman….while still remaining real and warm. Phenomenal.
Enola Gay—-One wonders how such a morbid topic could be turned into such a brilliant pop song….but indeed OMD manage to do just that. This track is fuller…with a bit of a deeper sound and the emerging technology helping to round out the sound and make it warmer. This was a favorite of mine….and it still plays very well today.
Souvenir—-With a deeper sound at the onset, the high tones of the synth emerge…but this track has a much different sound for me. The underlying melody line is brilliant and the vocal gives me chills. The voice is distant but so warm and harmonious…..I love the entire feel of this track…making me feel warm and incredibly lonely at the same time.
Joan Of Arc—-Eerie and empty at the onset, this is stripped down synth brilliance. The track opens up a bit with brighter keyboard tones…..the vocal sounding way in the back of the mix. The swells of music seem to almost grow as the song progresses…but to me…this is not the best of. The chorus line is catchy….but the emotion seems empty.
Maid Of Orleans—-This was a surprise for me at first listen…the track has a noisy quality as the introduction that seems out of place with the ensuing mellow feel of the synth line. The swirls and atmosphere are heavy…a faux bagpipe sound plays in the backdrop that gives a large yet sad feel to the whole affair. Just wonderful.
Telegraph—-Almost seeming to revert back to the very early synth feel of the band, this is more rudimentary and poppy. This lacks the warmth and the feel of melancholy of the few past songs…instead…almost a step back…a band trying to re-find itself with a Depeche Mode sound that manages to play rather well.
Tesla Girls—-Full of effects, different style vocals and a dance floor ready synth line, this is even more removed from some of the earlier songs. There is that slight lower synth line that manages to conjure up a bit of darkness…but this is bright and brilliant pop music that sounds dated now. I love the smooth vocal…making me think of Spandau Ballet…..not a throwaway…but a step away for me.
Locomotion—-Deeper in tone and with a very odd vocal I really do not care for this song. The horns are an interruption to the basic style that the band helped to create. The female vocals are not needed…to me this was a waste of space on this comp. I really do not like this.
Talking Loud And Clear—-A nice return to form, this song has a deeper synth line that adheres to my sensibilities from the first listen. The vocal is bare and understated…matching the lines of the song in perfect pitch. This is brilliant…that deep hum coming through loud and clear to my ears. This is more to my liking.
So In Love—-Poppy and filled with classic OMD lines, this is wonderful. The swirls wrap you in a blanket of pleasure…the vocal is warmer and much more in the mix. This has a much larger sound and a more updated sound that works really well with the music. This has a lot of similarities with If You Leave…but I will accept it…it is fantastic.
Secret—-Returning with a female backed vocal that does not sit well with me, the song is very dance floor oriented. When the proper vocal enters, it fills me with joy once again…making me feel comfortable and allowing a slight grin to spread on my face. This is wonderfully understated and classic in sound. This reminds me of Book Of Love!
If You Leave—-Perhaps the bands best known work among casual listeners, this is by no means a throw away…but is steeped in 80’s defined sound and a step away from the melancholy feel of the earlier material I really fell in love with. I like this still…but not something I turn to automatically. Sounds much more British….lol
Forever Live And Die—-This is brilliant!!!! There is an almost reggae flavor to the underlying synth line and again makes me think of Book Of Love. This is stark yet full….sad and with a chorus that will stay in your brain for days on end. This is a fantastic….brilliant…wonderful track!
Dreaming—-Delivered at a much faster pace, the song does not suffer for it. The voice is top notch and the synth lines so much more progressive. This is warm and brilliantly delivered with a nice pop sensibility. There is no fault to be found with this single…..its fantastic.
Genetic Engineering—-Robotic and sounding like a Thomas Dolby impersonation at the onset, the song opens up with a galloping synth line that makes me smile once again. The vocal is warm yet distant…magical piece of history and pretty interesting to listen back on these days.
We Love You [12″ Version]—-Steeped in dance floor synths and heavy bass beats, my favorite thing about this track is the classic sound of the vocal….despite the dreaded female backing vocal the song still plays very well….
Le Femme Accident [12″ Version]—-This is ok….I guess….lol. I really don’t care for the Eartha Kitt/Grace Jones style snippets that are included on the track. I would rather have a more stripped down version.
**** out of 5