WITH their hard-edged electronic-rock, soaring anthems and irresistible hook-laden melodies, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark have a rare talent for lifting the heart, touching the soul and raising a smile.

Honing their craft for more than four decades, the duo of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys may be elder statesmen of synth-pop, but they can match any new band in verve, energy and creativity.

A full 44 years since they emerged from their Merseyside bedrooms with a homemade synthesiser and a love of Kraftwerk, they have just pulled off the remarkable feat of releasing one of the best records of their careers. The critically acclaimed Bauhaus Staircase debuted at number two in the album charts and was only kept off the top spot by the mighty Taylor Swift.

Having shifted more than 25 million singles along with 15 million albums, and playing well over 1,000 shows over the course of their career, it comes as no surprise that they have retained a loyal fanbase. And for their return to Oxford’s New Theatre on Wednesday of last week, the place was packed.

But it wasn’t just the band who were expected to put on a good show.

“It’s good to be in Oxford for the 10th time,” Andy told us. “Last time the audience in Oxford were the best of the tour – so no pressure!”

They launched into their set with a powerful blast of new song: Evolution of Species and its counterpart Anthropocene, the expanded four-piece backed by punchy visuals on a huge screen. Then we were back at the opposite end of their timeline with1980’s Messages.

Oxford Mail: OMD. New Theatre, Oxford. Picture: Tim HughesIt still sounds fresh and urgent, Andy’s haunting, plaintive vocals wrapped around Paul’s uncompromisingly stark synth.

And we were off with a crowd-pleasing set studded with most of their big-hitters.

Tesla Girls sounds fresh and frantic, the 1984 nod to the Serbian electrical scientist afforded new relevance, perhaps, thanks to Mr Musk and his plug-in motors. And while its lyrics are ambiguous, there is no mystery to the meaning of new tune Kleptocracy which follows it, with a full frontal assault on the political class.

“This is the most political song that we have ever recorded,” Andy previously explained.

“The band believes that democracy is the only legitimate way to balance different opinions and create a functioning representative government.

“Sadly, we are living through times that see us ruled by thieves and flagrant liars. Democracy has been subverted by kleptocracy.”

Oxford Mail: OMD live at the New Theatre, Oxford. Pictures courtesy of Tim HughesThe band’s back catalogue has always eclectic, swinging from naive pop to high-concept electronic art-rock. But with the galvanising addition of a tough new album of feisty political rock, they now sometimes sound like different bands.

Yet, regardless of the success of the new album, the fans on their feet at the New Theatre were there for the hits – a good proportion, I suspected, for tunes fondly remembered from teenage gigs, tape-recorded radio chart shows and school discos.

And they didn’t disappoint, with slick and catchy new songs like Look at You Now, interspersed with favourites like So in Love, Locomotion and, closing their set, banger Enola Gay. Their intelligent 1980 pop anthem about the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima – complete with mushroom cloud visuals – seemed more poignant than ever after the box office impact of Oppenheimer.

They leave, but not for long, returning – with genuine gratitude – for an encore of something new (last year’s Look at you Now), something older (1991’s Pandora’s Box) and something positively vintage – their first single, Electricity. It is hard to believe it came out in 1979. A hard-edged, perfectly crafted, fizzing pulse of electro-pop, it sounds every bit as thrilling and relevant four decades on.

But then, so do its creators.