Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

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Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Co-founders Andy McCluskey (left) and Paul Humphreys in 2011
Co-founders Andy McCluskey (left) and Paul Humphreys in 2011
Background information
Also known asOMD
OriginMeols, Wirral, Merseyside, England
Years active
  • 1978–1996
  • 2006–present
Associated acts
Past members

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) are an English electronic band formed in Wirral, Merseyside in 1978. The group consists of co-founders Andy McCluskey (vocals, bass guitar) and Paul Humphreys (keyboards, vocals), along with Martin Cooper (various instruments) and Stuart Kershaw (drums); McCluskey has been the only constant member. Regarded as pioneers of electronic music, OMD combined an experimental, minimalist ethos with pop sensibilities, becoming central figures in the late 1970s/early 1980s emergence of synth-pop.

McCluskey and Humphreys led precursor group the Id from 1977–1978, and re-recorded their track "Electricity" as OMD's debut single in 1979. Weathering an "uncool" image and a degree of hostility from music critics, the band gained popularity throughout Europe with the 1980 anti-war song "Enola Gay", and achieved broader recognition via Architecture & Morality (1981) and its three hit singles. Although later reappraised, Dazzle Ships (1983) was seen as overly challenging, and eroded European support. The group embraced a more radio-friendly sound on Junk Culture (1984); this change in direction led to greater success in the United States, and yielded the 1986 hit, "If You Leave".

In 1989, creative differences saw Humphreys and other members form the spin-off band the Listening Pool, leaving McCluskey the only remaining member of OMD. The group returned with a new line-up and explored the dance-pop genre: Sugar Tax (1991) and its initial singles were hits in Europe. By the mid-1990s, however, electronic music had been supplanted by alternative rock, and both OMD and the Listening Pool disbanded in 1996. McCluskey later conceived pop girl group Atomic Kitten, for whom he served as a principal songwriter, while Humphreys formed the duo Onetwo alongside Propaganda vocalist Claudia Brücken.

In 2006, the band reformed with Humphreys and McCluskey working on material closer in sound to their early output; The Punishment of Luxury (2017) was the group's seventh top 10 entry on the UK Albums Chart. They have also achieved 12 top 20 hits on the UK Singles Chart, as well as three top 20 hits on the US Billboard Hot 100. An influence on many later artists, OMD have sold over 40 million records worldwide.


1975–1979: Roots and early years[edit]

Singer and co-founder Andy McCluskey

Founders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys met at primary school in Meols in the early 1960s, and in the mid-1970s, as teenagers, they were involved in different local groups but shared a distaste for guitar-driven rock with a macho attitude popular among their friends at the time.[6][7] By 1975 McCluskey had formed Equinox, as bassist and vocalist, alongside schoolmate Malcolm Holmes on drums, while Humphreys was roadie. During that time McCluskey and Humphreys discovered their electronic style, inspired by Kraftwerk.[8] After Equinox, McCluskey joined Pegasus,[9] and, later, the short-lived Hitlerz Underpantz, alongside Humphreys.[10][11] McCluskey would usually sing and play bass guitar; roadie and electronics enthusiast Humphreys, who shared McCluskey's love of electronic music,[12] graduated to keyboards.

In September 1977, McCluskey and Humphreys put together the seven-piece (three singers, two guitarists, bassist, drummer, and keyboard player) Wirral group the Id, whose line-up included drummer Malcolm Holmes and McCluskey's girlfriend Julia Kneale on vocals. The group began to gig regularly in the Merseyside area, performing original material (largely written by McCluskey and Humphreys). They had quite a following on the scene, and one of their tracks ("Julia's Song") was included on a compilation record of local bands called Street to Street.[11][13] Meanwhile, Humphreys and McCluskey collaborated on a side project called VCL XI, whose name was adapted from a diagram on the back cover of Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity album, reading "VCL 11". This project allowed them to pursue their more obscure electronic experiments.[11]

