With a 50 year plus music career, Michael Rother is one of modern German music’s great trailblazers. A founder member of NEU! with Klaus Dinger, Rother helped to pioneer Kosmische Musik.
There was also the HARMONIA project with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius of CLUSTER which led to him becoming the original first choice of David Bowie to play guitar on ‘Heroes’, although that promising partnership never became reality. When NEU! split after three albums in 1975, Rother embarked on an acclaimed solo career which over nine albums gave him prestige as Germany’s answer to Mike Oldfield.
Although best known as a guitarist, Rother’s last album ‘Remember (The Great Adventure)’ released in 2004 was an all-electronic affair and saw him experimenting with vocals from Sophie Joiner née Williams and his now label boss Herbert Grönemeyer. It was Joiner who provided the lead vocals to the album’s best song ‘He Said’ while there was a duet between herself and Grönemeyer on ‘Morning After (Loneliness)’, one of the other highlights.
One of the reasons that it has taken Rother so long to record a new album has been the popular demand for him to play live, thanks to a renewed interest in NEU! initiated by their album reissue programme by Grönemeyer via his Grönland Records in 2001. But the worldwide lockdown left Rother alone at his home studio in Forst by the River Weser in Lower Saxony. Missing his Italian partner and unable to do shows, his need to express himself was channelled into a new record.
Much of what has now become the ‘Dreaming’ album actually dates back to a number of sketches originally made during the ‘Remember (The Great Adventure)’ sessions to which Sophie Joiner contributed her vocals to, but were not used or completed.
As a result, the voice of the now mother of four appears on seven of the nine tracks. Meanwhile Rother has focussed his time to add his guitar and other layers to flinish these electronically derived fragments.
The ‘Dreaming’ title track does as it suggests and affirms Rother’s intention to bring more guitars in as water shimmers in the background. Meanwhile Sophie Joiner repeats the phrase by way of a vocal hook before it is reversed and treated to a mind-bending effect.
The electronic pulsing of ‘Bitter Tang’ perhaps can be seen as a natural development of ‘Morning After (Loneliness)’ with the sparing six string delving into Rother’s past in a manner reminiscent of his classic Conny Plank produced album trilogy of ‘Flammende Herzen’, ‘Sterntaler’ and ‘Katzenmusik’.
Paradoxically “singing loud”, Sophie Joiner provides whispered and spoken passages to ‘Fierce Wind Blowing’ because “nothing matters” and the piece as a whole recalls ‘Sombre Reptiles’ from Brian Eno’s ‘Another Green World’, especially with its layers of sustained guitars and gentle but essential rhythm construction.
A wholly electronic instrumental, the hypnotic ‘Wopp-Wopp’ plays along with gentle percussive textures and lovely choral synths. Sophie Joiner’s vocals return on ‘Hey-Hey’ and have a solemn intense air which veers occasionally towards Björk as a deep ethnic mood is in place across eight minutes to compliment her using a hazy psychedelic template.
Then Sophie Joiner rather fatalistically states “this could be the end”, a surprise comes with ‘Lovely Mess’. Driven by an understated bongo mantra as part of a dub treated soundtrack, it is something that the late Andrew Weatherall would have been proud to construct for ONE DOVE.
With more minimal guitar and recalling Rother’s less lauded Fairlight period which included the ‘Lust’, ‘Süssherz Und Tiefenschärfe’ and ‘Traumreisen’ albums, ‘Out In The Rain’ sees Sophie Joiner almost turn into Suzanne Vega. Cautiously joyous, she waxes lyrical about how “everyone else is crazy” and that she enjoys staying in to sing loud.
Another wholly electronic instrumental piece, ‘Gravitas’ is almost ambient but its enchanting textures build and repeat like a mantra until it becomes like a cascade of church bells. But closing with the wistfully serene ‘Quiet Dancing’, Sophie Joiner’s wonderfully airy delivery is sweetened with Rother’s maestro E-bow and delicate single note six string over a gentle backbone that would sound great on ‘Twin Peaks’.
