At first listen 'English Electric' feels like 'Dazzle Ships' all over again, another polarising moments in their career. Back in 1983, in the case of 'Dazzle Ships', that meant the band turning their back on all the things that had made them enormously successful with their first three albums (as unlikely as it may sound that meant songs about legendary women from history, atom bombs, and science) and instead presenting a suite of songs based around experimental sounds sampled from sources such as radio broadcasts and the talking clock. In commercial terms 'Dazzle Ships' was a disaster, although in retrospective it is certainly one of OMD's most interesting albums.
'English Electric' treads similar ground in that on first listen it's nothing like I expected it to be. It's made up of a combination of full songs and much shorter musical vignettes, it relies heavily on synthesised voices, and the majority of the songs are stripped back to their bare, electronic bones.
But that's just the first listen, and this is definitely an album that benefits from repeated listenings, listenings that start to reveal that the electronic heart of OMD is alive and well, beating away at the core of the album. It's not just that the album contains a song about a legendary woman from history (Helen of Troy this time) or that it continues to explore OMD's enduring themes of universe, loss and technology. What makes 'English Electric' such a successful OMD album is that it combines the two things that the band are really about; electronic melodies combined with Andy McCluskey's distinctive vocals. The first are packaged in a different way which is at first slightly shocking, these melodies are stark, minimal and less 'friendly' than a lot of the band's previous output, but as if to compensate there's more passion than ever in McCluskey's vocal performances so somehow the status quo is maintained.
And the more I listen, the more I find little links to OMD's previous work: the way 'Stay With Me' recalls 'Souvenir, or 'Dresden' recalls 'Sailing On The Seven Seas' to use specific examples, or the way that so many moments on the album echo 'Architecture & Morality' and 'Dazzle Ships'. But this isn't an album steeped in nostalgia, on the opening track 'Please Remain Seated' we are warned that the future we anticipated has been cancelled. on the strength of 'English Electric' - my new favourite OMD album - the future may now be even better.
Please Remain Seated / Metroland / Night Café / The Future Will Be Silent / Helen of Troy / Our System / Kissing the Machine / Decimal / Stay With Me / Dresden / Atomic Ranch / Final Song
'The Next Day' was released on April 6th 2013 on CD, vinyl and via download.
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