Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily contemplating the end of, like, everything.Here’s the recently reunited British synth-pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark with the third single and title track from their latest album History of Modern, their first full-length studio record since 1996. While the band is best remembered for “If You Leave”, their contribution, via the soundtrack of Pretty in Pink, to the mid-80s John Hughes hit parade, it’s worth remembering that such lovely, lush, and lovelorn ballads (see also “Secret”, “So In Love”, “Forever Live and Die”) were the exception more than the rule in a catalog full of songs about technology, communications, science and religion.
This is a band that named one of their albums Architecture & Morality (and boy, did they mean it!), and who turned the bombing of Hiroshima into one of the most chipper, urgently effervescent pop singles of the 80s (and that at the dawn of the Reagan Administration, when World War III seemed like a real possibility to this nine-year-old kid in Paddock Lake, Wisconsin, when the President could make a joke about outlawing Russia and letting the bombing commence immediately.)
It’s that tradition of setting historical and/or philosophical and/or scientific inquiry to catchy, electronically-enhanced three minute pop ditties that OMD plays to on their latest. “History of Modern Part 1” is, more than anything, an adorable piece of insistent melodic candy in a shiny, shiny wrapper. But its lyrics tap into what might otherwise be a terrifying contemplation. Not just the inevitability of physical death, but something even greater and even more unfathomable. And they do it in a way that not only doesn’t sound doomy-gloomy, but actually conveys a feeling of – yeah! – liberation, man!
This song finds me at a strange moment, what with all the rotten things afoot in the State of Wisconsin. For the last six or eight weeks, each morning and evening local news broadcast has offered up a increasingly overstocked buffet of fresh outrages; and it’s been surreal to see those homegrown outrages – it’s all happening just ten miles down the road – amplified in the broadcasts and web-pages of national and international news media. There are few times – no times, in fact – I can remember being as consumed with anger over abstractions like “rights” and “democracy” as I have been these last few weeks, and at one point, I had to make a conscious decision to step back and remember to – y’know – be a person.“History of Modern” is more than just a healthy step back though. It’s an astronomical-scale zoom-out. While I might be keeping a running tally of “Likes” on the “Recall Alberta Darling (R-River Hills)” facebook page (it topped 4000 today) to compare with my running tally of “Likes” on the “Recall Mark Miller (D-Monona)” page (150 so far), this is a song about the recall efforts currently being mounted by the cosmos against, in OMD’s words, “all that went before and all that follows this.”
Earlier this week, I was feeling a little bummed out watching the news and seeing all the signs taken down from the Capitol, whose marble walls, for weeks, had turned into a spontaneous, ever expanding, interactive mosaic of citizen outrage – one of the coolest works of collective outsider art I’ve ever witnessed. Mixed media with blue painters tape. And then there it all was on the news, all laid out in piles for people to reclaim if they so desired. Each sign has been photographed for posterity; some, it’s been said, are even Smithsonian-bound. Eventually, the signs would all have to come down sometime. Everyone knew that. But it was still sad when it actually happened.
And then there’s OMD singing to me from my iPod: “All will be erased, and replaced.”
A strangely hopeful reminder of the Almighty Whatever’s pending Repeal and Replace legislation which will certainly pass at some point, no matter how many people take to the streets in protest.