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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Architecture and Morality October 28, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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It’s funny, given two and a half decades or more and a later but still early incarnation as a straight forward pop band it’s often forgotten just how odd a proposition OMD were in the first four or five years of their existence. From genuine chart-topping synth driven singles such as Electricity, Enola Gay and Messages to broader and more experimental excursions on albums they were somehow quite apart, quite different, from the band that they were to become later in that decade.

And the speed with which their first three albums were released was remarkable in this age where music seemingly gestates at great length and so many groups with three records have already packed up shop. The first album was out in 1980 – fantastic pop/electronic hybrid. The second, Organisation, followed later that year, darker, less tuneful but still interesting and then Architecture and Morality arrived in November 1981. Three in two years. Now that’s productivity.

Indeed if they’d never released anything after 1981 I wonder if their critical reputation would not have been higher, their credibility that bit greater – at least until more recently when as is the way of such things they have come in for considerable plaudits for both their earlier and later albums. But they did and they continued to do so, chasing after even greater pop success albeit with a dropping away of much of their fan base and its replacement by newcomers. And why not? Why should they have remained stuck in bleak, but melodic and atmospheric workouts like Architecture and Morality or Dazzle Ships?

Except Architecture and Morality was not bleak, was if anything the antithesis of bleak – or to be more accurate it wasn’t all or even mostly bleak. Sure, there was a coldness to it. Listen to the drum pattern in Maid of Orleans, none more New Order, or was it vice versa? And listen too to The New Stone Age, first track on the album, a cousin in many ways of what Joy Division and later New Order were doing on Movement during the same period, thrashing acoustic guitars, pulsing bass, electronic (sounding) rhythms, eerie keyboards (well, they were in 1981!) and angst filled lyrics. I read more recently how Organisation was imbued by their fascination with and appreciation for Joy Division albeit through synths and it makes sense (and little wonder that Peter Saville was at the designer of the album cover and sleeve – quite an artifact in itself).

But She’s Leaving is positioned in more commercial and emotive territory, sort of. The Beginning and the End not so much… a melodic but uncompromising piece but again hugely emotive. Sealand, powerful atmospheric and ambient. The title track a deceptively simple instrumental. Georgia seeming to nod to their never entirely detached interest in geopolitics. Souvenir driven by piano like keyboards still, decades later able to bring back the memory of the first time I heard it. And Joan of Arc. Perhaps their talent was to take their influences, Kraftwerk, Bowie and others and pour in emotion (live sometimes a whole heap of emotion) without losing that otherness that electronic instrumentation can deliver.

I stopped listening to their new stuff in the mid 1980s, which may have been a mistake, or at least an album too soon – Dazzle Ships is a fine release, the subsequent ones less so, though their most recent albums, English Electric and this years the Punishment of Luxury are little short of excellent with a raft of very very memorable songs. But Architecture and Morality remains this weird hybrid, experimental, challenging and yet massively successful in terms of singles. A classic.

The New Stone Age

She’s Leaving

The Beginning and the End

Sealand

Souvenir

Joan of Arc

Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc)

Comments»

1. yourcousin - October 28, 2017

I think we need something more like this.

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2. Enzo - October 29, 2017

I still maintain that ‘Dazzle Ships’ is the ‘Kid A’ of the 80’s

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WorldbyStorm - October 29, 2017

Its a great album, a classic and short and all the better for it. Still, the commercial thing is fascinating, the same people behind Dazzle Ships… Well one of them kind of set up Atomic Kitten and co wrote a fair few of their tracks. I find that in a way remarkable. It is that wanting to be Can and Abba albeit Atomic Kitten are no Abba 🙂

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3. sonofstan - October 29, 2017

I remember seeing them at Futurama in Leeds in 79 alongside Joy Division, the Fall, Scritti Politti, the Bunnymen (still with ‘Echo’ the drum machine) the Teardrop Explodes, although I managed to sleep through Public Image…
Anyway, OMD, even then, seemed a little out of place: not serious in that Penguin classics way, your man bouncing around like an enthusiastic kids TV presenter.

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WorldbyStorm - October 29, 2017

I’m tempted to say that to add to their indifference to bourgeois conventions in regard to musical credibility they also laughed off said conventions as regards appropriate dancing! 🙂

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