Emotional electronic pop…
When OMD originally reformed, it was important for both Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey that any new album could not simply be some half-hearted pastiche of their former glories. Consequently, each of the post-reformation albums, 2010’s History of Modern, 2013’s English Electric and 2017’s The Punishment Of Luxury drew both critical appraisal as well as an opportunity to reassess OMD’s musical legacy as a whole.
With their latest album Bauhaus Staircase being mooted as the band’s final album, it automatically puts this collection of songs – and the band themselves – under more scrutiny perhaps than its predecessors. Yet the most notable thing about this album is the fact that it’s much more subtle in its appeal than with the previous albums. This is evident in the small details that are weaved into some of the songs that only make themselves apparent after several spins. At the same time, there’s a more emotional core to the material on this album; a beguiling quality that draws the listener in.
To begin with, the album’s title track (and lead single) ‘Bauhaus Staircase’ is an unashamedly zippy electronic pop effort that offers up a glorious celebration of art and culture. ‘Anthropocene’ continues along in a similar fashion with a smart use of layered electronic effects. Employing some potent text-to-speech elements, it’s also a composition that has a definite Kraftwerk feel to it. The concept of the song delves into the cheery prospect of human extinction, part of a series of darker themes here and there on the album (but for a band that dreamt up ‘Enola Gay’, this is familiar territory).
There’s a softer approach for the stately ‘Look at You Now’, an elegiac outing that’s also peppered with subtle choral effects. With some sweeping vocals and lyrical hooks in lines such as “When desire won’t let you go/Frustration starts to grow”, it’s another demonstration of OMD’s talents for lush pop.
There’s a harder edge to the curious ‘G.E.M.’ that also features breathy, treated vocal effects and some catchy melodies (including, for the sharper ears, some definite nods to early abstract OMD synth melodies). The vocals have an indistinct, obscure quality to them, but lines such as “You’re savagely imperfect but I love your smile” have an effective power.
‘Where We Started’ has a slight gothic mood at work, which brings to mind OMD’s Sugar Tax/Liberator era of the 1990s. Some tactile, reedy synth melodies offset its more brooding qualities coupled with some intimate vocal musings.
Elsewhere, the strings-infused ‘Veruschka’ spins the album’s synth crush moods back up. There’s a sweeping, soaring quality to this number with some evocative vocal moments (“And if you’re too afraid to die/How will you ever learn to fly away”).
Bauhaus Staircase also rescues ‘lost’ OMD song ‘Don’t Go’, a bittersweet synth-pop delight that the band had previously issued as a non-studio album single in 2019 (here in a slightly remixed form).
Meanwhile, the anthemic ‘Kleptocracy’ shows off one of the album’s definite highlights. It’s a driving, dynamic outing with great use of drums and melody. At the same time, there’s a definite acidic bite to the lyrical narrative which rails against political corruption (“It doesn’t matter who you voted for/They bought the man you elected”).
One of the album’s oldest songs, ‘Aphrodite’s Favourite Child’, plays around with some classic OMD elements in the form of Mellotron choirs. It’s a mesmerising number with some good percussive effects. It’s also a song that shares some DNA with 2013 song ‘Helen of Troy’, once again using the talents of the people behind Greek electropop outfit Fotonovela.
The emotive ‘Healing’ closes the album out, an angsty affair driven by a throbbing synth augmented by some plaintive piano fills. The track builds in intensity and there’s a bold, dramatic sensibility here which offers a neat bookend to the album.
It’s perhaps wise to be cautious whenever a band of OMD’s stature releases a new studio album. There’s always an uncertainty and a concern that the material is going to fall short of expectations (Or that the band are going to serve up rejigged versions of classic songs with the serial numbers filed off). Instead, Bauhaus Staircase is a surprisingly emotional album that has a warmth and humanity lurking at the heart of its electronic foundations.
Bauhaus Staircase is out now via 100%
This review originally appeared in issue 10 of Blitzed Magazine. The same issue also features an exclusive interview with Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey discussing the genesis of the Bauhaus Staircase album.
The magazine also features interviews with Midge Ure, Billy Currie, Marcella Detroit and Rusty Egan. All this, plus the regular reviews, features and columns.
Order Via: Blitzed Magazine 10