By rights, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark should be in semi-retirement, performing classics like Enola Gay and Maid Of Orleans on the nostalgia festival circuit like so many peers.
Instead, they’ve created a landmark album worthy of their finest work. Having made one of their most universally acclaimed albums last time out, when 2017’s The Punishment Of Luxury returned Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys to the Top Five for the first time since 1991’s Sugar Tax, the duo have somehow managed to better it. Welcome to Bauhaus Staircase, both OMD’s most explicitly political record and the crowning achievement of their desire to be both Stockhausen and Abba.
The universal love shown for The Punishment Of Luxury meant there were doubts about making a new album at all. “The fans and the critics said: ‘You can put The Punishment Of Luxury up against their best work’ and rated it next to Architecture And Morality or Dazzle Ships,” notes Paul Humphreys. “The reception was so good, we thought: ‘Maybe we should stop now, at the top,’ so the idea of making a new record had some trepidation for us.”
McCluskey agrees, explaining: “We’ve worked hard to rebuild ourselves since reforming, and we’re in a wonderful position where we’re cooler than we’ve been for a long time. We wouldn’t forgive ourselves if we released an album where fans said: ‘Oh no, this is the one where they’re a pastiche of themselves.’ If Bauhaus Staircase is to be our last album, we’re going out with a strong statement.”
The new album’s beautiful film noir ballad Veruschka exemplifies the determination OMD had to make Bauhaus Staircase an album to rank among their finest. McCluskey reasons: “My attitude is like I say in that song: if you’re too afraid to jump off the cliff, you’ll never learn to fly. We couldn’t keep saying: ‘It’s not going to work.’ You have to keep trying, to see where you end up.”
The impetus to kickstart new explorations came during lockdown when, as McCluskey admits: “I rediscovered the power of total boredom.” He acknowledges he was privileged to have that comfort, but being stuck at home took the singer back to his earliest days as a songwriter: “It was like being a teenager, mum watching Kojak and me thinking: ‘Fuck this, I’m going to my room to write a song.’ For the first time since then, there was nothing else to do. It’s good inspiration.”
Humphreys and McCluskey envisage Healing as a centrepiece in OMD’s new tour in April, which climaxes with a huge concert at London's The O2. “That’ll be a landmark, but it’s also terrifying to play such a big show,” admits Humphreys. “We always conceptualise how we look for each album, and we never scrimp on the budget. We love putting on a good show.” McCluskey adds: “Our touring sales have gone up exponentially in the last decade. We’ve been a bit of a secret band, but now that people have had a chance to see us, they tend to come back.”
The new album’s other main external influence is David Watts. Mainly known as a rock producer, who helmed Sheffield band The Reytons’ recent No 1 album What’s Rock And Roll?, Watts mixed Kleptocracy and the raucous glam-tinged explosion, Slow Train. “David chose the right songs to work on,” notes Humphreys. “I’m a clean, electro mixer, whereas David brought some rock elements which enhance those songs appropriately.”
Humphreys ceded mixing the whole album as he became a second-time father two years ago, explaining: “I’ve got the sweetest kid, who’s taken up quite a bit of my time. I don’t want to work quite as hard as I have in the past, as I don’t want my daughter saying to my wife: ‘Who’s that guy over there?’ ‘That’s actually your dad.’”
If real life meant OMD were happy to get help, Bauhaus Staircase remains unmistakably the work of a duo who are still perfectly in sync 45 years after their first gig at legendary Liverpool club Eric’s. They wouldn’t have released the album if it wasn’t up to The Punishment Of Luxury’s exacting standards. “We might be seen as ‘heritage’, but we’re not going to make a new album just so we can have a new logo on our T-shirts,” insists McCluskey. Or, as McCluskey summarises: “I’m very happy with what we’ve done on this record. I’m comfortable if this is OMD’s last statement.”
New album ‘Bauhaus Staircase’ is released October 27th, 2023.