My introduction to OMD was backwards. Before classic singles like “Enola Gay” or “Electricity,” I heard their fairly obscure 1983 album Dazzle Ships. To say that I fell in love with that record immediately is an absolute understatement: I was completely, totally, and utterly obsessed.
I first heard Dazzle Ships while I was writing and recording the second Telekinesis album, 12 Desperate Straight Lines. It was one of those records that hit me at the complete right moment. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and I’ll never forget that time in my life. I went to Berlin for a month that February (following in the footsteps of David Bowie and Lou Reed) and every time I listen to Dazzle Ships, it reminds me of frigid Februarys in industrial Berlin, the perfect soundtrack to my frozen tram and U-Bahn rides, and apocalyptic German industrial landscapes.
I later visited the OMD back catalogue (which was extensive!) and was eventually enamored and obsessed with everything up through 1981’s Architecture & Morality. It seemed, for a large part of my life about a year ago, that every time I went to pick out a record from my collection, it would be an OMD record. I’ve logged a lot of hours with that band.
Dazzle Ships remains my favorite record, however, even though it was the record that started their decline in popularity and critical acclaim. It was no wonder why the mainstream didn’t really get it. Dazzle Ships is comprised of 12 songs, which, on paper, sounds like it’s a full record of OMD pop hits. But, in reality, it’s basically four or five pop gems. The rest of the songs are sound collages of shortwave radio samples. And it is genius.
Which brings us to OMD’s newest offering, English Electric. Full disclosure: I was kind of terrified to hear this record. I honestly haven’t followed much of the band post Dazzle Ships. The record after that, Junk Culture, was not something I could sink my teeth into. So I haven’t really heard much of anything from them even though I know they put out a new record a few years ago, and toured behind it as well.
Back to my being terrified, though. When bands age, sometimes it is without much grace or filter. The aforementioned Lou Reed, for instance. The man was absolutely brilliant, and epitomized “cool” for most of the population in the late ’60s and early ’70s. But at this point, it’s almost tragic comedy, what he’s up to, the Lou Reed/Metallica record being one glaring example. And I get it. I think as we get older, we inherently change, and that is OK and it is allowed.
OMD, bless their hearts, have reached back to their milestone that was Dazzle Ships, and made an absolutely gorgeous record that picks up where that one left off. And my goodness, have they aged gracefully.
English Electric opens in an almost identical fashion to Dazzle Ships. The 43-second “Please Remain Seated” has the same sound collage style, but sounds modernized, and true to the time period. It runs directly into the brilliant “Metroland,” which really sets the tone for this entire record. OMD were unabashed fans of Kraftwerk. I think the lore goes that Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys attended a Kraftwerk show at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool in 1975. From the interviews I’ve read, they came home from that show, ransacked their parents’ Sears-style catalogues, ordered a Korg Micropreset and made some drum machines, and they have been writing songs in that vein ever since. This record in particular feels like a real homage to Kraftwerk, which could be a super-slippery slope. But it feels less like ripping off and more like paying tribute.
Highlights like “The Future Will Be Silent” and “Dresden” sound like they could have been written 30 years ago, and I do not mean that negatively in the slightest. But for me, it’s the four sound collage songs that make this record brilliant. They act like sonic palette cleansers — without them, there would be no variety. Also, they are dystopian hymns to a seemingly fucked future world (which we can all relate to, I think). Songs like “Stay with Me” and “Helen of Troy” sound like updated versions of the mega-hit “Souvenir” (from Architecture & Morality), but they hold their own all the better.
It should be noted as well that their artwork has aged gracefully too, thanks to the brilliant designs of Factory Records wizard Peter Saville. The cover of English Electric features the same stark modernism that has become a personal favorite of mine, and was totally a direct influence for the cover art of Telekinesis’ new record Dormarion. So hats off to Peter Saville, and for OMD for continuing to trust him with their album design.
Maybe “The Future Will Be Silent.” But not if OMD has anything to do about it.