Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) are an English electronic band formed in Wirral, Merseyside, in 1978. The group consists of founding duo and principal songwriters Andy McCluskey (vocals, bass guitar) and Paul Humphreys (keyboards, vocals), along with Martin Cooper (keyboards, saxophone) and Stuart Kershaw (drums). Regarded as pioneers of electronic music, OMD combined an experimental, minimalist ethos with pop sensibilities, becoming key figures in the emergence of synth-pop; McCluskey and Humphreys also introduced the "synth duo" format to British popular music. In the United States, the band were an early presence in the MTV-driven Second British Invasion.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Founders Andy McCluskey (left) and Paul Humphreys performing at Corona Capital in Mexico City, 2011
Founders Andy McCluskey (left) and Paul Humphreys performing at Corona Capital in Mexico City, 2011
Background information
Also known asOMD
OriginMeols, Merseyside, England
Genres
DiscographyOrchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark discography
Years active
  • 1978–1996
  • 2006–present
Labels
Spinoffs
Spinoff of
Members
Past members
Websiteomd.uk.com

McCluskey and Humphreys led precursor group the Id from 1977 to 1978, and re-recorded their track "Electricity" as OMD's debut single in 1979. Weathering an "uncool" image and a degree of hostility from music critics, the band achieved popularity throughout Europe with the 1980 anti-war song "Enola Gay", and gained further recognition via Architecture & Morality (1981) and its three hit singles. Although later reappraised, Dazzle Ships (1983) was seen as overly experimental, and eroded European support. The group embraced a more radio-friendly sound on Junk Culture (1984); this change in direction led to greater success in the US, and spawned hits including "If You Leave" (from the 1986 film Pretty in Pink).

In 1989, creative differences saw Humphreys and other members form the spin-off band the Listening Pool, leaving McCluskey the only remaining member of OMD. The group returned with a new line-up and explored the dance-pop genre: Sugar Tax (1991) and its initial singles were hits in Europe. OMD then began to flounder amid the guitar-oriented grunge and Britpop movements, eventually disbanding in 1996. McCluskey later founded girl group Atomic Kitten, for whom he served as a principal songwriter and producer, while Humphreys formed the duo Onetwo alongside lead vocalist Claudia Brücken of Propaganda.

In 2006, OMD reformed with McCluskey and Humphreys revisiting the more experimental territory of their early work. The band have achieved 14 top-20 entries on the UK Albums Chart, as well as global sales of 40 million records. Their 20th century output yielded 18 top-40 appearances on the UK Singles Chart, along with four top-40 entries on the US Billboard Hot 100. Described as one of the most influential synth-pop acts in history, OMD have inspired many artists across diverse genres and disciplines.

History edit

1975–1979: Roots and early years edit

 
Lead vocalist and co-founder Andy McCluskey in 2011

Founders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys met at primary school in Meols in the early 1960s, and in the mid-1970s, as teenagers, they were involved in different local groups but shared a distaste for guitar-driven rock with a macho attitude popular among their friends at the time.[6][7] By 1975, McCluskey had formed Equinox as bassist and lead vocalist, alongside schoolmate Malcolm Holmes on drums, while Humphreys was roadie. During that time, McCluskey and Humphreys discovered their electronic style, inspired by German band Kraftwerk.[8] After Equinox, McCluskey joined Pegasus,[9] and, later, the short-lived Hitlerz Underpantz, alongside Humphreys.[10][11] McCluskey would usually sing and play bass guitar; roadie and electronics enthusiast Humphreys, who shared McCluskey's love of electronic music,[12] graduated to keyboards.

In September 1977, McCluskey and Humphreys put together the seven-piece (three vocalists, two guitarists, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist) Wirral band the Id, whose line-up included drummer Malcolm Holmes and McCluskey's girlfriend Julia Kneale on vocals. The group began to gig regularly in the Merseyside area, performing original material (largely written by McCluskey and Humphreys). They had quite a following on the scene, and one of their tracks ("Julia's Song") was included on a compilation album of local bands called Street to Street – A Liverpool Album (1979).[11][13] Meanwhile, Humphreys and McCluskey collaborated on a side project called VCL XI, whose name was adapted from a diagram on the back cover of Kraftwerk's fifth studio album Radio-Activity (1975), reading "VCL 11". This project allowed them to pursue their more obscure electronic experiments.[11]

