If you are still in shock by my last article about The Cure celebrating 40 years as a band… sit down.
The very foundation of synth-pop music, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), also hit the 40-year milestone! (I understand this can be hard to comprehend since 1990 was like, ten years ago, right?) Fortunately, the English band aged with maturity, yet kept the electric sound that made them stand out.
After spending two years touring and celebrating the 40th anniversary of their inception, OMD had to stop when the pandemic hit. Andy McCluskey was nice enough to chat with me about what he has been doing since he was “forced in boredom.” (Spoiler: new music is in our future!)
OMD played a staggering 75 shows just before the world shut down. Like many of us, they got to relax a bit and enjoy the spring weather. But as summer arrived and being home got boring, McCluskey was “forced into creativity.”
While they were on the road, he found it hard to write, “The muse was not upon me,” he told me. “It can be difficult to find energy and desire to mine yourself to write new music.” While many bands do the cycle of new album, tour, new album, tour, OMD will only release music they believe in. A new album should “say what you want to say,” and not just be something to go on tour with. With the shutdown, he has the time to create music worthy of the OMD name.
Childhood friends, co-founders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys played together in various bands before they created OMD. With McCluskey on vocals and bass, and Paul Humphreys handling keyboards and additional vocals, the duo released their debut single “Electricity” in 1979. They landed gigs opening for Joy Division and then Gary Numan and went right to work on their 1980 self-titled debut album.
Not slowing down, OMD put out their second album in the same year. “Organisation” included the massive hit “Enola Gay,” and the arrival of drummer Malcolm Holmes.
Martin Cooper, who had helped in various positions on previous recordings, was also added to the band.
OMD began to get press attention and picked up “Best New Artist” labels from multiple music magazines.
With their third album, “Architecture & Morality,” OMD solidified their place in music history. The single “Souvenir” was the first of three top five charting songs from the album (“Joan of Arc” and “Maid of Orleans” being the other two).
Deciding to go deeper in their musical experimentation, OMD put together “Dazzle Ships” in 1983. As often happens when a band does not recreate the same type of sound to follow up a successful album, it was not welcomed with open arms.
Although “Telegraph” and”Radio Waves” did well with the faithful and continue to be fan favorites.
In 2008, a deluxe edition was released to a more accepting audience, and McCluskey told The Guardian, “The album that almost completely killed our career seems to have become a work of dysfunctional genius. The reality is that it’s taken Paul [Humphreys] 25 years to forgive me for ‘Dazzle Ships.’ But some people always hold it up as what we were all about, why they thought we were great.”
But back in 1983, the criticism of “Dazzle Ships” led the band to a more pop, mainstream direction. “Junk Culture” produced the verse-chorus style of songs they had avoided in the past, and gave us the hit “Locomotion.”
The song may not have been critically acclaimed, but the faithful and new OMD fans fell in love with it.
The next album, “Crush,” included the track “So In Love,” and OMD was now established in the US.
“Secret” and “La Femme Accident” were also hits, and the band released “Crush – the Movie” to give fans a glimpse into their creative process of the album.
Whenever we reflect on events of the ‘80s, one of the most popular examples of the time is John Hughes movies. “Sixteen Candles,” “Weird Science,” and “The Breakfast Club” are required viewing for every generation.
WORDS OF WISDOM
“I touch you once, I touch you twice, I won’t let go at any price. I need you now like I needed you then… you always said we’d still be friends someday.”
OMD is included in this legacy with their involvement in “Pretty in Pink.” Originally it was to be “Goddess of Love” as the final song, but Hughes changed the ending after it tested poorly.
With the band leaving for a tour in two days, Hughes requested a different song. In just 24 hours, OMD wrote and recorded “If You Leave.” The song that took them a day to create, landed them high on the charts in multiple countries, and made them part of history.
With so many successful singles in their catalog, OMD released “The Best of OMD” in 1988. (I must confess I played this to death! “Electricity,” “Enola Gay,” Tesla Girls,” “Locomotion,” “So In Love,” are all part of the soundtrack to my high school memories!) Riding the high of the best of compilation, and the popular new single “Dreaming,” OMD was involved in another piece of history: Depeche Mode’s “Music for the Masses” tour. As part of the North American dates, OMD played at the closing concert which hosted 90,000 fans at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.