Those who have enjoyed the recent virtuoso live performances of Michael Rother with Hans Lampe and Franz Bargmann in recent years should be aware that as with his previous solo albums since ‘Lust’, ‘Dreaming’ is very much a sedate listening experience unlike those energetic gigs.
With the idea that dreams are what the brain generates at night to cleanse the mind of stress by connecting to positive emotions, this album has captured a guarded optimism as a reaction to the melancholic isolation has undoubtedly affected everyone.
In difficult times, ‘Dreaming’ is comforting with its hints of hope, romance, escapism and nostalgia all in one musical package.
‘Dreaming’ is released by Grönland Records in vinyl LP and digital formats
The album is also available as part of the 7CD boxed set ‘Solo II’ also released by Grönland Records
So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?
They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!
In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.
K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the general public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.
However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.
Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.
The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were usually faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits, but even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.
The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!
For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.
As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.
However, staying within theme on a compilation is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.
But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…
Now while some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.
For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!
So The Electricity Club takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via twenty notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within.
Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.
Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records had the foresight to issue a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. As well as their two great hopes, among the outsiders on board were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. While XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, this was from the band’s synth experimentation period before going more acoustic on 1982’s ‘English Settlement’.
This compilation had actually been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a new special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ acting as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette featured more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song in place of ‘The Art Of Parties’!
1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so the release of ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring superb singles from the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as synth trailblazers John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by little known combo THE NEWS was rather good!
Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era, the band themselves disappearing despite securing the services of Martin Hannett to produce their debut single ‘Danceable’, but it was never finished…
It took a few years for people to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was, so how better than to celebrate it than a compilation named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring the all-star cast of DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, other acts who also got entry into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.
Gathering nineteen “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again even on SOFT CELL’s own compilations.
A tie-in with Uncut magazine celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity by Giorgio Moroder and for the first time on CD, the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different compared to the ones that had come before.
Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of thirty-eight “synth pop classics”. For once, this was a compilation documenting the different electronic pop phases including trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.
Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this modern collection brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions in various guises. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those helping to bring the sound of vintage electronic pop into the 21st Century for the club crowd.
Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of electronic music at the start of the 21st Century. However the “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend in the booklet highlighted the dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. But the music from the likes of FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, ZOOT WOMAN, LADYTRON, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT, CIRC and GREEN VELVET was mostly excellent, although DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.
‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in the ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ influenced ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Among the highlights were ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which satirically sent up ‘Frank Sinatra’ by MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.
Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO for his own Lucky Pierre imprint, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare’ album in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were the-then newly configured CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed the previously unreleased ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.
Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ pulled off the feat of gathering twelve classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. Longer takes of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ by A-HA and ‘Pretty In Pink’ by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support. But the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the synthpop duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.
For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE who co-released the compilation via their own Planet Clique label. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching themselves as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions. A bonus DJ mix by MANHATTAN CLIQUE also featured.
Electronic music of a more downtempo disposition compiled by BLANK & JONES, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken guesting on the hosting trance DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. ‘Ghost Trains’, a solo tune by KINGS OF CONVENIENCE and RÖYKSOPP vocalist Erlend Øye was a livelier number that actually worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, SPOOKY, MARCONI UNION and DEPECHE MODE.
ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)
Tying in with Rudi Esch’s book about the German city of Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. Featuring RIECHMANN, DAF, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, HARMONIA, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS featuring a very young Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.
Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert and combinations thereof, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Hooky.
ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)
From the team that put together the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series, the 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!
Comprising of thirty-four tracks from 2009 to 2015, ‘The Electricity Club’ compilation has stood the test of time, scrutiny and repeated plays. With ERASURE heading the line-up alongside a MARSHEAUX remix of Katy Perry and acts such as MIRRORS, SIN COS TAN, VILE ELECTRODES, NIGHT CLUB, ARTHUR & MARTHA, KID MOXIE, MESH and ELECTRONIC CIRCUS. In hindsight, the weakest link comes surprisingly from one of the star attractions, coming as a result of the licencing compromises that often have to be made when the first and second choices get declined 😉
‘The Electricity Club’ was released by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records
Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, what ‘The Tears Of Technology’ had was a heartfelt suite of music which captured the essence of its title. At its centre was OMD’s sub-eight minute adventure ‘Sealand’ alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in courtesy of Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.