In August 1978, the Id broke up due to musical differences. The same month, McCluskey joined Wirral electronic outfit Dalek I Love You as lead vocalist, but quit in September.[13] Later that month, he rejoined Humphreys and their VCL XI project was renamed Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The name was gleaned from a list of song lyrics and ideas that were written on McCluskey's bedroom wall;[7] and was chosen so they would not be mistaken for a punk band.[14][15] Given that OMD intended to play only one gig, the duo considered their moniker to be inconsequential.[16] McCluskey has since expressed regret over choosing "such a very silly name".[15] The contrasting personalities of Humphreys and McCluskey established the band's dynamic, with the former saying that "two Pauls wouldn't get anything done and two Andys would kill each other."[17] They have further described their creative roles as "The Surgeon" (Humphreys) and "The Butcher" (McCluskey).[18] As working class youngsters,[19][20] OMD had a limited budget, using second-hand "junk-shop" instruments including a left-handed bass guitar (which McCluskey would play upside-down).[20][21] The pair also created their own devices, with Humphreys "making things out of his aunt's radios cannibalised for the circuit boards".[20][22] Eventually, they acquired a basic Korg M-500 Micro Preset synthesizer, purchased via McCluskey's mother's mail-order catalogue for £7.76 a week, paid over 36 weeks.[23][24]

OMD began to gig regularly as a duo, performing to backing tracks played from a TEAC 4-track tape-recorder christened "Winston" (after the antihero of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four). Their debut performance was in October 1978 at Eric's Club in Liverpool.[22] Finding themselves on the cusp of an electronic new wave in British pop music, they released a one-off single, "Electricity", with independent label Factory Records. The track was supposed to be produced by the Factory Records producer Martin Hannett. However, the A-side was the band's original demo produced by their friend, owner of Winston and soon to be manager, Paul Collister,[25] under the pseudonym Chester Valentino (taken from a nightclub called Valentino's in the nearby city of Chester). The single's sleeve was designed by Peter Saville, whose distinctive graphics contributed to OMD's public image into the 1980s.[11][12] "Electricity" became a seminal release within the burgeoning synth-pop movement,[26][27] and led to the band receiving a seven-album recording contract with Dindisc, worth over £250,000.[7][22]

In 1979, OMD were asked to support Gary Numan on his first major British tour. Humphreys noted, "[Numan] gave us our first big break. He saw us opening for Joy Division and he asked us to go on tour with him... we went from the small clubs to playing huge arenas. Gary was very good to us."[28] Numan later supported OMD on a 1993 UK arena tour.[29]

1980–1988: Classic line-up edit

"Musically, we were pushing boundaries as far as we could. At one Virgin meeting, the head of A&R asked us, 'Come on guys, are you [Karlheinz] Stockhausen or ABBA?' Andy [McCluskey] and I said together, 'Can't we be both?'"

Paul Humphreys[18]

Rather than hire studio time to record their eponymous debut album (1980), McCluskey and Humphreys used their advance payment from Dindisc to build their own Liverpool recording studio, called the Gramophone Suite. They predicted that they would be dropped by the label due to disappointing sales, but would at least own a studio.[22] The album showcased the band's live set at the time, and included some guest drums from former Id drummer Malcolm Holmes and saxophone from former Dalek I Love You member Martin Cooper. It had a raw, poppy, melodic synth-pop sound.[30][31] Dindisc arranged for the song "Messages" to be re-recorded (produced by Gong bassist Mike Howlett) and released as a single—it gave the band their first hit.[32] Dave Hughes (another Dalek I Love You alumnus), who joined OMD in 1980,[13] is featured in the "Messages" music video. A tour followed; Winston was augmented with live drums from Malcolm Holmes, and Dave Hughes played synthesizers. Hughes left OMD in late 1980.[33]

The band's second studio album, Organisation (a reference to the band which preceded Kraftwerk,[34] founded by Kraftwerk's original members Florian Schneider-Esleben and Ralf Hütter), followed later that year, recorded as a three-piece with Humphreys, McCluskey and Holmes. It was again produced by Howlett, and had a darker, moodier feel largely inspired by the passing of Joy Division lead vocalist and former Factory label-mate Ian Curtis.[35] The album included the anti-war[36][37] hit single "Enola Gay", named after the plane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.[32] The song was intended to be included on the debut studio album, but was left out at the final selection. The tour for this album had a four-piece band line-up, with Martin Cooper recruited for keyboard duties and enlisted as an official group member.[12] The McCluskey/Humphreys/Cooper/Holmes unit came to be regarded as the band's classic line-up.[38] In early 1981, readers of Record Mirror voted OMD the fourth-best band and eighth-best live act of 1980;[39] NME and Sounds readers named the group the eighth and 10th best new act of the year, respectively.[40] In Smash Hits, they were voted both the fifth-best band of 1980 and the eighth-hottest new act for 1981.[41]

