How tight is your black t-shirt bro? Probably not enough to legit love Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark; not the way they deserve. Do you even John Hughes, man?
OMD was started in the heyday of 1970s macho dude rock, which gave Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys something to bond over — namely, their hatred of it. The fellas fell more into the Brian Eno and Kraftwerk end of the musical pool. To prove how anti they were, they picked their artsy band name as a way to distance themselves from the punk rock embraced by that era’s music hipsters.
OMD, from around Liverpool, weren’t the only punk-era Brits to gravitate towards dance. Factory Records, in nearby Manchester, was also up and running, and would release OMD’s breakout first single, “Electricity.” Before long, the duo was signed to a Virgin Records subsidiary and opening for another budding synth icon, Gary Numan, on his first major solo tour of Britain.
And a group founded in opposition to standard songwriting practices drifted back toward pop, because a capacity for melody has a way of asserting itself. OMD became an ’80s band du jour thanks to “If You Leave” — their fallback, incredibly, for the archetypal teen rom-com, “Pretty in Pink,” screenplay by Hughes. Their first offering, “Goddess of Love,” fared badly with test audiences. OMD rebounded and wrote “If You Leave” in 20 minutes, and it kicks off what is still one of the most critically acclaimed movie soundtracks ever.
For all that, OMD finally decided success wasn’t happening on favorable terms. They disbanded and in 1996 officially retired the OMD name. But seemingly out of nowhere came an offer to regroup, and 14 years of recording silence ended in 2010 with “Liberator,” the first of three 21st Century OMD albums, the latest being 2017’s well-reviewed “The Punishment of Luxury.”
Looking back, McClusky last year told Rolling Stone, “Never, ever would we get a record contract now — two kids from a [Liverpool] suburb who looked ridiculous.” But what about you, black t-shirt guy? Are you too cool to like OMD? Maybe you’re not cool enough.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark play April 14 at Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale. jointherevolution.net ~ Tim Moffatt