In August 1978, the Id split due to musical differences. The same month, McCluskey joined Wirral electronic outfit Dalek I Love You as lead singer, but quit in September.[13] Later that month, he rejoined Humphreys and their VCL XI project was renamed Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The name was gleaned from a list of song lyrics and ideas that were written on McCluskey's bedroom wall;[7] and was chosen so they would not be mistaken for a punk band.[14][15] Given that OMD intended to play only one gig, the duo considered their moniker to be inconsequential.[16] McCluskey has since expressed regret over choosing "such a very silly name".[15] The contrasting personalities of Humphreys and McCluskey established the band's dynamic, with the former saying that "two Pauls wouldn't get anything done and two Andys would kill each other."[17] They have further described their creative roles as "The Surgeon" (Humphreys) and "The Butcher" (McCluskey).[18] As working class youngsters OMD had a limited budget, using second-hand "junk-shop" instruments including a left-handed bass guitar (which McCluskey would play upside-down).[19][20] The pair also created their own devices, with Humphreys "making things out of his aunt's radios cannibalised for the circuit boards".[19][21] Eventually they acquired a basic Korg M-500 Micro Preset synthesizer, purchased via McCluskey's mother's mail-order catalogue for £7.76 a week, paid over 36 weeks.[22][23]

OMD began to gig regularly as a duo, performing to backing tracks played from a TEAC 4-track tape-recorder christened "Winston" (after the antihero of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four). Their debut performance was in October 1978 at Eric's Club in Liverpool.[21] Finding themselves on the cusp of an electronic new wave in British pop-music, they released a one-off single, "Electricity", with independent label Factory Records. The track was supposed to be produced by the Factory Records producer Martin Hannett. However, the A-side was the band's original demo produced by their friend, owner of Winston and soon to be manager, Paul Collister[24] under the pseudonym Chester Valentino (taken from a nightclub called Valentino's in the nearby city of Chester). The single's sleeve was designed by Peter Saville, whose distinctive graphics contributed to OMD's public image into the 1980s.[11][12] The success of "Electricity" led to the band receiving a seven-album record deal with Dindisc, worth over £250,000.[7][21]

In 1979 they were asked to support Gary Numan on his first major British tour. Humphreys noted, "[Numan] gave us our first big break. He saw us opening for Joy Division and he asked us to go on tour with him... we went from the small clubs to playing huge arenas. Gary was very good to us."[25] Numan later supported OMD on a 1993 UK arena tour.[26]

1980–1988: Classic line-up[edit]

"Musically, we were pushing boundaries as far as we could. At one Virgin meeting, the head of A&R asked us, 'Come on guys, are you [Karlheinz] Stockhausen or ABBA?' Andy and I said together, 'Can't we be both?'"

Paul Humphreys[18]

Rather than hire studio time to record their eponymous debut album (1980), McCluskey and Humphreys used their advance payment from Dindisc to build their own Liverpool recording studio, The Gramophone Suite. They predicted that they would be dropped by the label due to disappointing sales, but would at least own a studio.[21] The album showcased the band's live set at the time, and included some guest drums from Id drummer Malcolm Holmes and saxophone from Wirral musician Martin Cooper. It had a raw, poppy, melodic synth-pop sound.[27][28] Dindisc arranged for the song "Messages" to be re-recorded (produced by Gong bassist Mike Howlett) and released as a single – it gave the band their first hit.[29] Dave Hughes, a founder member of Dalek I Love You who joined OMD in 1980,[13] is featured in the "Messages" video. A tour followed: Winston the tape recorder was augmented with live drums from Malcolm Holmes, and Dave Hughes played synths. Hughes left OMD in late 1980.[30]