Howlett then presided over the recording of a further hit single, "Souvenir", co-written by Cooper and Humphreys. It ushered in a lush choral electronic sound. The song also became OMD's biggest UK hit to date.[12][42] The band's third studio album, Architecture & Morality, was released in the UK and Europe in November 1981, becoming their most commercially successful studio album. The group went into the studio with Richard Manwaring producing.[12][42] Cooper then temporarily dropped out and was replaced by Mike Douglas, but this change was reversed by the time the album was released and a tour followed.[43] The album's sound saw OMD's original synth-pop sound augmented by the use of the Mellotron[44] (an instrument previously associated with progressive rock bands), adding atmospheric swatches of string, choir, and other sounds to their palette. Two more hit singles, "Joan of Arc" and "Maid of Orleans" (which became the biggest-selling single of 1982 in Germany[45]) were on the album. Both songs were originally titled "Joan of Arc"; the name of the latter single was changed to Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc) at the insistence of the publishers and to avoid confusion.[12] Readers of Smash Hits voted OMD the seventh-best group of 1981,[46] while Record Mirror readers named them the eighth-best band (as well as the 10th-best "new artist") and the third-best live act of the year.[47] The group came close to breaking up in 1982, with McCluskey later saying, "We had never expected the success, we were exhausted."[48]

 
Longtime instrumentalist Martin Cooper in 2018

In 1983, the band lost commercial momentum somewhat, with the release of their more experimental fourth studio album Dazzle Ships, produced by Rhett Davies, perhaps best known for his previous work with Roxy Music and Brian Eno. The record mixed melancholy synth ballads and uptempo synth-pop with musique concrète and short wave radio tape collages. Its relative commercial failure caused a crisis of confidence for Humphreys and McCluskey, and brought about a deliberate move towards the mainstream.[45] Their following studio album, 1984's Junk Culture, was a shift to a more pop-style sound, and the band used digital sampling keyboards such as the Fairlight CMI and the E-mu Emulator. The album was a success, reassuring the group about their new direction.[32] The "Locomotion" single returned them to the top five in the UK. Record Mirror readers named OMD the eighth-best live act of 1984.[49]

In 1985, the band expanded to a sextet with the addition of brothers Graham Weir (guitar, keyboards, trombone) and Neil Weir (keyboards, trumpet, bass guitar), and released their sixth studio album, Crush, produced by Stephen Hague in Paris and New York.[50] OMD had been an early presence in the Second British Invasion of the US,[51][52] but achieved their first Billboard Hot 100 hit with the no. 26 entry "So in Love". This led to some success for Crush, which entered the American Top 40. Later in 1985, the group were asked to write a song for the John Hughes film Pretty in Pink (1986). They offered "Goddess of Love", although the ending of the film was re-shot due to a negative response from test audiences. OMD then wrote "If You Leave" in less than 24 hours,[7] and it became a top 5 hit in the US, Canada, and New Zealand. Journalist Hugo Lindgren argued that the success of "If You Leave" has concealed from US audiences the band's history of making innovative music.[7]

In September 1986, the same six piece line-up also released their seventh studio album, The Pacific Age, but the group began to see their critical and public popularity wane notably in the UK. The album's first single, "(Forever) Live and Die", was a top 10 hit across Europe[53] and entered the top 20 in both the UK[54] and US. On 18 June 1988, OMD supported Depeche Mode at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California where they played to over 60,000 people. They also released the top 20 US hit "Dreaming" and a successful greatest hits album, The Best of OMD. Graham and Neil Weir left the band at the end of the 1988 US tour.

