OMD - English Electric
Most people’s “Ooh, I love a bit of 80s...” rose-tinted nostalgia usually manifests itself as a teary, post-divorce fondness for ‘True’ or a WKD-fuelled dash for the dance floor when ‘Come On Eileen’ signals the end of the office Christmas party. It’s a curious strand of the chaos theory of pop that defines not just the longevity of the Smash Hits survivors but also their credibility. While the retro package tours offer a hedge-your-bets menu of one hit wonders and a natural home for those who’ve turned to gardening (Kim Wilde) or reality TV (Limahl), stalwarts with stronger stomachs stay the course for rewards more rock ‘n’ roll by far. Was there ever a cooler way to stick it to the man than doing what you want to do, especially if it’s a generation after you started doing it?
A few years ago, OMD made good on their 2006 ‘classic’ line-up reformation with the support slot on Simple Minds’ tour of UK arenas. If you didn’t know, you’d have struggled to spot who was topping the bill, such was the reception the openers received. And for once this was no act of collective amnesia. OMD were disgracefully youthful, well-drilled and brilliant. On that evidence alone, let alone a clutch of headline tours since they regrouped, they remain a formidable live proposition. Andy McCluskey, whose live shapes have always had a winning touch of dad dancing about them, covers enough miles in his fifties to make the young pups shiver.
Alongside contemporaries like The Human League, Heaven 17 and Erasure, OMD have twigged that a combination of solid showmanship (often, as is the vogue across genres, focusing on key albums or phases) and new material true to their heritage, is enough to keep hold of a fan base happy to shell out the hard-earned for more than just a trip down memory lane. Of course, it does your appeal no harm if you have this little lot in your repertoire: ‘Messages’, ‘Electricty’, ‘Enola Gay’, ‘Maid of Orleans’, ‘Sailing on the Seven Seas’, ‘Souvenir’ (subtly referenced here on the beautiful ‘Stay With Me’), ‘Joan of Arc’. But forget that gleaming back catalogue for English Electric slaps the unsuspecting around the chops with a big, fat slice of here and now.
It really is exceptional, a glorious late-in-the-day achievement. Brimming with intelligence and soul, it’s as alert to the possibilities of pop as any number of hungry youths, but cool with the self-assurance that comes with age and no longer having to compete with anyone but yourselves.
English Electric is beautifully programmed. And beautifully programmed. A rainbow of artful analogue, it sounds sensational but its smart sequencing is due to more than just a working knowledge of the Korg manual. Listen in full, for here’s an album that repays old fashioned attention. From the bleeps and whirrs of intro ‘Please Remain Seated’ into the eight minute opener proper ‘Metroland’, though to the closing ‘Final Song’, English Electric is a distinct and sweet ride.
Fans of the early minimalism will find as much here to chew on as those who found the later early 90s pop shapes easier to digest. ‘Helen of Troy’ toys playfully with the anthemic swell of ‘Maid of Orleans’ but OMD earn their right to a cheeky self-awareness with a clutch of songs tuneful and expertly arranged and produced. Old stagers really shouldn’t be making synth-pop as extravagant and engaging as ‘Night Cafe’ and ‘Dresden’ but then again, OMD were never your common or garden ‘80s act’. English Electric goes toe to toe with those early, genre-defining works and so it should – why be coy? The true survivors always come out fighting.