Synthpop duo Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys – best known as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) – have returned with English Electric, the follow-up album to 2010’s History of Modern. It’s the band’s 12th studio album and the second since McCluskey and Humphreys, along with the original touring members, resurrected the group.
English Electric is a concept album of sorts that tells the story of a utopian future gone technologically awry – so much so that a dystopian catastrophe is the result. McCluskey and Humphreys use computer-spoken interlude tracks to generate a coherent storyline by linking the tracks.
The record opens with one of these tracks. A female robotic voice proclaims, “The future that you have anticipated has been cancelled. Please remain seated and wait for further instructions.” Lead single “Metroland” – a seven-and-a-half minute poppy, cheerful, and upbeat tune – follows this warning. Much like the instrumentation, the lyrics are simple, but they pertain to the dystopian themes of the album.
And this minimalistic approach to instrumentation pervades English Electric – especially when you compare the record to other OMD albums. But it still contains the trademark sound that OMD have crafted over the years by continuing to demonstrate the band’s interest in the relationship between science and art. Echoing the soundscapes of History of Modern and Kraftwerk, the album fits and functions perfectly like gears in a machine, with the exception of “Our System,” which sticks out more than any other track on the album. It’s notably the darkest song on the album, instrumentally and lyrically.
Another standout track is “Kissing The Machine,” which is a rewrite of a song that McCluskey and former Kraftwerk member Karl Bartos originally wrote in 1993 for their Elektric Music collaborative project. Only containing remnants of the original version, the revived track includes vocals from Claudia Brücken, who frequently collaborates with Humphreys.
Taken as a whole, English Electric encompasses the ideas of living in an autonomous and conformed world. But that world is humanized and personified in OMD’s music as society’s attempt to build a harmonious structure that completely fell short.
On English Electric, OMD continues to do what they do best: breathing life and soul into an otherwise technological landscape.