1989–1996: McCluskey-led OMD and disbandment edit

 
Keyboardist and co-founder Paul Humphreys departed in 1989

As OMD appeared poised to consolidate their US success, the band continued to fracture. Humphreys departed in 1989 amid personal and creative dissension with McCluskey.[4] Cooper and Holmes then left OMD to join Humphreys in founding a new band called the Listening Pool.[32][55] McCluskey recalled, "We were all in agreement that something was wrong. How to fix it was where we disagreed."[56]

This left only McCluskey to carry on, essentially becoming a solo artist working under the OMD banner. McCluskey's first album from the new OMD was the dance-pop studio album Sugar Tax in May 1991, which charted at No. 3 in the UK. McCluskey recruited Liverpool musicians Raw Unlimited (Lloyd Massett, Stuart Kershaw, Nathalie Loates) as collaborators for the making of Sugar Tax; writing credits carefully distinguished between songs written by OMD (i.e., McCluskey) and songs written by OMD/Kershaw/Massett.[57] This iteration of the group was initially successful, with hits such as "Sailing on the Seven Seas" and "Pandora's Box", with lesser success on fellow chart entries "Call My Name" and "Then You Turn Away". McCluskey's live band was then composed of Nigel Ipinson (keyboards), Phil Coxon (keyboards), and Abe Juckes (drums) from late 1990. Smash Hits readers voted OMD the sixth-best British group of 1991.[58]

The group's next studio album would be 1993's Liberator, which ventured further into dance territory.[59] It peaked at No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart. The lead single "Stand Above Me" peaked at no. 21 on the UK Singles Chart, with a follow-up single, "Dream of Me", charting at no. 24. Paul Humphreys was credited as co-writer of the single "Everyday" (a No. 59 UK chart entry). The fifth track from Liberator, "Dream of Me", was built around a sample from "Love's Theme" by Love Unlimited Orchestra, a song written and produced by Barry White.[60] To release the track as an OMD single, however, McCluskey had to agree that the single release would remove the actual "Love's Theme" sample, but still be officially titled "Dream of Me (Based on Love's Theme)", and furthermore would still give a writing credit to White.[61]

Also in 1993, McCluskey made contributions to the Elektric Music album Esperanto, a project by former Kraftwerk member Karl Bartos.[62]

McCluskey returned with a rotating cast of musicians for the more organic Universal (1996),[22] which featured two songs co-written by Humphreys as well as a holdover from the Esperanto sessions, co-written by Bartos. The record spawned OMD's first Top 20 hit in five years, "Walking on the Milky Way".

Although both Liberator and Universal produced minor hits, McCluskey retired OMD in late 1996, having faced waning public interest amid the grunge and Britpop movements.[4][63] A particular source of frustration was the modest commercial response to "Walking on the Milky Way", over which McCluskey said he "sweated blood", considering it "about as good a song as I could write". However, the track was not playlisted by BBC Radio 1, and Woolworths did not stock it. McCluskey said, "I just thought: 'Screw this, I'm not going to bang my head against a brick wall'."[64] A second singles album was released in 1998, along with an EP of remixed material by such acts as Sash! and Moby.[65][66]

Post-1996, McCluskey decided to focus on songwriting for such Liverpool-based acts as Atomic Kitten and Genie Queen, and trying to develop new Merseyside artists from his Motor Museum recording studio. With McCluskey focusing his talents elsewhere, Humphreys decided to work with his new musical partner Claudia Brücken (of the ZTT bands Propaganda and Act) as Onetwo. He also undertook a US live tour under the banner "Paul Humphreys from OMD".[67]

2006–2012: Reformation and comeback releases edit

 
McCluskey performing the "Trainee Teacher Dance" in 2018

An unexpected request to perform from a German television show led the group to reunite.[7] On 1 January 2006, McCluskey announced plans to reform OMD with the "classic" line-up of McCluskey, Humphreys, Holmes, and Cooper. The original plan was to tour the studio album Architecture & Morality and other pre-1983 material, then record a new studio album set for release in 2007. In May 2007, the Architecture & Morality remastered CD was re-released together with a DVD featuring the Drury Lane concert from 1981 that had previously been available on VHS. The band toured throughout May and June, beginning their set with a re-ordered but otherwise complete re-staging of the Architecture & Morality album. The second half of each concert featured a selection of their best known hits.[68]

Spring 2008 saw the release of a live CD and DVD of the 2007 tour, OMD Live: Architecture & Morality & More, recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. Also released was a 25th anniversary re-release of Dazzle Ships, including six bonus tracks. To tie-in with the re-release, the band made the brief "Messages 78-08 30th Anniversary Tour", featuring China Crisis as a support act.[69] A cover of Atomic Kitten's 2001 hit, "Whole Again" (which had been co-written by McCluskey), was included on Liverpool – The Number Ones Album (2008), marking OMD's first new studio recording in 12 years.