MOOD TAEG are a detached combo split between Düsseldorf and Shanghai.
From the likes of CAN, CLUSTER, NEU! and HARMONIA to more recent exponents of the form like CAVERN OF ANTI-MATTER and IMMERSION, MOOD TAEG follow in the tradition of instrumental kosmische experimentation.
Just like those records of cosmic yore, their debut album ‘Exophora’ on Happy Robots Records comprises of five lengthy tracks exploring the rhythmic hypnotism of Apache beats, half speed guitar and expansive electronic soundscaping.
With a heart that is both analogue and metronomic, over the course of just under ten minutes, the mantic opening number ‘2MR’ pays respectful homage to ‘Hallo Gallo’ from the first NEU! album. Running at just six minutes, ‘Deictics’ adds a synthy rumble to proceedings with schizophrenic voices before a bass guitar run morphs in, adding to the mind bending trance laden effect.
The frantically motorik ‘Corpora’ comes closest to being a pop tune despite the gargoyle grumblings and glistens with a cristallo shine that has pulsing electronic keys acting as a melodic engine room as well as a rhythmic one.
‘Interrogative’ displays an affinity with HARMONIA using a offbeat and a psychedelic vibe, but ‘Mood Block’ changes tact with a delightful rhythm unit on a speedy Schaffel setting while Mellotron derived pipe passages add a blurry haze to the spacey cocoon of bleepy sound.
This music is not wholly avant garde, so if a blended cacophony of drifting textures and occasional melody over some tightly rigid rhythm construction appeals, then ‘Exophora’ will satisfy the ears and minds of many kosmische enthusiasts, sitting nicely not far from the most recent FUJIYA & MIYAGI.
During their initial London Records period, Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe only released their albums between 1982 to 1985. With Neil Arthur continuing to fly the BLANCMANGE flag, who have thought there would have been triple that number in less than ten years?
As with recent albums, it is co-produced by Benge and Neil Arthur continues to give his morose take on the world although he maintains “It’s not all bad, but I’m observing stuff and looking for other worlds at the same time we’re living in this one, several things at once and questioning how people react with others, how they’re feeling about themselves and how that impacts on other people.”
Beginning with staccato piano and layers of guitar, the ‘Mindset’ title song offers a Velvets pounding that could also be seen as a NEU! influence with an art rock edge; “So much for giving, so much for taking…” our hero ponders while looking for the truth, but could he also be sardonically quipping “so much forgiving…”?
With the deeply sombre scene set, Neil Arthur’s delivery is anything but a ‘Warm Reception’, although this is all countered by the enjoyable cutting sharpness of the synths which add to a most excellent electronic track. With spacey sweeps, ‘This Is Bliss’ continues the tread as a close relative to ‘Warm Reception’, but a variety of percolating patterns and a deeper trance bass resonance are apparent with a repeated ranting chorus.
The superbly titled ‘Antisocial Media’ references to “Orwellian Thought Police” and captures more of Arthur’s dismay with fantastically primitive synths recalling the early Fast version of ‘Being Boiled’
‘Clean Your House’ is also very synthy with a bubbling bassline and gated pulses, lyrically reflecting on events of recent times but could easily able to applied to more personal relationships with the necessity for the occasional life laundry.
The ‘Mindset’ is played with further on ‘Insomniacs Tonight’, as a “tunnel train of thought” with “long rails on trails” is accompanied by a big rigid beat.
