March 7, 2018 OMD – Dazzle Ships Turns 35
“If you leave, don’t leave now
Please don’t take my heart away…”
Of course, anyone who was a cool, preppy New Wave enthusiast, especially in the genre’s peak in the 1980s, could instantly sing those unforgettable lines in his or her head. Most likely, they might have even watched Pretty in Pink a number of times already – the 1986 film whose New Wave-dominated soundtrack included that quintessential song by the English band known as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, or OMD for short. However, to those who are familiar with the English Synthpop/New Wave band only for their singles that made them commercially popular in the 1980s, like “Enola Gay,” “Secret,” “(Forever) Live and Die,” “Souvenir,” and the aforedescribed song, “If You Leave,” the band’s more experimental-oriented albums might throw them off. Nonetheless, this other side of OMD is as important as their Pop-leaning predisposition, for it sets them apart from many other artists in the genre whose sense of direction is geared towards only the spotlight of the mainstream and nothing else. Speaking of OMD’s avant-garde nature, nothing is more apt to revisit to be able to better understand the music of the pioneering band than 1983’s Dazzle Ships, which turned 35 a few days ago.
Released on March 4, 1983, on Telegraph Records, OMD’s fourth album was a major departure from the polished and radio-friendly sound of its hugely successful predecessor. It was remarkable for its use of sound collages, shortwave radio recordings, and non-romantic themes like the Cold War (the post–World War II tension between the then Soviet Union and the United States) and Eastern Bloc (the political unrest in Central and Eastern Europe). Although, of course it had also its light moments.
Dazzle Ships opened with “Radio Prague,” which was practically just a short, undulating sound effect that preluded the proper track – the album’s first single, “Genetic Engineering,” which, in fairness, was hook-laden and very catchy, complete with an interesting lyrical theme. The ensuing “ABC Auto-Industry” was a prime example of what may be described as an odd yet sensible collage of factory sounds and vocal harmonies. Another Pop moment came next in the form of the vibraphone-led “Telegraph,” which carried a controversial theme – Bandleader Andy McCluskey’s “strong feelings against politics and religion at the time.” Then there was the short, monotonous semi-instrumental stomper “This Is Helena;” followed by the cinematic, graceful lament of “International.”
The title track was onomatopoeic – mimicking the sound of dazzling ships and conjuring images of coastlines and docking bays. This was followed by the strange and beautifully titled, minimalist ballad “The Romance of the Telescope.” Another sentimental and starry-eyed song, predating the style that became known as Dreampop, played next – “Silent Running”- where McCluskey’s voice both soared and cracked in pained agony.
An obvious tribute to Kraftwerk, “Radio Waves” was Synthpop at its best – sunny, poppy, melodic, and dancey. After the experimental trip of “Time Zones,” OMD finally moored their Dazzle Ships with the melancholic, yet mellifluous and metronomic “Of All the Things We’ve Made.”
Formed in 1978, in Wirral, Merseyside, England, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are currently comprised by Co-founders Andy McCluskey (vocals, bass guitar) and Paul Humphreys (keyboards, vocals) along with Martin Cooper (various instruments) and Stuart Kershaw (drums). In their on-and-off activity, they have released 13 studio albums, from 1980’s self-titled debut to 2017’s The Punishment of Luxury. While it is bountiful with memorable upbeat dance floor favorites and unforgettable synthesizer-oriented New Romantic ballads, OMD’s discography is also well-adorned with various masterpieces of abstract and surrealist art, whose intent and expressionism harked back to the roots of Electronic music, particularly the early works of Brian Eno (Another Green World) and Kraftwerk (Radio-Activity). Ultimately, in diving into the non-commercial sonic ocean of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the 35-year-old Dazzle Ships remains to be a good port to start with.