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Wednesday, 16 May 2007

In The Dark

Eyewear often writes about popular music - sometimes reviewing "pop music" - and this might strike some readers as less serious writing than that which considers, say, poetry, or even film. They might be right. Little popular music bears the same weight of scrutiny as a first-rate poem, or great film.

Indeed, the names of those composers, lyricists, performers and singer-songwriters who have distinguished themselves as being artists, while arguably large, may truly include only a few creators of genius - Cole Porter, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, The Beatles / George Martin, The Beach Boys, Leonard Cohen, The Doors, Patti Smith, Joy Division, The Smiths, Nirvana, Elliott Smith - and the perennial Bob Dylan, for instance.

There are others, but not too many more. Why this is so, no one can say - but it may have something to do with the fact that while intelligent pop music is open to the full resources and strictures that also mark and shape poetry - music and metaphor, thought and feeling, form and content for starters - pop music is not, ultimately, about intelligence. It is about entertainment, and memorability, and also being something very lovely or charming or even sentimental, that moves a listener, to dance, or hum along, but surely, to buy. Art does not simply enchant, though, it can alarm, or warn. Music with words that bears the full pressure of art's demands is more often called opera, or a musical. Wagner or Britten loom.

But there are very good pop musicians, who deserve to be appreciated for the serious, innovative, often thrilling creators they are - not just during their period, but after it. OMD, who have recently begun to tour again, are one such group. Their heyday, in the early 1980s, saw them conquer America with a song in a John Hughes film, Pretty in Pink, and so they share a sort of fate with Simple Minds. They are too often maligned for being "an 80s band" - as if a band was ever not of its time. But OMD created sonic works of great resonance, and, yes, intelligence. Few melodies are more ironic or disturbing, than "Enola Gay". You hum to an atrocity. Architecture & Morality is often considered their finest album - and indeed it is the one they are currently touring anew. It is a great work, but their second album, Organisation, is actually better, though perhaps rougher in places.

Its last song, "Stanlow", a homage to an oil rig, is the most beautiful industrial pop song ever written, and its inclusion of the machinery of the rig is both haunting and musical, without ever losing its heavy identity as a thing apart from what we think of as the diction of song. One of the songs on the album even relates to Ian Curtis, and it is often forgotten how OMD, who played with Joy Division, were of that time and place. Less famous than Joy Division, but in some ways as intriguing, OMD's later work is more upbeat, just as New Order's was, in the late 80s. No harm in that. Pop music can be popular, after all.

http://www.omd.uk.com/html/biography.html
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