The midtempo minimal synthpop of ‘Sleep With Mannequin’ echoes THE HUMAN LEAGUE in their poppier phase with clean digital drums and analogue passages, but a marvellous concoction reveals itself as KRAFTWERK meets FAITHLESS on the mutant electronic disco of ‘Diagram’ with Arthur repeating like a preacher on how “I want transparency” in his sharp Northern lilt.
‘Not Really (Virtual Reality)’ vents with a rockier musical aggression and pounding drums but closing proceedings, the downcast ‘When’ calls for the truth among the screaming and shouting. As the chorus goes “When is anything about what it’s about?”, there’s the sound of a two note panic alarm recurring to symbolise a state of panic and anxiety.
Neil Arthur’s grim but humourous take on the world continues, but with a lot of choruses and more structure on ‘Mindset’, there are potentially some singalong elements which could rouse audiences at future live shows alongside ‘Living On The Ceiling’ and ‘Blind Vision’.
Strange but accessible pop music for our strange times, Neil Arthur’s dark ‘Mindset’ is only reflecting what many are thinking and it will be on that level which will connect people with this album.
Leeds The Wardrobe (6th May), Liverpool Grand Central Hall (7th May), Northampton Roadmender (8th May), Cardiff Portland House (12th May), Shrewsbury Buttermarket (13th May), London Under The Bridge (14th May 2021), Harpenden Public Halls (15th May), Brighton Concorde 2 (19th May), Bristol Fleece (20th May), Southampton The Brook (21st May), Manchester Club Academy (29th May), Colchester Arts Centre (16th September), Norwich Arts Centre (17th September), Birmingham Institute 2 (18th September), Gloucester Guild Hall (23rd September), Exeter Phoenix (24th September), Nottingham Rescue Rooms (25th September), Newcastle Riverside (30th September), Edinburgh Liquid Room (1st October), Glasgow Oran Mor (2nd October)
OMD have been a recording unit for 40 years and The Electricity Club has been attending their gigs for 39 of them!
A recent cartoon meme went “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things” and that sums up OMD in a nutshell.
The subjects in Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys’ music have included the suicide of a charismatic musician, the suicide of a woman who worked as a stripper because she had no other means of supporting herself, the racially motivated massacre of five innocent demonstrators by the Ku Klux Klan, the death of over 100,000 people by nuclear attack and most notably on two hit singles, the brutal execution of a teenage girl!
It’s been a glorious achievement so to celebrate their four decade anniversary, OMD have issued their ‘Souvenir’, a lavish deluxe boxed set containing 5CDs, 2 DVDs, a hardback book, a fold-out poster and a set of quality 10 inch silver-on-black art card reproductions of sleeves such as ‘Electricity’ and ‘Telegraph’.
However, for the more cautious consumer, the set is also available as a truncated 2CD 40 track singles collection concluding with the brilliant new song ‘Don’t Go’; a great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’ refined for BBC Radio2 airplay, it captures the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal.
With crystalline melodies from Paul Humphreys and a spirited vocal delivery from Andy McCluskey attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, it is a better career spanning trailer than ‘Dreaming’ was for 1988’s first greatest hits ‘The Best of OMD’.
As a definitive singles anthology, also included are the superior single mix of ‘Shame’ produced by Rhett Davies, the under rated wintery soundscape of ‘Never Turn Away’ and the pretty ‘Pachelbel’s Canon tribute ‘La Femme Accident’. However, the inclusion of everything means that although OMD released that sublime singles series of ‘Messages’, ‘Enola Gay’, ‘Souvenir’, ‘Joan Of Arc’ and ‘Maid Of Orleans’, they were also capable of total stinkers like ‘Stand Above Me’ and ‘If You Want It’!
While the singles are known by many, when assisting with the remastering of the first four OMD albums at Abbey Road, a visit by Paul Humphreys to the huge EMI tape archive near Heathrow to check and annotate the correct versions, uncovered a treasure trove of shelved recordings and demos.