In June 2009, an orchestral concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic was played in Liverpool; a recording of this concert was released on DVD in December.[70] The band returned to arena touring in November and December, supporting Simple Minds on their Graffiti Soul Tour.[71] OMD had performed at the Night of the Proms festival in December 2006 in Germany, renewing the experience again in Belgium and the Netherlands that year. They were the headline act at Britain's first Vintage Computer Festival at The National Museum of Computing in June 2010.[72] Their eleventh studio album, History of Modern, was released in September 2010, reaching No. 28 in the UK Albums Chart and being followed by a European tour.[73] On 28 September, OMD performed as a special guest at the "first ever gig" of the Buggles.[74][75]

In March 2011, OMD played their first North American tour as the original line-up since 1988. In September, the band appeared at the Electric Picnic 2011 festival in Stradbally, County Laois, Ireland. In November 2011, OMD returned to the studio and started work on their next album, English Electric.[76] On 12 March 2012, the band played a concert in the Philippines at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City. In August, OMD performed to South African audiences in Cape Town and Johannesburg.[citation needed]

2013–2019: Return to prominence edit

"Being in Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark right now is just the most blessed thing... it's like being 19 again. We can do what the hell we want."

Andy McCluskey[77]

In 2013, OMD performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, on 14 and 21 April.[78] "Metroland", the first single from the forthcoming studio album English Electric, was released on 25 March 2013.[79] The album was released in the UK on 8 April, and entered the UK album chart at No. 12 and the German chart at No. 10. Reviews for both the album and their concerts were generally positive.[7] "The Future Will Be Silent", a 500-copy limited edition 10-inch picture disc EP from English Electric, was made available for Record Store Day 2013, and included a then-exclusive non-album track titled "Time Burns".[80][81] For Record Store Day 2015, a 1000-copy limited edition 10-inch EP of "Julia's Song (Dub Version)" from Junk Culture was made available, which includes an exclusive non-album track titled "10 to 1".

OMD performed a one-off concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London on 9 May 2016 to a sell-out crowd, playing both Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships in their entirety, along with other songs from before 1983. The only song post-1983 played was "History of Modern Part 1". The concert was recorded and made available on double CD right after the show, with a triple LP vinyl recording of the concert also being made available.[82] The band collaborated with Gary Barlow, Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman on the OMD song "Thrill Me", co-written by Barlow and McCluskey for the soundtrack of the 2015 film Eddie the Eagle.[83] Work began in October 2015 on what was to be their thirteenth studio album The Punishment of Luxury,[84] which was released on 1 September 2017 and charted at no. 4 in the UK.[85][86] OMD toured Europe and North America in support of the album, with Stuart Kershaw replacing Holmes as the band's drummer, due to the latter's health issues.[87]

In 2018, OMD published a book titled Pretending to See the Future, which is a first-person "autobiography" about the band. It mixed fan-submitted memories with commentary from McCluskey, Humphreys, Cooper, Holmes, and Kershaw. For people who pre-ordered the book on PledgeMusic, they received a limited-edition flexi-disc containing a previously unheard demo of "Messages" from 1978.[88][89]

As part of the group's 40th-anniversary celebrations, they embarked on a UK and European tour in 2019.[90] OMD won "Group of the Year" and "Live Act of the Year" in the 2019 Classic Pop Reader Awards.[91] A retrospective deluxe box set titled Souvenir was also released. The 40th anniversary collection includes the band's forty singles, including a new release titled "Don't Go". It also contains 22 previously unreleased recordings from the group's archive, selected and mixed by Paul Humphreys. Two audio live shows (one from 2011 and one from 2013) are also included, together with two DVDs bringing together two more live concerts (Drury Lane in 1981 and Sheffield City Hall in 1985) plus Crush – The Movie, and various BBC TV performances from Top of the Pops, The Old Grey Whistle Test and Later... with Jools Holland.[92]

2020–present: Continued acknowledgement edit

During the COVID-19 lockdown imposed in March 2020, McCluskey "rediscovered the creative power of boredom" and began writing material for OMD's next studio album.[93] In October, the band returned to live performance with a limited-capacity gig at London's indigo at The O2, with proceeds going to their road crew; the event was also streamed online.[94] In 2021, the Souvenir box set was nominated for "Best Historical Album" at the Grammy Awards.[95] Also that year, OMD celebrated the 40th anniversary of 1981's Architecture & Morality with a UK tour, and released a triple-vinyl set of the album's singles containing associated B-sides, demo recordings, and live tracks.[96]

