Why Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD) didn’t achieve the same kind of success as fellow synth-pop artists The Human League and Depeche Mode is a mystery. They should have — perhaps more so than The Human League (although I’m a big fan of the pre-Dare era incarnation, but that’s for another review).
Founded in 1978 in Liverpool by Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey, OMD are certainly one of the most influential of the early synth-pop acts. They even appeared on the hugely influential Factory label with their first single, “Electricity,” a label shared by a number of influential bands from Manchester.
It wouldn’t be until 1986 that OMD achieved some success in the United States with the, frankly, awful single “If You Leave” (from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack). A sappy ballad just isn’t OMD’s style, but was apparently just what the U.S. audience wanted. Damn you, John Hughes!
In 1983 OMD released Dazzle Ships, a challenging album due to its mix of happy synth-pop, experimentation, and somber reflection. I think it’s an underrated effort by the band — and one of my favorite OMD albums.
Dazzle Ships opens with the instrumental “Radio Prague,” which starts off with a sampled broadcast from, yes, Radio Prague in Czechoslovakianand the chattering of the Czech announcer before swinging full-gear into the fabulous up-tempo “Genetic Engineering.” What a song! Pure synth-pop goodness you can dance to, with a simple but effective synth line and percussion. Andy McCluskey’s vocal work, by the way, is really good, and the song has a fun science vibe to it.
“ABC Auto-Industry” is a bit of an experimental number, with the simple vocal “ABC, 123″ repeated over and over against a simple synth backdrop and a sampled bit about how robotics is shaping production (before ending with the sampled line “Frankenstein’s Monster” over and over again). I’m beginning to sense a theme.
Back to pop brilliance with “Telegraph” and another fine vocal from Andy.
“This is Helena” is another instrumental with more sampled material from Radio Prague. Someone must have had a short-wave radio.
“International” takes on a somber tone, with an emotional vocal from Andy and an indictment against people taking a do-nothing attitude with regard to how other countries treat their citizens.
“Dazzle Ships, Pts. 1-3″ is another instrumental meant to invoke a great sea battle — and another experimental number.
“The Romance of The Telescope” slows the pace down again, with another emotional vocal from Andy.
“Silent Running” is a more traditional synth-pop number that segues into the bouncy “Radio Waves” with its infective melody and synth-line.
Back to experimental territory with “Time Zones,” a song that layers sampled recordings of…the time across the world.
We end on the quietly elegant “Of All The Things We’re Made,” another slower-paced track that conveys a deeper emotional intensity.
Dazzle Ships is more an album for the OMD fan, and perhaps not the best introduction to the band by newcomers. For that I’d recommend 1991′s Sugar Tax, which is a great pop album and a great entry in the OMD catalog.