The reels of vintage tapes were then baked to minimise risk of breakage and after some thoughtful listening and reminiscing, he compiled and painstakingly mixed a selection of unreleased songs and ideas to become ‘Unreleased Archive Vol1’
Paul Humphreys told The Electricity Club: “I found 22 tracks, some of which are full songs and some are just experiments that were never developed, but I had great fun mixing them. I mixed them only using FX and E’s that we would have used at the period, spring reverbs, crappy delays and Eventide Harmonisers. I had so much fun doing them and there are a couple of absolute gems in there! The big take away for me in this whole exercise was to see how we used to work, pre-computers.”
Although it was known that OMD had a number of unreleased songs in the vaults and several featured on the 2014 reissue of ‘Junk Culture’, the revelation that there was enough material to make up a 56 minute CD was a surprise.
“We basically used to lay down 5 minutes of one idea, then when we wanted a change of chord, we’d drop in the new section on different tracks, so on the desk we’d have to hand mute the first idea so they wouldn’t play together.” elaborated Humphreys, “But of course I can’t remember where to mute things now as I barely even remember the songs themselves, never mind what our vision was at the time, so I was left with a giant puzzle working out what tracks have to be on or off at certain points of the song…”
It all begins with the wonderful ‘Brand New Science’ recorded in 1981, a gloriously haunting and minimal slice of synthpop. The lyrics “there’s a brand new science, for a brand new world, with no moral codes and no big words…” actually appeared in the ‘Dazzle Ships’ tour programme of 1983, which begs the question as to how a recording of such quality was left off the parent album? However, a bizarre interview by McCluskey and Humphreys for BBC Radio1 with Richard Skinner from the period highlighted that other distractions may have come into play.
Although Andy McCluskey states in the accompanying notes that “it didn’t work”, ‘Dumbomb’ from 1986 with its wordplay, symphonic synthetic strings and Shakuhachi samples coupled to a rousing chorus is actually very charming, despite obviously needing more work.
Born to hand jive, the superb 1985 vintage of ‘Liberator’ sees OMD doing electro rock ‘n’ roll with a rhythmic backbone like a collaboration with BOW WOW WOW! It is certainly better than ‘Maria Gallante’ which was released from the same sessions as a B-side to ‘So In Love’ and beats hands down most of the contents on the eventual 1993 McCluskey steered long player that was actually called ‘Liberator’.
Fully formed songs from ‘The Pacific Age’ era such as ‘Cut Me Down’ and ‘Cajun Moon’ reveal their Fairlighted origins and a mish-mash of styles; the former features an oddball mix of LA DÜSSELDORF and jazz, while the latter showcases a love of PRINCE but oddly sounds like DURAN DURAN offshoot ARCADIA and their ‘Say The Word’, a song that appeared in the film ‘Playing For Keeps’ to which OMD also contributed an early version of ‘We Love You’.
From the musique concrète inspired experiments of the ‘Dazzle Ships’ period, ‘Radio Swiss International’ (affectionately referred to by OMD drummer Mal Holmes as “the ice cream song”) is coldly eerie with drifting synth drones and signal interference alongside the station call sign. Meanwhile of the earliest recordings from 1980, ‘Organ Ditty’ is just that, while ‘Ambient 1’ has the ringing melodic bones of 2013’s ‘Our System’ and the speedy ‘Unused 1’ was probably not developed due to its inherent similarity to the theme from ‘Stanlow’.
Fairlight driven demos from the ‘Crush’ and ‘The Pacific Age’ make up the majority of the actual songs on ‘Unreleased Archive Vol1’ and ‘Weekend’ shows potential; on closer scrutiny, it is actually not that dissimilar to ‘Final Song’ from 2013’s ‘English Electric’.
Understandably, not all the material is of such high quality but most of it is at least interesting. The motorik ‘Untitled 2’ from 1981 is undoubtedly a blueprint for ‘Genetic Engineering’, a song that itself influenced by Brian Eno’s ‘China My China’.