In March 2022, a pair of concerts with a heavy emphasis on the group's more experimental work (rescheduled from September 2020), took place at the Royal Albert Hall, with a live album based on the shows released through the OMD store.[97][98] Another re-issue of 1983's Dazzle Ships, featuring previously unheard recordings, was announced for a March 2023 release.[99] OMD's fourteenth studio album, Bauhaus Staircase, was released on 27 October 2023;[100] it was preceded by a single, the title track, on 22 August.[101] The record debuted at no. 2 on the UK Albums Chart, matching the peak achieved by The Best of OMD (1988).[102] McCluskey has said that Bauhaus Staircase is likely to be the band's final album.[103]

Artistry and image edit

Spin wrote that "OMD set about reinventing punk with different applications of dance beats, keyboards, melodies, and sulks", rejecting the genre's "sonic trappings but not its intellectual freedom".[104] The group found commercial success with a style of synth-pop described as "experimental", "minimal[ist]" and "edgy".[2][105][106] OMD often eschewed choruses, replacing them with synthesizer lines, and opted for unconventional lyrical subjects such as industrial processes, micronations and telephone boxes;[107][108] the BBC said that the band "were always more intellectual" than "contemporaries like Duran Duran and Eurythmics".[109] Despite the group's experimentation, they employed pop hooks in their music,[110] attaining what AllMusic described as "the enviable position of at once being creative innovators and radio-friendly pop giants".[111] According to the NRC, OMD are "known as the band that managed to wring emotion from synthesizer pop".[112]

OMD have been recognised as the first of Britain's many "synth duo" acts.[113][114] Although the two original members enlisted other musicians over time, PopMatters wrote that the group remained, "in essence, the songwriting/recording duo of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys".[115] OMD continues to be termed a "duo" in the media.[116][117][118]

McCluskey and Humphreys were influenced by electronic artists such as Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Neu!,[12][119] as well as more mainstream acts like David Bowie and Roxy Music.[55] OMD drew inspiration from former Factory Records label-mates Joy Division, particularly during the making of Organisation (1980).[22] The band also recorded two Velvet Underground covers.[120]

OMD were indifferent to celebrity status, and avoided the calculated fashion stylings of many of their 1980s peers.[16][121] During live performances, McCluskey developed a frenetic dancing style that has been dubbed the "Trainee Teacher Dance";[122] he explains that it stemmed "from the perception that [OMD] were making boring robotic intellectual music that you couldn't dance to".[123] Journalist Hugo Lindgren noted that the group were perceived as "oddballs, freaks" on the Liverpool scene,[7] while McCluskey has identified himself and Humphreys as "synth punks" and "complete geeks".[124][125] OMD weathered an "uncool" image,[23][126] and faced hostility from sections of the music press in the 1980s.[127][128] Critic Andrew Collins asserted, however, that the band would eventually "become cool" in the public eye.[23]

Record Mirror pondered in 1980 whether McCluskey and Humphreys were emerging as "the Lennon and McCartney of the electronic world".[129] The press began to describe the duo as "the Lennon–McCartney of synth-pop", which the A.V. Club saw as "a weighty mantle that has as much to do with their hailing from Liverpool as anything".[5] The Salt Lake City Weekly remarked that the label "might be a bit hyperbolic, but OMD was indeed ahead of its time".[130] The Scotsman had no reservations about the moniker, labelling OMD a "thoroughly sparkling pop group" with "more hooks than a chain of angling megastores".[131]

Mid-1980s style change edit

 
OMD's mid-1980s reinvention alienated some listeners, but was embraced by others, including bassist Tony Kanal of No Doubt.

The experimental Dazzle Ships (1983) was a critical and commercial disappointment upon release. Facing potential excision from Virgin Records, OMD moved towards a more accessible sound on the black music-influenced Junk Culture (1984); the band also donned more vibrant garments on the album's accompanying tour.[132][133] The group continued to incorporate elements of sonic experimentation,[110][134] although their sound became increasingly polished on the Stephen Hague-produced studio albums Crush (1985) and The Pacific Age (1986).[135][136]

The Quietus founder John Doran, who was supportive of the band's reinvention, told how it became "quite popular to see OMD as nose-diving into the effluence after Dazzle Ships".[137][138] Author Richard Metzger refused to "stick up for anything they recorded" afterwards,[139] while the A.V. Club alleged that McCluskey would "give up" following that album.[140] Conversely, music journalist Ian Peel observed "two brilliant, but very different, bands. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the early 80s Factory descendents... and OMD, the late 80s stadium pop act."[141] The Miami New Times asserted that "even their poppiest records of that postexperimental era, such as Junk Culture and Crush, were clever and beautifully arranged."[63]

