OMD: History of Modern

RIYL: old-school OMD, Kraftwerk

One could make a strong case for OMD as one of the most overlooked bands of synth pop’s first wave, and ironically, it was their commercial success that diminished their profile. Before the band struck American gold with “So in Love” and “If You Leave,” OMD were more inclined to mess around with their new toys just to see what kinds of sounds they could make. Hit songs were a bonus, but the band was more concerned with making art with a capital A. Then those hits came, and damned if it didn’t feel nice and warm in the spotlight. The band wanted to stay there a little longer, so they made 1986’s The Pacific Age. They were rewarded with one Top 20 single in “(Forever) Live and Die” and declining record sales on both sides of the pond. Not even a support slot on Depeche Mode’s stadium-filling Music for the Masses tour could stop the band from imploding, as singer Andy McCluskey watched the rest of the band walk away. Whoops.


McCluskey ultimately grew tired of carrying the OMD torch by himself after 1996’s Universal, but it was ten more years before McCluskey and co-founder Paul Humphreys buried the hatchet and embarked on a special tour featuring the band’s Architecture and Morality in its entirety (which makes them trendsetters on the ‘full album live’ front). At long last, McCluskey and Humphreys, along with original rhythm section Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper, are releasing History of Modern, their first album together since The Pacific Age. The good news is that they clearly recognize that there was magic in the sound of those early albums that was missing from their later work. The bad news is that they seem content to use their old songs as the framework for their new ones. And Humphreys doesn’t get a single lead vocal.

Sometimes the similarities to earlier songs are subtle, like the vocal in ther verses to “The Right Side.” The track itself is pure Krautrock goodness, but the vocal melody in the verse bears a strong resemblance to “We Love You.” Other songs are a bit more outspoken in terms of their origins; “RFWK,” another Kraut-ish gem (the title references the first initials of Kraftwerk’s best-known lineup), is essentially the 2010 version of “Souvenir,” while “Sister Mary Says” is a little bit “Enola Gay,” a little bit “Dreaming,” with a vocal melody in the verse that recalls the unintelligible vocal snippet throughout “Flame of Hope.” Interestingly, this song’s origins go back to 1981, and McCluskey revisited it for inclusion on Universal, but decided against it because it sounded too much like old OMD. That the song would be acceptable for inclusion now is either amusing, cynical or sad – we’re honestly not sure which.

Sonically, History of Modern chugs along like the long-lost follow-up to Junk Culture. Musically, it could have used a little more time in the oven. There are glimmers of hope here and there, like the shimmering “Sometimes” (dig the Macy Gray-ish vocals by Jennifer John), but the next time McCluskey and Humphreys decide to make a record together, let’s hope that the collaboration is a mutual one, rather than Humphreys agreeing to perform a bunch of songs McCluskey has already written. (Bright Antenna 2010)

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