But the kosmische template is taken further on ‘Guitar Thrash’ from 1982 which sees OMD emulating NEU! in a more blatant manner. Continuing the Brian Eno connection, ‘Violin Piece’ is a 1982 recording of yes, Andy McCluskey trying to master a violin that comes over like an audition for THE PORTSMOUTH SINFONIA.
1990’s ‘American Venus’ from when Humphreys and McCluskey were drifting apart musically sees the front man playing around with vocoder dressing, which is at least closer to what could be considered as sounding more like OMD than the Latin brass-assisted romp of ‘Dynamo Children’ which sees them amusingly mutate into MODERN ROMANCE! Then there’s also the 1990 waltz of ‘Flamenco’ laced with its Spanish and blues guitar samples.
The bones of a percussive sketch come with 1984’s ‘Flutey’ before ‘Unreleased Archive Vol1’ closes with ‘Nice Ending’ which does exactly what it says on the tin with a choral typewriter collage constructed in 1981.
The labelling indicates there will be an ‘Unreleased Archive Vol2’ but what could be included on it? There is a Paul Humphreys song entitled ‘Suspicion’ which was discussed in the 1988 fan club newsletter, while McCluskey’s theme for the Danny Boyle directed political drama ‘For The Greater Good’ has yet to receive a formal release. Then there’s ballads such as ‘Kiss Of Death’ and Twins’ which were left off ‘Liberator’ due to their more introspective outlook.
Meanwhile from the same time as they recorded THE XX’s ‘VCR’ in 2010, there is also known to be a cover of ‘Shelter’ in the can as well. Plus there is a synthpop take on ‘If You’re Still In Love With Me’ which was mooted as a single in 1993 but then re-recorded with a string quartet for 1996’s more organic and traditional ‘Universal’ album and a slowed-down house number called ‘Resist The Sex Act’.
Add in a superb audio document of the 1983 ‘Dazzle Ships’ live presentation (minus ‘Genetic Engineering’ which OMD got badly wrong on that final night of the tour at Hammersmith Odeon), BBC video material like ‘Top Of the Pops’ appearances and the once only broadcasted ‘ORS’ 1985 concert special from Sheffield City Hall plus the documentary ‘Crush The Movie’, ‘Souvenir’ is a worthy manageable package with a wealth of hard-to-get and unreleased material to satisfy OMD enthusiasts.
Yes, OMD have not merely plonked 13 albums into a boxed set… 😉
The ‘Souvenir’ 5CD + 2DVD deluxe boxed set is released by Universal Music
OMD Souvenir 40th Anniversary 2019 – 2020 European + UK Tour, dates include:
Belfast Ulster Hall (23rd October), Dublin Olympia (24th October), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (26th October), York Barbican (27th October), Hull Arena (28th October), Gateshead Sage (30th October), Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (31st October), Manchester Apollo (1st November), Sheffield City Hall (3rd November), Liverpool Empire (4th November), Birmingham Symphony Hall (5th November), Leicester De Montford Hall (7th November), Bath Pavilion (8th November), Oxford New Theatre (9th November), Guildford G Live (11th November), Portsmouth Guildhall (12th November), Watford Colosseum (13th November), Cambridge Corn Exchange (15th November), Ipswich Regent (16th November), Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion (17th November), Bournemouth Pavilion (19th November), London Hammersmith Apollo (20th November), Rostock Stadthalle (25th November), Dresden Kulturpalast (26th November), Leipzig Haus Auensee (28th November), Berlin Tempodrom (29th November), Hamburg Grosse Freiheit 36 (30th November), Saarbrücken Saarlandhalle (2nd December), Stuttgart Leiderhalle (3rd December), Düsseldorf Mitsubishi Electric-Halle (5th December), Frankfurt Jahrhunderthalle (6th December), Krakow Studio (3rd February), Warsaw Progresja (4th February), Oslo Rockefeller Musichall (7th February), Stockholm Berns (9th February), Malmo KB (10th February), Copenhagen Vega (12th February), Brussels Ancienne Belgique (14th February), Utrecht Tivoli (15th February), Paris La Cigale (16th February)