The second album Organisation (a reference to the band which preceded Kraftwerk,[31] founded by Kraftwerk's original members Florian Schneider-Esleben and Ralf Hütter) followed later that year, recorded as a three-piece with Humphreys, McCluskey and Holmes. It was again produced by Howlett, and had a moodier, dark feel largely inspired by the passing of former Factory label-mate, and Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis.[32] The album included the hit single "Enola Gay", named after the plane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.[29] The song was intended to be included on the debut album, but was left out at the final selection. The tour for this album had a four-piece band line-up, with saxophonist Martin Cooper (another Dalek I Love You alumnus) recruited for keyboard duties and enlisted as an official group member.[12] The McCluskey/Humphreys/Cooper/Holmes unit came to be regarded as the band's classic line-up.[33] In early 1981, Record Mirror named OMD as the fourth-best band of 1980; NME and Sounds named the group as one of the 10 best new acts of the year.[34] Smash Hits readers voted them both the fifth-best band of 1980 and the eighth-hottest new act for 1981.[35]

Howlett then presided over the recording of a further hit single, "Souvenir", co-written by Cooper & Humphreys. It ushered in a lush choral electronic sound. The song also became OMD's biggest UK hit to date.[12][36] In November 1981, their most commercially successful album was released in the UK and Europe – Architecture & Morality. The group went into the studio with Richard Manwaring producing.[12][36] Cooper then temporarily dropped out and was replaced by Mike Douglas, but this change was reversed by the time the album was released and a tour followed. The album's sound saw OMD's original synth-pop sound augmented by the Mellotron,[37] an instrument previously associated with prog rock bands. They used it to add atmospheric swatches of string, choir, and other sounds to their palette. Two more hit singles "Joan of Arc" and "Maid of Orleans" (which became the biggest-selling single of 1982 in Germany[38]) were on the album. "Joan of Arc" and "Maid of Orleans" were originally both titled "Joan of Arc"; the name of the latter single was changed at the insistence of the publishers and to avoid confusion. It became "Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)" and later simply "Maid of Orleans".[12] Smash Hits readers voted OMD the seventh-best group of 1981.[39]

Longtime instrumentalist Martin Cooper

In 1983 the band lost commercial momentum somewhat, with the release of their more experimental Dazzle Ships album, produced by Rhett Davies. The record mixed melancholy synth ballads and uptempo synth-pop with musique concrète and short wave radio tape collages. Its relative commercial failure caused a crisis of confidence for Humphreys and McCluskey and brought about a deliberate move towards the mainstream.[38] 1984's Junk Culture was a shift to a more pop-style sound and the band used digital sampling keyboards such as the Fairlight CMI and the E-mu Emulator. The album was a success, reassuring the group about their new direction.[29] The "Locomotion" single returned the group to the top five in the UK and was an indicator of the group's newfound sound, notably the adoption of a classic verse–chorus form, which is something the group had often previously avoided. In 1985, the band expanded to a sextet, adding brothers Graham Weir (guitar, keyboards, trombone) and Neil Weir (trumpet, bass guitar), and released Crush, produced by Stephen Hague in Paris and New York.[40] The success of the single "So in Love" in the US Billboard Hot 100 also led to some success for the LP which entered the American Top 40, establishing the group in the US. During this period, the band also recorded a special version of "So in Love" in duet with the French pop singer Etienne Daho.[41]

Later in 1985 the band were asked to write a song for the John Hughes film Pretty in Pink. They offered "Goddess of Love", although the ending of the film was re-shot due to a negative response from test audiences. OMD then wrote "If You Leave" in less than 24 hours[7] and it became a top 5 hit in the US, Canada, and New Zealand in 1986. At the end of this year, the same six piece line-up also released The Pacific Age, but the band began to see their critical and public popularity wane notably in the UK. The album's first single, "(Forever) Live and Die", was a top 10 hit across Europe[42] and entered the top 20 in both the UK[43] and US. Journalist Hugo Lindgren argued that the success of "If You Leave" has concealed from US audiences the group's history of making innovative music.[7]

During 1988 OMD played a support slot for Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses Tour at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on 18 June 1988. They also released the top 20 US hit "Dreaming" and a successful greatest hits album, The Best of OMD. Graham and Neil Weir left the band at the end of the 1988 US tour.