Musicians have commented on OMD's post-Dazzle Ships output. Michael "Telekinesis" Lerner was unable to "sink [his] teeth into" Junk Culture, and did not invest in the group again for many years.[142] Moby remarked, "Their earlier records were just phenomenal... a few years on they were making music for John Hughes movies, and they were good at it and I'm glad that they had success with it, but it wasn't nearly as creatively inspiring."[143] Conversely, bassist Tony Kanal of No Doubt told how his band experimented with OMD-esque "John Hughes prom-scene movie moment kind of songs", adding that "Junk Culture is great".[144] Angus Andrew of Liars referred to "the complexity and mastery in OMD's later pop material", calling himself "a fan of OMD albums from all of their phases".[145]

The group themselves defend Junk Culture as an enjoyable "collection of songs" as opposed to a "deep, conceptual" record,[146] and argue that Crush features some strong material despite being hastily written and excessively produced.[135][146] They concede, however, that The Pacific Age "[does]n't work" and marks their "musical nadir".[4][147] Critic Jessica Bendinger reflected on OMD's stylistic journey by the late 1980s, saying that "their music has been colored by continual exploration... which has run the gamut from Gregorian-chant-inspired anthems of love to a union of Orchestral-Motown."[148] SF Weekly stated, "It's hard to think of any 1980s new wave bands that could navigate the genre's spectrum of sound and mood as well as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark."[149]

Subsequent reinventions edit

The McCluskey-led OMD explored a dance-oriented approach on Sugar Tax (1991) and Liberator (1993);[59] the latter has since been dismissed by McCluskey.[22] Ian Peel wrote that the band "defied expectations by updating their sound and becoming, if only briefly, relevant in the 90s".[141] The group disbanded shortly after the release of Universal (1996), on which they strained for a more organic and acoustic sound.[22] In reviewing The OMD Singles (1998), AllMusic asserted that the band "covered in a single career that same territory explored by the Human League, Erasure, Yaz[oo], New Order, and beyond."[65]

Since OMD's 2006 reformation, their material has been seen as more akin to their early output.[150][151] PopMatters wrote that the group's 21st century work represents "one of the more successful second acts in modern pop history".[115]

Legacy and influence edit

OMD have been hailed as one of the most influential synth-pop acts in history;[131][149][152] SF Weekly saw their impact on the genre as "unmatched".[149] The group were inducted into the Goldmine Hall of Fame in 2014, being described as "one of rock's most underrated and under appreciated bands". The publication added that OMD "became noted as new wave, electronic, post-punk, experimental and dance giants as they slid from one genre to another seamlessly."[3] The group have sold over 40 million records in total, with sales of 15 million albums and 25 million singles as of 2019.[a]

Contemporary impact edit

 
Depeche Mode in 1981. Co-founder Vince Clarke (bottom left) states that the band would never have happened without OMD.[155]

OMD are regarded as key figures in the initial rise of synth-pop.[7][156][157] The A.V. Club identified the group as "one of the earliest synthesizer-driven bands to break out of the post-punk scene and lead the charge toward the defining sound of the [1980s]."[5] PopMatters noted how their work "gave credibility to ambitious pop" and led to "the emergence of a generation of electronic bands", including Talk Talk, ABC, Blancmange, and the Vince Clarke projects Yazoo and Erasure.[2] Clarke recognised OMD as being "ahead of their time", and cited "Electricity" (1979) – also an early influence on Duran Duran[158] and Alphaville[159] – as his inspiration to become an electronic musician.[160][161] The Pet Shop Boys followed the group in their youth, drawing particular inspiration from "Souvenir" (1981).[162][163] Founding member, music journalist Neil Tennant, named OMD as "pioneers of electronic music"[163]—a viewpoint shared by multiple publications.[1][164][165][166]

OMD also served as an inspiration to the likes of Tears for Fears,[167] Frankie Goes to Hollywood,[168] Howard Jones,[169] Men Without Hats[170] and China Crisis,[171] and became "heroes" to Kim Wilde songwriter/producer, Ricky Wilde.[172] New Order's Bernard Sumner and Spoons' Rob Preuss have cited OMD as an influence on their respective bands' transitions from rock to synth-pop.[173][174] OMD directly inspired rock group ZZ Top's introduction of electronic instruments and onstage dancing in the early 1980s,[b] and were influential on the guitar melodies of Red Hot Chili Peppers' John Frusciante.[178] Classic rock station Q104.3 recorded the band as a "formative influence on major acts" including Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode.[179]

