The Best of OMD (1988) ***
OMD's career trajectory soars to the highs of synth-pop's chillily lush New Romanticism and grinds its wheel in the mud with the genre's limitations. Their debut single, "Electricity," must have been disarming in 1979, one of the first salvos of a fresh new synthesizer-based sound striking for its complete absence of guitars, unusual at the time for the pop-rock format. Exciting in the early '80s to many, nearly thirty years on most synth-pop sounds thin and dated; still, early tracks such as the even more beguilingly melodic, "Messages," and "Enola Gay," (their first U.K. hit) possess a lush elegance that remains to charm. The problem is, there's a fine balance between pop and artiness, and after getting the art pretensions out of their system with not one but two in a row singles concerning Joan of Arc ("Joan of Arc," "Maid of Orleans"), OMD made a beeway straight for the charts with cringeable results. The programmed drums that are mixed way too high to pound annoyingly away in the mix in "Tesla Girls," and the idiotic dance-floor chorus of "Locomotion," (yes, it bears something of a similarity to Little Eva's equally stupid and obnoxious early '60s hit) flash the least likeable qualities of '80s music. Their early singles shined with cold reserved grace, but while they kept the cold reserve they lost the grace, as they progressed from the Wire-y early Human League to the yuppie Jam & Lewis era Human League. At the '80s mid-point they regained a bit of grace and learned how to write heavenly pop hits, as the sumptuous "So in Love," and swooningly swooping "If You Leave," remain two of the era's most crushingly romantic and memorable pop singles, with "Secret," and "Dreaming," a league or so behind but still quite chocolately delectable. But, alas, such smidgens of highlights from their latter days are not quite enough to cancel out the CD ending with a pair of six-minute 12" remixes of garishly subpar subpop fare as "We Love You," (unrelated to and much inferior to the Stones') and "Le Femme Accident" (writing song titles in grammar school French makes you seem so much more sophisticated). Look, an extended dance remix makes sense when you are on the dancefloor, but drawing out brittle 3 minute pop tunes to twice their bloated length with tacky extended drum solos, is not the sort of crap to invite into your home stereo. When OMD were at their dreamy, heart-fluttering best, they bested Flock of Duran Twins at the party of '80s pop by effeminate Englishmen with Vidal Sassoon haircuts who shall effortlessly become gay icons. That best happens all too rarely, somewhere between only a third to half the time on this disc.