1989–1996: McCluskey-led OMD and disbandment[edit]

Keyboardist and co-founder Paul Humphreys departed in 1989

As OMD appeared poised to consolidate their US success, the group continued to fracture. Humphreys departed in 1989 amid personal and creative dissension with McCluskey.[2] Cooper and Holmes then left OMD to join Humphreys in founding a new band called the Listening Pool.[29][44] McCluskey recalled, "We were all in agreement that something was wrong. How to fix it was where we disagreed."[45]

This left only McCluskey to carry on, essentially becoming a solo artist working under the OMD banner. McCluskey's first album from the new OMD was the dance-pop Sugar Tax album in May 1991, which charted at No. 3 in the UK. McCluskey recruited in 1989 Liverpool musicians Raw Unlimited (Lloyd Massett, Stuart Kershaw, Nathalie Loates) as collaborators for the making of Sugar Tax: writing credits carefully distinguished between songs written by OMD (i.e., McCluskey) and songs written by OMD/Kershaw/Massett.[46] This iteration of the group was initially successful with hits like "Sailing on the Seven Seas" and "Pandora's Box", with lesser success on fellow chart entries, "Call My Name" and "Then You Turn Away". McCluskey's live band was then formed by Nigel Ipinson (keyboards), Phil Coxon (keyboards), and Abe Juckes (drums) from late 1990. Smash Hits readers voted OMD the sixth-best British group of 1991.[47]

The album Liberator, which ventured further into dance territory, was released in 1993.[48] It peaked at No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart. Lead single "Stand Above Me" peaked at no. 21 on the UK Singles Chart, with follow-up "Dream of Me" charting at no. 24. Paul Humphreys, while no longer part of the group, co-wrote the single "Everyday" (a No. 59 UK chart entry). The fifth track from Liberator, "Dream of Me", was built around a sample from "Love's Theme" by Love Unlimited Orchestra, a track which was written and produced by Barry White.[49] To release the "Dream of Me" track as an OMD single, however, McCluskey had to agree that the single release of the track would remove the actual "Love's Theme" sample, but still be officially titled "Dream of Me (Based on Love's Theme)", and furthermore would still give a writing credit to White.[50]

Also in 1993, McCluskey made contributions to the Esperanto album, a project by former Kraftwerk member Karl Bartos (then working under the moniker of Elektric Music).[51]

McCluskey returned with a rotating cast of musicians for the more organic Universal (1996),[21] which featured two songs co-written by Humphreys as well as a holdover from the Esperanto sessions, co-penned by Bartos. The record spawned OMD's first Top 20 hit in five years, "Walking on the Milky Way".

Though both Liberator and Universal produced minor hits, McCluskey retired the OMD name in late 1996, due to waning public interest. A particular source of frustration was the modest commercial response to "Walking on the Milky Way", over which McCluskey said he "sweated blood", considering it "about as good a song as I could write". BBC Radio 1 refused to playlist the song, which in turn led to high street store Woolworths refusing to stock it. McCluskey said, "I just thought: 'Screw this, I'm not going to bang my head against a brick wall'."[52] A second singles album was released in 1998, along with an EP of remixed material by such acts as Sash! and Moby.

Post-1996, McCluskey decided to focus on songwriting for such Liverpool based acts as Atomic Kitten and the Genie Queen, and trying to develop new Merseyside artists from his Motor Museum recording studio. With McCluskey focusing his talents elsewhere, Humphreys decided to work with his new musical partner Claudia Brücken, of the ZTT bands Propaganda and Act, as Onetwo. He also undertook a US live tour under the banner of "Paul Humphreys from OMD".[53]

2006–2012: Reformation and comeback[edit]

McCluskey performing the "Trainee Teacher Dance"