OMD gained the admiration of other 1980s peers, such as Simple Minds' Jim Kerr,[114] Joy Division's Peter Hook,[180] and Heaven 17's Martyn Ware.[181] Kerr noted the "splendid" OMD's "talent for spitfire hooks", and argued they were denied "the right amount of due recognition from critics";[114] Paste said the group did not always receive "the same love" as acts for whom they "paved the way".[182] Writing in OMD's 2018 biography, Kraftwerk's Karl Bartos asserted, "The magnificent melodies of Andy and Paul are actually very much reminiscent of Italian folk music, the very music [Giacomo] Puccini absorbed... The world's a better place with their music in it!"[169] Other contributors to the book include U2's Adam Clayton, the Human League's Philip Oakey, Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey, and Gary Numan, who credited the band for "some of the best pop songs ever written".[169][183]

Later significance edit

Exclaim! noted how OMD's influence continued into subsequent decades, with the group being "cited by headlining artists such as the xx, Robyn, the Killers and LCD Soundsystem".[184] OMD were a childhood influence on performers including Anohni,[185][186] Gary Barlow,[27] Neil Hannon,[187] the Shins' James Mercer,[188] Belle and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson,[189] and Moby, who cites the band as essential to his becoming an electronic musician.[152][190] Anohni said of Architecture & Morality (1981) and Dazzle Ships (1983): "Those records, they really changed me when I was a kid. I'd never heard anything quite like it... this really scary, futuristic landscape."[186] Critic John Earls wrote that the latter "flopped at the time but has gone on to be named by the Killers, Arcade Fire and Radiohead as an influence".[18] Dazzle Ships also served as the template for albums by Saint Etienne and Future Islands,[107][191] and has been sampled by hip hop acts such as Kid Cudi and Lushlife.[122][192] Music journalist Alexis Petridis noted the record's impact on producers, with the likes of Mark Ronson and Moby "hailing it as an inspiration".[193]

OMD have been credited with helping to inform the 1990s dance music scene.[194][195] In 1998, production team Sash! recognised the group as widely influential on contemporary DJ/producers, and "one of the leading bands in the 80s and 90s regarding electronic music/production".[196] Paul van Dyk cited Organisation (1980) as his foremost musical influence.[197] David Guetta, who created a 1998 remix of "Enola Gay" (eventually released on the French edition of The OMD Singles in 2003), described the opportunity to rework the group's material as "a thrill for any electronic musician".[198] Leftfield sampled "Almost" on the track "Snakeblood", their contribution to 2000 film The Beach.[199][200]

Elsewhere, "Electricity" directly inspired the creation of indie pop band Nation of Language,[201] as well as the radio career of Steve Lamacq.[202][203] Singer Boy George performed a version of "The View from Here" (2017), adding that he wished he had written the song.[204] OMD's influence extends to the indie rock groups MGMT and Death Cab for Cutie,[205][206] punk band AFI,[169][207] ska punk group No Doubt,[144] alternative metal band Deftones,[208] country duo Sugarland,[209] novelist Anna Smaill,[210] filmmaker Noah Baumbach,[211][212] and progressive rock musician Steven Wilson, who commented, "OMD... were as much in love with the idea of being ABBA as they were of being Kraftwerk and Joy Division. They were like a wonderful collision of ideas. Their records stand up very, very well as experimental pop [music] with the most enjoyable kind of songwriting."[126]

Members edit

 
Stuart Kershaw (pictured) replaced longtime drummer Malcolm Holmes in 2015

Current members edit

Former members edit

  • Malcolm Holmes – drums, percussion (1980–1989; 2006–2015)
  • Dave Hughes – keyboards (1979–1980)
  • Michael Douglas – keyboards (1980–1981)
  • Graham Weir – guitar, brass, keyboards (1984–1989)
  • Neil Weir – brass, keyboards, bass guitar (1984–1989)
  • Phil Coxon – keyboards (1991–1993)
  • Nigel Ipinson – keyboards (1991–1993)
  • Abe Juckes – drums (1991–1992)

Timeline edit

Discography edit

Studio albums

Notes edit

  1. ^ OMD have sold over 40 million records.[108][153][154] In 2019, Music Week recorded sales of 15 million albums and 25 million singles.[1]
  2. ^ ZZ Top emulated OMD's use of electronic instruments,[175][176] as well as McCluskey's jerky dancing style.[122][177]

References edit

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