Vermilion Sands

English Electric Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

released: 2013-04-08
on label: 100%
genre: Synthpop
listen at: Apple Spotify YouTube Music

On their second album since their 2005 reunion, synth pop pioneers Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark rekindle the spirit of two new wave classics, the first being their own “slept on” masterpiece from 1983, Dazzle Ships, an album that pushed the boundaries sonically. From the blippy, robotic, and almost musique concrète opener “Please Remain Seated” to the geometric sleeve that credits DZ designer Peter Saville with Executive Art Design, English Electric carries on the pop-meets-avant-garde spirit of that fan favorite album. It gives up a love song like “Night Café” that’s so glossed and polished that it could be used in a John Hughes film, and then it offers an edgy swerve like “Decimal,” where answering machine messages, countdowns, and other disembodied voices provided some kind of silicon chorus that’s equally majestic and precise.

Propaganda singer Claudia Brücken contributes some seductive computer voice narration on the highlight “Kissing the Machine,” which, being co-written and previously performed by Karl Bartos, brings to light the album’s other obvious influence, Kraftwerk. Key cut “Metroland” is dangerously close to Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights,” and with its booming drum beat and sampled choir, “Our System” sounds like Andy McCluskey crooning at the Electric Café, but what a croon it is. Here, his voice is comfortable for the most part, full-bodied the whole way through, and powerful when need be, while background tracks are constructed with care, combining angular and certain beats with melodies that are either majestic and big or pillowy clouds of future fluff.

Put it all together and it is the kind of OMD long-time fans crave, and if it comes closest to pandering with “Helen of Troy” (their “Joan of Arc” revisited) the duo’s performances are as inspired as they are familiar, and you can say the same for most of the song writing. Still, OMD’s Kraftwerk fixation at this late date is a retro-within-retro move that puzzles, so prepare to be jarred a bit before declaring this a welcome addition to the catalog.