An unexpected request to perform from a German Television show and McCluskey's desire to find distraction after his acrimonious divorce led the group to reform.[7] On 1 January 2006, Andy McCluskey announced plans to reform OMD with the McCluskey, Humphreys, Holmes, and Cooper line-up. The original plan was to tour the album Architecture & Morality and other pre-1983 material, then record a new album set for release in 2007. In May 2007, the Architecture & Morality remastered CD was re-released together with a DVD featuring the Drury Lane concert from 1981 that had previously been available on VHS. Through May and June, the band toured with the "classic" line up of McCluskey, Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper. They began their set with a re-ordered but otherwise complete re-staging of the Architecture & Morality album. The second half of each concert featured a selection of their best known hits.[54]

In Spring 2008, a live CD and DVD of the 2007 tour, OMD Live: Architecture & Morality & More, recorded at the London Hammersmith Apollo, was released as was a 25th anniversary re-release of Dazzle Ships, including six bonus tracks. At the same time, a brief October 2008 tour was announced, partly to tie-in with the Dazzle Ships album's 25th anniversary. China Crisis supported OMD on this tour.

In June 2009, an orchestral concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic was given in Liverpool. A recording of this concert was released on DVD in December.[55] In November and December, the band returned to arena touring as support for Simple Minds. OMD had performed with Night of the Proms in December 2006 in Germany and renewed the experience again in Belgium and the Netherlands that year. They were the headline act at Britain's first Vintage Computer Festival at The National Museum of Computing, Bletchley Park, in June 2010.[56] On 9 September 2010, Trevor Horn announced that OMD would perform as a special guest at the "first ever gig" of the Buggles.[57] Their 11th studio album, History of Modern, was released in September, reaching No. 28 in the UK Albums Chart. A European tour followed in autumn.[58]

In March 2011, OMD played their first North American tour as the original line up since 1988. In September, the band appeared at the Electric Picnic 2011 festival in Stradbally, Co Laois, Ireland. In November 2011, OMD announced they were getting back to the studio to start work on their latest album, English Electric.[59] On 12 March 2012, the band played a concert at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Philippines. In August, OMD performed to South African audiences in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

2013–present: Continued acknowledgement[edit]

"Being in Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark right now is just the most blessed thing... it's like being 19 again. We can do what the hell we want."

Andy McCluskey[60]

On 29 January 2013, Goldenvoice announced OMD for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, on 14 and 21 April.[61] On 11 February, OMD announced "Metroland" would be the first single from the forthcoming album English Electric. The single was released on 25 March, and includes the B-side "The Great White Silence."[62] The album English Electric was released in the UK on 8 April and entered the UK album chart at No. 12 and the German chart at No. 10. Reviews for both the album and their concerts have generally been positive.[7] For Record Store Day 2013, on 20 April, a 500-copy limited edition 10-inch picture disc EP "The Future Will Be Silent" from English Electric was made available, which includes a then-exclusive non-album track titled "Time Burns".[63][64] For Record Store Day 2015, on 18 April, a 1000-copy limited edition 10-inch EP "Julia's Song (Dub Version)" from Junk Culture was made available, which includes an exclusive non-album track titled "10 to 1".

OMD performed a one-off concert at The Royal Albert Hall, London on 9 May 2016 to a sell-out crowd, playing both Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships in their entirety, along with other songs that were pre-1983. The only song post-1983 played was "History of Modern Part 1". The concert was recorded and made available on double CD right after the show. A triple LP vinyl recording of the concert was also made available.[65] The band collaborated with Gary Barlow, Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman on the OMD song "Thrill Me", co-written by Barlow and McCluskey for the soundtrack of the film Eddie the Eagle.[66] In October, work was begun on what was to be their 13th studio album The Punishment of Luxury,[67] which was released on 1 September 2017.[68] OMD toured Europe and North America in support of the album, with Stuart Kershaw replacing Holmes as the band's drummer, due to the latter's health issues.[69]

