In 1996, Andy McLuskey, who at that point was the sole member of OMD, had an unfortunate epiphany. He was in a record shop in Liverpool and came across an Erasure CD. “Do I really need another Erasure CD?” he thought. Then it hit him. “I wonder if people are saying that about OMD?” With that he folded up shop and went on to assemble and produce the girl group Atomic Kitten, in the process scoring his first UK No. 1 with “Whole Again.”
In 2005, a German TV program asked founding members McCluskey and Paul Humphreys (who had left in 1989) to do a one-off performance. The two had a great time, so much so they decided to reform, adding long-time support musicians Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes and embarking on a tour.
I related the record store tale to Chris Lowe of Pet Shop Boys last year and asked if he or musical partner Neil Tennant ever felt that way. “No,” he replied, and then added with a laugh, “Andy McCluskey is wrong. People do need more OMD records.”
Which brings us to present day. History of Modern, while not a concept album per se, definitely has a theme. The synth sound of the ‘80s is back in vogue, and it was this observation that inspired the new material. After a few listens, it’s clear that there are sounds from every other OMD album in here, all injected into some real toe-tappers.
For example, you’ll hear the choral patches from Architecture and Morality and the vocal samples of Junk Culture and Crush. The industrial oddities of Dazzleships collide with the BritPop of Sugar Tax on “The Future,” and the Soul-inspired dabblings from Liberator turn up on “Pulse.” Then there are the more overt moments — a mash-up of Aretha Franklin’s “Save Me” with the band’s 1980 hit “Messages.” (For some strange reason this track is on the promo copy but isn't listed on the CD that will be available online and in shops.) Elsewhere, songs like “Sister Marie Says” and “If You Want It” stand even with many of the band’s previous singles.
I’m an OMD fan, and I’d be the first to tell you if we had a dud on our hands. We do not. Unlike New Order and Depeche Mode, whom I’m also fans of, OMD can still unquestionably make great records. Song for song, this album delivers. The only lament might be that sonically it’s not particularly new. But then perhaps that’s the whole point of History of Modern.