“When we decided to do the dangerous and stupid thing by making another record, we consciously analyzed our history.”
Fortunately, History of Modern is a strong collection of electro-pop songs that trace a direct line to the band’s original touchstones. It’s something McCluskey said they made a concerted effort to do.
“When we decided to do the dangerous and stupid thing by making another record, we consciously analyzed our history,” McCluskey recalled. “We were trying to be the future 30 years ago, so what do 50-year old modernists do in the post-modern era? We asked ourselves a lot of questions about the relevance and the style, and we decided that the first four albums, which were not really that big in America, were the ones where we had our own distinctive, unique sound that appears to be the sound that is cherished and remembered and is now considered iconic. And we also believe that. As the ‘80s wore on, we had a catastrophic commercial disaster with our fourth album, Dazzle Ships. It dies a horrible death commercially and was ripped by the press. But now, 27 years after it was released, it’s considered to be our lost masterpiece.”
The key, of course, was to make sure it didn’t come off as phony.
“The trick was to try to not just be a nostalgia trip, a pastiche of ourselves,” McCluskey said. “To use production techniques to use a sound and style where we got the same kind of musical colors but sound relevant in the present. That was the tightrope we were trying to walk, and it appears that it was received by people that we did get the balance right. It’s a blessed relief, quite frankly. It is well received, and I guess we were fortunate we had plenty of time to work on it so that we were able to have more objectivity on the quality o the songs than perhaps we used to get in the days when it was album/tour/album/tour. It’s been great.”
Which brings us back to the balance between the classics and the new material, the obscure nuggets and the solid gold hits.
“We’re going to be playing the opening track on the new album, ‘New Babies, New Toys,’ and the guys have been just taking the piss out of me all week,” McCluskey said. “‘Oh my God, the set starts with McCluskey playing lead bass through a fuzz pedal? Oh, Christ…’ It sounds great. We can’t wait to get out on the road with this new stuff, but it’ll be a balance. I think you have an obligation to give the people what they want to hear, especially when they haven’t for so many years. I’ve never really understood people who go, ‘Oh, I’m bored of our hits.’ Fuck, no. I’m proud of our hits, and I’m delighted people still want to hear them.”
That generosity is a part of what OMD is all about, apparently. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were certainly generous all those years ago when they allowed for the shortening of their grand moniker, even if they didn’t necessarily have semi-literate music journalists in mind when they did so. But they’ve also been generous about their legacy.
“It tailed off once we were no longer on television or on the front cover of magazines, as you slide into obscurity,” McCluskey said. “But in the last few years it’s started to happen again. In particular, my kids who only had some sort of strange dark inkling that apparently dad used to be in some band that used to sell records, but that was a million years ago. It’s cause for great mirth if I’m out with the kids and someone says, ‘Oh, Andy, I saw you play, and your songs mean the world to me,’ and my kids are sniggering in the background while I’m saying ‘Thank you very much.’”
McCluskey said he’s incredibly grateful for moments like those.
“We had this strange deluded notion when we were young that we were somehow going to change the world by doing our own type of futuristic music,” he said. “Then the depression sets in when you realize that you’re selling millions of records, but oops, you haven’t changed the world. It’s lovely to have been in a band, it’s lovely to have sold millions of records and it’s lovely to do the tours and have the opportunity to travel the world which I never would have if it hadn’t been for OMD, but when somebody actually comes up to you and tells you that something you did, even if it just lasted four minutes, actually touched them, actually made an impact on their life, it’s an incredible feeling. That, more than anything else, is incredibly fulfilling.”
Some of those who’ve been touched by the music of OMD include artists who’ve shown the influence in their own music.
“They don’t phone me up and tell me that we’ve been influencing them, but you pick up certain things,” McCluskey said. “There’s been quite a few like James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem and MGMT and even Mark Ronson recently. People name-checking us; there’s obviously been something in the air recently.”
For anyone wary of seeing a band with clear, crisp electronic sounds in a live setting should also take heed: OMD aren’t fooling around.
“We actually started OMD as a live band,” McCluskey recalled. “Paul and I invented Orchestral Manouevers in the Dark to play a live gig at Eric’s Club in Liverpool. We were never a studio band who had to struggle to bring it live: We always kicked ass on stage. It’s often been a bit frustrating for us where people who haven’t seen us before think, ‘Oh, they’re going to stand there behind their synthesizers twiddling knobs and pretending to be robots and it’ll be deadly dull.’ No, we kick ass, and hopefully without resorting to too many rock & roll clichés.”
It was true back then, and it’s true now, said McCluskey.
“I’m sure you have probably gone to a gig where there was a band that you used to like that hasn’t played in a long time,” he said. “You go and see them more in hope than in confidence, and the first few numbers you either stand there going, ‘Oh, shit, I wish I hadn’t come, this is blowing my fond memories,’ or you see what’s happened with us, where you can see people in the audience where it registers: ‘I wonder if they’ll sound any good…Oh, they do…Oh, good!’ We love touring now. We’re a little better, a little more confident and quite frankly, the equipment is a lot better than it used to be.”
For tour dates and other information, visit the official OMD website.
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