In 2018, OMD published a book entitled "Pretending to See the Future", which is a first-person "autobiography" about the band. It mixed fan-submitted memories with commentary from McCluskey, Humphreys, Cooper, Holmes, and Kershaw. For people who pre-ordered the book on PledgeMusic, they received a limited-edition flexi-disc containing a previously unheard demo of "Messages" from 1978.[70][71]

As part of the group's 40th-anniversary celebrations, a UK and European tour was announced in March 2019.[72] A retrospective deluxe boxset entitled Souvenir was also announced in August 2019.[73] The 40th anniversary collection includes the group's forty singles, including new release "Don't Go". It also contains 22 previously unreleased recordings from the group's archive, selected and mixed by Paul Humphreys. Two audio live shows, one from 2011 and one from 2013, are also included together with two DVDs bringing together two more live concerts – Drury Lane in 1981 and Sheffield City Hall in 1985 – plus Crush – The Movie, and various BBC TV performances from Top of the Pops, The Old Grey Whistle Test and Later... with Jools Holland. The boxset was nominated for "Best Historical Album" at the 2021 Grammy Awards.[74]

Artistry and image[edit]

James Hunter of Spin wrote that "OMD set about reinventing punk with different applications of dance beats, keyboards, melodies, and sulks", rejecting the genre's "sonic trappings but not its intellectual freedom".[75] The band found commercial success with a style of synth-pop described as "experimental", "minimal" and "edgy".[3][76] OMD often eschewed choruses, replacing them with synthesizer lines, and opted for unconventional lyrical subjects such as industrial processes, micronations and telephone boxes;[77][78] the BBC said that the group "were always more intellectual" than "contemporaries like Duran Duran and Eurythmics".[79] Despite the band's experimentation, they employed pop hooks in their music,[80] attaining what AllMusic's Ned Raggett described as "the enviable position of at once being creative innovators and radio-friendly pop giants".[81] They were influenced by electronic artists such as Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Neu!,[12][82] as well as more mainstream acts like David Bowie and Roxy Music.[44] OMD drew inspiration from former Factory Records label-mates Joy Division, particularly during the making of Organisation (1980).[21] The group also recorded two Velvet Underground covers.[83]

OMD were indifferent to celebrity status, and avoided the calculated fashion stylings of many of their 1980s peers.[16][84] During live performances, McCluskey developed a spasmodic dancing style that has been dubbed the "Trainee Teacher Dance";[85] he explains that it stemmed "from the perception that [OMD] were making boring robotic intellectual music that you couldn't dance to".[86] Journalist Hugo Lindgren noted that the band were perceived as "oddballs, freaks" on the Liverpool scene;[7] McCluskey has identified himself and Humphreys as "synth punks" and "complete geeks".[87][88] Gareth Ware of DIY called OMD "one of the guiding lights of British synth-pop... albeit one with a disarming naivety and warm characterful nature at odds with the sleek, chic image cultivated by the likes of [the] Human League and Depeche Mode."[77] Critic Andrew Collins said the group represented a wave of "uncool" pop stars who would eventually "become cool" in the public eye.[22]

Mid-1980s style change[edit]

OMD's mid-1980s reinvention alienated some listeners, but was embraced by others, including Tony Kanal of No Doubt

The experimental Dazzle Ships (1983) was a critical and commercial disappointment upon release. This prompted OMD to move towards a more accessible sound on the black music-influenced Junk Culture (1984); the band also donned more vibrant garments on the album's accompanying tour.[89] The group continued to incorporate sonic experimentation,[80][90] although their sound became increasingly polished on the Stephen Hague-produced records Crush (1985) and The Pacific Age (1986).[91][92]

