SINCE ITS START in 1978, Liverpool's Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) has been one of the more consistently intriguing synthesizer-based bands to emerge from England.
Led by singers-songwriters-keyboardists Andy McClusky and Paul Humphries, OMD has always tied its experimental impulses to the basic human concerns of romance and politics. The group's new album, "Crush," is its most musically assured yet, revealing a sensuous pop sound that still leaves room for a little musical eccentricity and social consciousness.
The warm and vulnerable voices of McClusky and Humphries are perfectly suited to the refined beauty of their love songs, especially "So in Love" and "Secret." Their soft lead vocals and counterpoint falsetto harmonies are smoothly integrated with pulsing synthesizers and silky sax solos. The result is both melodically insistent and soothing.
There's no doubt that OMD has sacrificed some of the heavy dance beats and artiness of the past in order to achieve a lighter, more delicate sound. Fortunately, "Crush" is not all silly love songs dressed up in contemporary electronics. "Woman III" and "88 Seconds" thoughtfully engage the issues of sexism and racism; and on "Bloc Bloc Bloc," OMD even lets the edges get rough enough and the sound raucous enough to call it rock'n'roll.