Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, more commonly known as ‘OMD’, are the British electronic music band who formed in 1978 and achieved commercial success in the 1980s with hits such as Enola Gay, If You Leave and Joan of Arc, ‘cult classics’ that remain popular to this day. Hailing from Liverpool, the synth-pop legends have graced us with their fourteenth studio album, Bauhaus Staircase, under the White Noise label. The Album is very much a “lockdown album” according to Andy McCluskey, celebrating the power of art – with the album’s title a derivation of Oskar Schlemmer’s famous painting, ‘Bauhaus Stairway’.
Opening proceedings strongly, first track Bauhaus Staircase was not only title track, but also first single release. Very quickly the song progresses to full immersive synths hammering a beat that drives to the zenith of the track – higher pitch, euphoric synths giving an ecclesiastical feel – “revolution comes again” providing poignant vocals in this moment of synth reverence, and this is swiftly followed by Anthropocene, which also quickly gets into stride. Heavy on the synths once more, the song has a very pulsing, driving tempo. The vocals, which have an auto-tuned, synthetic quality, take somewhat of a backseat again against the synths… however, they complement the track extremely well.
Look at You Now slows down the tempo, with soaring synths and almost operatic notes weaved through this uplifting offering, and is followed by synth-pop offering G.E.M. with an almost 16-bit video game quality to the track. The lyrics of Where We Started take centre stage for a change, brimming with positivity and optimism, and this leads to the most recent single Veruschka, another down tempo track, with long gliding synth notes and akin to some of the classic 80s OMD slow movers.
Slow Train, the second single release, has been referenced as being Goldfrapp-inspired, and it’s immediately obvious in its similarity to Goldfrapp’s monster hit Train. Hints of T. Rex vocally, this track is so different to the others on the album, but it’s absolutely wonderful. Don’t Go is up next, with more than a suggestion of Yazoo’s Only You to the initial melody – the track grows into a positive, tuneful piece of synth-pop mastery. This is starkly contrasted by Kleptocracy, which is a politically charged track, with not-so-thinly veiled criticisms of political & economic corruption amongst global institutions & nation states.
In Aphrodite’s Favourite Child, I feel a sense of nostalgia with what I consider to be the bands most 1980s track of the album – this tune wouldn’t look out of place on the soundtrack of a Bratpack movie! In a return to the vibe of the early tracks of the album, Evolution of Species provides an ecological edge – beautiful synth vocals, mixed in with vocal direct from an educational video you’d watched in secondary school biology. Rounding off “Bauhaus Staircase” is Healing, a positive, atmospheric track with almost chorale quality – a reverent ending to the LP.
OMD have left a lasting impact on the electronic music genre, with a legacy of innovative and influential music, and Bauhaus Staircase is a fine addition to their portfolio. Whilst distinctively ‘OMD’, this is certainly more electronic than previous offerings (if that’s possible), and is often Kraftwerk-esque, but with some bouncier, more pop-like tones than the uber-synth masters. Andy McClusky was cognisant that with this album OMD were trying to avoid sounding like a “sad pastiche of yourself” – I think they’ve succeeded.