Some journalists have rejected the group's post-Dazzle Ships reinvention,[93][94] while others have expressed an appreciation for the new direction.[95][96] Sean O'Neal of the A.V. Club said OMD would "give up" creatively,[93] while the Quietus founder John Doran wrote, "It's quite popular to see OMD as nose-diving into the effluence after Dazzle Ships but the truth is there is still much to recommend."[95] Although Junk Culture is seen to represent a shift toward a more pop-oriented style, some critics feel that the group did not relinquish their experimental ethos until 1985, the year in which they released Crush.[97][98] Elements of earlier experimentation have nevertheless been observed on Crush and follow-up The Pacific Age.[99][100][101]

Musicians have commented on OMD's mid-1980s output. Moby said, "Their earlier records were just phenomenal... a few years on they were making music for John Hughes movies, and they were good at it and I'm glad that they had success with it, but it wasn't nearly as creatively inspiring."[102] On the other hand, Tony Kanal of No Doubt said, "[OMD] inspired us to try and do our own John Hughes prom-scene movie moment kind of songs... Junk Culture is great."[103] Angus Andrew of Liars referred to "the complexity and mastery in OMD's later pop material", calling himself "a fan of OMD albums from all of their phases".[104]

Spin journalist Jessica Bendinger wrote in 1988, "[OMD's] music has been colored by continual exploration... which has run the gamut from Gregorian-chant-inspired anthems of love to a union of Orchestral-Motown."[105]

Subsequent reinventions[edit]

The McCluskey-led OMD explored a dance-oriented approach on Sugar Tax (1991) and Liberator (1993);[48] critic Ian Peel wrote that the band "defied expectations by updating their sound and becoming, if only briefly, relevant in the 90s".[96] The group disbanded shortly after the release of Universal (1996), on which they strained for a more organic and acoustic sound.[21] McCluskey recalled a negative media perception of the band by the mid-1990s, saying, "At the height of indie rock and Britpop, we were totally out of fashion."[16] Since OMD's 2006 reformation, their material has been seen as more akin to their early output.[106][107]

Legacy and influence[edit]

If Kraftwerk were the Elvis Presley of synth-pop, then Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were its Beatles."

The Scotsman[86]

OMD have been named as pioneers of electronic music,[1][108][109][110] and one of the more important acts of the synth-pop genre;[111][112] Nightshift identified OMD, and fellow late 1970s debutants Gary Numan and the Human League, as "the holy trinity of synth-pop".[113] AllMusic's Andy Kellman emphasised the band's "inventive albums" and status as "one of the earliest, most commercially successful, and enduring synth pop groups".[29] Hugo Lindgren of the New York Times wrote that OMD cultivated a "legacy as musical innovators", adding, "The genre they helped invent — file under 'synth pop' — proved hugely popular."[7] The band have been recognised as playing a prominent role in defining the sound of 1980s and early 1990s popular music.[5][114] In particular, "Electricity" (1979) and "If You Leave" (1986) have been identified as two of the most influential records of their era.[115][116] The group have drawn comparisons to pre-eminent Merseyside act the Beatles,[5][95][86] with McCluskey and Humphreys being labelled the "Lennon–McCartney of synth-pop".[5][117]

OMD often faced hostility from the music press.[118] Record Mirror's Simon Ludgate told how they received a "thorough tarring of the same brush" as then-maligned artist Gary Numan, but were able to weather "this almost certain kiss of death".[119] Ben Walsh of The Independent said that the band "might not attract the kudos of Depeche Mode, Joy Division and New Order, but they were certainly as significant."[120] Despite their difficult relationship with critics, the group have earned a cult following;[48][121] DJ Chris Evans remarked, "There are fans, and then there are OMD fans. [Their] fans may be among the greatest in the world... they are devout."[122] The band also enjoys a large fanbase within the LGBT community, which McCluskey says they cherish.[123] Architecture & Morality (1981), regarded as OMD's seminal album,[124] had sold more than four million copies by early 2007; Sugar Tax (1991), the record that marked a commercial renaissance for the group, had sold more than three million by the same time period.[86] The experimental Dazzle Ships (1983), which met with a degree of critical and commercial hostility, has been retrospectively praised by critics and cited as one of the band's most influential works.[125][126][127] OMD's overall record sales stand in excess of 40 million,[78][128] with sales of more than 15 million albums and 25 million singles.[108]

