Sunday, September 19, 2004

Orchestral Maneouvres in the Dark
Dazzle Ships
CBS/Virgin, 1983

My electro-Britpop phase in the early '80s was long denied and now here in the safe zero-zeros (and the semi-anonymity of the web) I can come out of the skinny tie closet. Records like this were long hidden in a dusty box and that's a damn shame. Now with "Bands Reunited" on VH-1 making the long-forgotten haircut bands of yore fashionably nostalgic, its about time Aamer pays a visit to Andy, Paul and Ian.

I would post nearly every song from here if I could (the lone exception is the dated and way bloated "International" which I didn't even bother to digitize). Dazzle Ships, while derided by the critics as overreaching, was a fine concept record exploring the borders of speech, communications, technology and human potential. And despite the high art pretentiousness, OMD was able to laugh at themselves, either through the snarky "Genetic Engineering" or the obvious shout-out to some favorite girl - "This is Helena".

OMD straddled the border between new wave spacey lunacy (kind of the new wave Pink Floyd to Gary Numan's David Bowie) and the haircut pop bands that they were obviously packaged to compete with.

Bronski Beat, New Order, Art of Noise were contemporaries but some of their sogns could hold their own with ABC, Talk Talk, fellow Liverpudians Frankie Goes to Hollywood, etc. Other touchpoints for OMD are Echo and the Bunnymen and Julian Cope's music. Several of the songs here are pure pop for now people radio plays - "Telegraph" and "Radio Waves" for instance, and I think they got a bit of play, at least in the UK (and US college radio). There's also a lot of experimentation - "Time Zones" and "Radio Prague" predates by 20 years the current "Yankee Wilco Foxtrot" craze of mixing in those mysterious voices from the short wave radio. "ABC Auto-Industry" is the song that originally attracted me to this record - it's a short and sweet montage of voices repeating "ABC" and "One Two Three" with electronics, percussion and radio snippets that builds into a crescendo and then fades away into tape machine samples. Another thing to note, OMD was one of the first bands I know of that used drum machines not so much as a replacement for drums but as an instrument in themselves (among others, they use the same Roland machine later used to great effect by Big Black) "I'm going, though, with "Romance of the Telescope" and "Of All The Things We Made" because they remind me of some of the more recent shoegazing songs of Postal Service and Death Cab for Cutie. Although I've never seen it documented, I'm wondering how much of a line can be drawn between OMD, Spaceman 3 and the current crop - at the very least a micro-dotted neon one.

The Romance of the Telescope
Of All The Things We Made

Dazzle Ships is still available and is being reissued soon. Check here for vinyl and CD.
Visit the official OMD website (photo courtesy of) at: OMD
Update: Ben Gibbard says he likes pop music but mentions Phil Collins as his Postal Service tribute mark... oops. Link: Stereogum.

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