It seems that with pushing, prodding, studied research and thorough analysis, one could make a good argument that the best band in Rock history is either The Traveling Wilburys (who have the strongest lineup of the entire Rock pantheon—plus if you can get Dylan to fart out a song as throwaway silly/ solidly fantastic as “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” you are doing something right; very right!) or OMD. Many have aimed their musical arrows at the heart of pop music and few have so successfully pulled the Robin Hood-like feat of finding the bullseye over and over again, splitting arrows in half. “If You Leave,” “Secret,” “Enola Gay,” “Electricity”… You could teach a class on songwriting formula based solely on OMD’s singles. Buddy Holly ,Curt Cobain or the Killers somehow could have sung every one of these. They are poppy but they take chances.
Through the 80s OMD had both mathematic precession and a touch of the avant garde. They navigated their way through the music landscape with obligatory synths and drum clicks while somehow (almost) always rising above the herd. After the original duo (Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys) split in 1988, McCluskey began slipping in his uber human music skills (though he managed to create a girl band and write “Whole Again” the 4th best selling single by a girl group of all time).
Now, 24 years after the duo’s last recording (the exceptional Pacific Age) the world gets their new offering, History Of Modern. Oh boy!
It’s a shame that almost every sin and faux pas that OMD should have avoided has been smeared throughout this album like shit on a serial killer’s dungeon walls. OMD sound as if they are trying to prove that they are bloated and out of touch: antiquated sounds that were once “Modern,” rhymes and lyrics that are so easy they veer past lazy into a territory of learning deficiencies and inbred mental retardation. I don’t even like the cover of the album, what with an orange background and linear shapes like it was 1983 and the future was digital and bright.
The thing is, despite being a misstep for OMD, its pores are still oozing with sugary hooks, mellotron swells, machine-like blips and repeatable choruses as to make it fun and engaging. Every song is set to medium pop-proven 100bpm tempo, which becomes robotically bland though it is perfect to jog to. I imagine some weathered pirate slave ship blasting History Of Modern all day so that its minions can row in rhythmic unison while bopping their scurvy-ridden heads. “New Babies: New Toys” and “History of Modern” are highlights that show why one would keep playing with the exact same formula for over 30 years.
The overriding problem of the album, as I see it, is that it feels like OMD were trying to come back strong and rule the pop charts once again. It comes off like the nerd in some teen movie who arrives at the dance wearing a “magic” cologne that he delusionally thinks makes him a chick magnet--he asks the prettiest girl in school for a dance and then she kicks him in the balls. This album is the nerd’s invitation. Cover your balls boys.
OMD’s contemporaries who managed to still stick around (The Cure, Depeche Mode, Morrissey) still release successful, interesting albums but they are confident without being unrealistic, mellow without being boring and they all fuck with the formula now and again.