Impact on other artists[edit]

OMD influenced several 1980s contemporaries, including Depeche Mode.[129][130] Vince Clarke, who established that group's electronic direction and later founded Yazoo and Erasure,[129][131] cites OMD as his inspiration to become an electronic musician.[131][132] OMD were an important act for Pet Shop Boys, whose singer, Neil Tennant, identified the band as "pioneers of electronic music".[110][120] The group were revered by Frankie Goes to Hollywood,[133] Howard Jones,[134] Alphaville,[135] Book of Love[136] and Ricky Wilde (songwriter/producer for Kim Wilde),[137] and were also influential on New Order[138] and Tears for Fears' exploration of electronic instruments.[139][140] The band have garnered praise from other peers including the Human League's Philip Oakey,[134] Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey,[134] Trevor Horn,[57] and Gary Numan, who credited OMD for "some of the best pop songs ever written".[134] Within the rock genre, the group influenced then-progressive outfit Spoons,[141][142] and inspired ZZ Top to embrace synthesizers and onstage dancing.[143][144]

OMD have been cited as an influence by later artists such as No Doubt,[103] Moby,[145] MGMT,[146] Paul van Dyk,[147] Liars,[148] Red Hot Chili Peppers' John Frusciante,[149] Take That's Gary Barlow,[150] the Killers' Dave Keuning,[151] AFI's Davey Havok,[134] Barenaked Ladies' Kevin Hearn,[152] the Shins' James Mercer,[153] and the Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon.[154] The group's influence also extends to country act Sugarland,[155] physicist Brian Cox,[134] and Steve Lamacq, who became a DJ after hearing "Electricity".[134][156] 1983's "challenging" Dazzle Ships was a key inspiration for Saint Etienne,[77] Death Cab for Cutie[157] and Future Islands,[158] and was lauded by producer Mark Ronson.[159] Elsewhere, the band have received endorsements from musicians such as Sash!,[160] Sharon Van Etten,[161] LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy,[162] Deftones' Chino Moreno,[163] the Charlatans' Tim Burgess,[164] Hot Chip's Al Doyle,[165] and Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, who said that OMD's albums "stand up very, very well as experimental pop records with the most enjoyable kind of songwriting."[166]

OMD are the subject of two 2001 tribute albums, which feature interpretations by the likes of White Town, the Faint, Mahogany and Acid House Kings.[167][168] The group's songs have also been covered by acts including Gary Barlow,[169] Howard Jones,[170] MGMT,[171] Boy George,[172] Good Charlotte,[173] Scooter,[174] NOFX,[175] Nada Surf,[176] Angel Olsen,[177] Half Man Half Biscuit,[178] the Bluetones' Mark Morriss[179] and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,[180] and have been sampled by artists such as Leftfield[181] and rapper Kid Cudi.[85] David Guetta, who contributed a remix to 2003's The OMD Singles, described the opportunity to rework the band's material as "a thrill for any electronic musician".[182] OMD collaborators Vince Clarke, Moby and Kraftwerk's Karl Bartos were among the artists to pen tributes for the book OMD: Pretending to See the Future (2018).[134]

Band members[edit]

Stuart Kershaw (pictured) replaced longtime drummer Malcolm Holmes in 2015
Current members
Former members
  • Malcolm Holmes – drums and percussion (1980–89; 2006–2015)
  • Dave Hughes – keyboards (1979–80)
  • Michael Douglas – keyboards (1980–81)
  • Graham Weir – guitar, brass, keyboards, writer (1984–89)
  • Neil Weir – brass, keyboards, bass guitar (1984–89)
  • Phil Coxon – keyboards (1991–93)
  • Nigel Ipinson – keyboards (1991–93)
  • Abe Juckes – drums (1991–92)



Studio albums

See also[edit]


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