For all Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark’s success, and their countless albums, it is interesting to note that their music is created from more of an experimental ethic, rather than the more sugary synth ballads for which they are known, from a chart standpoint.
The formula on most of their records is really the anti-formula; expose the boundaries, allow the oscillators and sine waves to hover in a new-wave impressionism, then throw in a few incredible hooks to appeal to the masses. For over 30 years (minus about 9 years where founding fathers Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys worked on a host of other projects) OMD perfected the art of making synth music feel warm and inviting, albeit in a melancholy sort of way. English Electric continues in the vein they have carefully crafted over the years while also dipping into new territory.
The album features songs like ‘Stay With Me’ that are so sugary sweet they might leave a cavity in the musical centre of the brain, then switches to the 7 minute synth epic in ‘Metroland’. ‘Night Cafe’ has been given the responsibility of departing from the darker mood offering a sound and temperament similar to their classic hit ‘If You Leave’, but even in their lightest moments, there is an undercurrent not necessarily heard but felt. That moodier presence surfaces in tracks like ‘Our System’ where we are called to save ourselves from ourselves, or the robotic narrator who informs us that “the future you have anticipated has been cancelled” on ‘Please Remain Seated’.
Only a few years removed from their last release History of Modern, English Electric is fairly close in stature to its previous cousin, but both are quite a departure from their first self-titled release back in 1980, showing that OMD are on a still-evolving journey. Their minimalist arrangements continue to form the band’s foundation, but here they are used in combination with smooth vocoder effects in songs like ‘Decimal’, or massive bass wobbles in ‘The Future is Silent’. Incidentally, this last song would have been a better title for the album as the main concept, both musically and lyrically, revives the man vs machine debate with gusto. It’s a bit of an overused trope, which was perfected in the late ’70s by Kraftwerk, a band whose influences can be heard on virtually every OMD record. Nevertheless, expect a narrative about our relationship with technology.
OMD have remained consistent throughout their years. They are instantly recognisable with Humphries’ endearing approach to the vocals; a voice that was built for new wave synth pop. Their production has tightened, but their sound generally stays true to the elements that have kept them relevant throughout all these years. Electric English is not groundbreaking nor really anything that competes with the band’s back catalogue, but overall it’s a good listen that will happily satisfy OMD’s fans.