English Electric was a British engineering company whose origins predate those of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark by 60 years. Chosen as the title for OMD’s second comeback album, following on from 2010’s History of Modern, it reflects the man and machine exposition that the UK band has successfully worked over past years. There is something regretful in the title as English Electric the company is long gone; bloated by mergers and absorbed by takeovers, an early technology business that ultimately fell short of its aspirations. A similar mood hovers over the record which plays out like a concept album of sorts, with computer-speak interlude tracks knitting together the storylines.
“The future that you have anticipated has been cancelled. Please remain seated and wait for further instructions,” announces the robotic female voice on the short opening track. It’s followed by the blissful, pulsating regret of “Metroland” spun out over seven-and-a-half minutes yet never faltering a beat. Melancholic and warm, OMD humanise synth music in a way bands of this ilk rarely achieve.
English Electric is a collection of instantly appealing songs interspersed with artful, at times self-explanatory, interludes such as “The Future Will Be Silent”. The band has always stood on a bridge between art and science and at its heart this record pronounces that the expected future has not materialised. It’s a metaphor that extends to human relationships, too, as love becomes a bedfellow with technology.
For an electronic record, it’s comparatively stripped down, like OMD has tried to distil its trademark sound. “Kissing The Machine” is blessed with a sublime melody but after a deft reworking by Paul Humphreys, retains little of the original 1993 collaboration between Andy McCluskey and former Kraftwerker, Karl Bartos. “Our System” contrasts the purity of space exploration with the shortcomings of humans: “Every world we reach / Perfect pure and clean / Every word we preach / Spoken to deceive”. The precision of McCluskey’s rich baritone erupts with greater passion as he hits the high notes. Stabbing rhythms give way to a percussive explosion and heavenly choir as the song reaches its crescendo. It’s powerful, emotive stuff — proof that electronic music can have soul, and that OMD’s soul is, so far, everlasting.
Essential Tracks: “Metroland”, “Kissing The Machine”, and “Our System”.