(No, Traci, don’t do it. Don’t tell me there’s a band break up like every other article you write!)
Sadly, co-founder Paul Humphreys was done. Such situations are never about one thing, and reasons given have been the ongoing debt to the record company, distribution of duties, boredom, different opinions on music, etc. Thankfully, no one tried to murder the other person or some other tragic situation they could not come back from.
With Andy McCluskey as the only original member, OMD would still release music. Dance pop album “Sugar Tax” hit in 1991 which included somewhat succesful songs in “Pandora’s Box” and “Sailing ton the Seven Seas.” Next up were the albums “Liberator” and “Universal.” But, the unfortunate part of being a band so long is that the music doesn’t always stay with you. The dance pop synth sound had been replaced by the arrival of grunge. McCluskey retired the OMD name and began writing songs for Atomic Kitten and Genie Queen.
Fortunately, the OMD founders made their way back together and rediscovered their desire to create new music. With Cooper and Holmes joining them, quartet began touring again in 2006 and released “History of Modern” followed by a return to their musical roots with “English Electric.”
In a rite of passage for capturing the newest generation, OMD performed at Coachella in 2013 and honestly, seeing McCluskey dancing while playing guitar and having a blast during “Enola Gay” gives me life.
The remainder of the ‘10s was filled with sold out shows, the release of the “The Punishment of Luxury” disc (“We remain very proud of ‘Punishment,’ said McCluskey), and the book, “Pretending to See the Future,” which combined the band members’ memories and fan-submitted stories. There was also the departure of Malcolm Holmes, and Stuart Kershaw’s return – which forms the current line-up.
As 2019 arrived, the band officially celebrated 40 years as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark with an anniversary tour, a deluxe box set, and a new greatest hits collection.
“Souvenir” contains five CDs and two DVDs in a 10-inch box set, with a hardcover book, poster, and 10-inch prints. From “Electricity” to their new song, “Don’t Go,” unreleased songs, and live shows, the audio discs have everything you need. The DVDs include television performances, live shows, and “Crush – the Movie” and in my professional shopper opinion, it is incredibly well priced for all that it includes.
The new greatest hits collections were released on two CDs or three vinyl records and include the new track “Don’t Go” – which is a fabulous song and sounds like classic OMD – as well as their best singles. When I asked about the return of vinyl, McCluskey said it sounds “so rich and deep” that he understands its popularity and enjoys it himself.
Link to Shop
For 2020, the guys were going to return to Royal Albert Hall, and tour with Simple Minds, but as we all know, events had to be postponed. Look for those shows in 2021 and 2022…but even better, OMD is planning a headlining tour in the US in 2021. (I swear if this virus stuff prevents their tour I WILL BURN COVID TO THE GROUND!) For now, you can enjoy OMD – Live From Your Sofa.
The ability to stream live shows and stay in contact with fans online has obviously grown since OMD began. I asked McCluskey what other technology he enjoys now. “Making a record on the computer and being able to constantly update it, as opposed to the old demo days where ‘demo-itis’ set in,” he chuckled.
The technology they take on the road also allows them to keep their sound reliable, which is why they have an amazing reputation for live shows.
Fun fact: technology failed me as I spoke to McCluskey, but he couldn’t have been nicer. He may have hung up thinking I was a moron, but he did not let on while talking to me.
What about that new music? Yes, McCluskey says it exists and is on the horizon to be released. Being stuck at home may very well be a benefit to us if we receive new OMD. He also reminded me this year is the 40th anniversary of “Enola Gay” and next year is the 40th for “Architecture & Morality,” so we can expect some more goodies soon.
Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys have been called musical innovators and the “Lennon and McCartney of synth-pop.” Despite McCluskey once saying OMD had become “the forgotten band,” their influence remains in the new technology and the resurgence of synth music. Plus there is that little fact that OMD has sold more than 40 million records.
It is said the imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That’s the thing about OMD, they are loved by fans, artist and everyone on the planet. Countless bands have covered their music. Their catalog of life defining songs is immense. Fans love to hear all those great songs and a few others. Songs like “Tesla Girls,” “(Forever) Live and Die,” “Dreaming,” “Talking Loud and Clear,” “Messages” and “We Love You” just to name a few. The list goes on and on and on.
Since 40 is such a great number for OMD, here’s to another 40 years of amazing music!