Prior to the writing of Universal, Andy had expressed a desire to capture a more ‘epic’ sound than on previous albums. In a sense, the final album attempted to provide a retrospective view on OMD’s career, particularly on the autobiographical Walking On The Milky Way.
Universal’s powerful, anthemic lyrics revolved around the theme of religion and, as Andy put it “the refutal of God’s existence”. It was also released as the second single.
Walking On The Milky Way was the first single taken from Universal.
The Moon & The Sun was co-written with Karl Bartos and was similar to many of the album’s songs in its theme of the passage of time.
The Black Sea was co-written with Stuart Kershaw and was originally titled Oboe Song. Andy described the lyrics as “about being unable to be truthful when confronted with emotional pressure”.
Very Close To Far Away was co-written with Paul Humphreys – marking the first time they had collaborated since the band had split up – and features a lyrical theme of attempting to communicate with someone who won’t listen. The song title was inspired by a TV ad Andy had seen.
The Gospel Of St Jude, originally titled Gospel Song, deals with searching but not finding what you’re looking for. The song theme and title inspired by St Jude who is held as the patron saint of lost causes. Andy also described the song as being “about the struggle to achieve happiness but no matter what you do and what you change, you can never attain it”.
That Was Then also has a reflective theme: “It echoes how your life, and your attitude towards it, change as you grow older just through the pressures of living”.
Too Late actually dates back to 1994 during a period when Andy was writing songs in Dublin. The lyrics focus on regret at the end of a relationship. Too Late was also considered as a possible single.
The Boy From The Chemist Is Here To See You was inspired by a sculpture which showed a Barnardo’s collecting box of a handicapped boy positioned behind a frosted glass door. Andy mused on the idea of the boy actually turning up at someone’s house and asking why they hadn’t donated any money. That led to a general theme of all the people who you might have hurt or upset coming back to confront you. The song features older analogue synth sounds and was also considered as a possible single.
If You’re Still In Love With Me is the oldest song on the album dating from 1987. Andy had written the song with Paul Humphreys, originally as a reggae song. The song’s theme deals with trying to escape a relationship someone won’t let you out of. While Andy and Stuart where in LA in 1995, they met up with Anne Dudley (Art Of Noise) who arranged the song for a 12 piece string section.
New Head is the second example of what Andy described as “psychedelic” songs (Very Close To Far Away being the first) written for the album. “I wrote it ten minutes before leaving the studio one night” Andy says of the song “I was just trying to make a song out of whatever came into my head – a lot of noises to song along to. Next day I had to translate the noises into coherent words”.
Victory Waltz is a slow ballad that looks at the last day of a relationship that’s ending, examining the thoughts that are running through your head at the time.