OMD: Architecture + Morality | Dazzle Ships Live at Royal Albert Hall 05-09-16 UK 2xCD-R 
- Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III & VII)
- Radio Prague
- ABC Auto-Industry
- Silent Running
- This Is Helena
- Genetic Engineering
- Radio Waves
- Time Zones / Please Remain Seated
- Of All The Things We’ve Made
- Julia’s Song
- Architecture & Morality
- The New Stone Age
- She’s Leaving
- Joan Of Arc
- Joan Of Arc (Maid Of Orleans)
- The Beginning And The End
- Enola Gay
- History Of Modern (Part I)
- The Romance Of The Telescope
It was great to hear that this long-swept-under the carpet material on “Dazzle Ships” was finally getting a public airing. Though the band went from 3,000,000 copies of “Architecture + Morality” sold in 1981 to 300,000 copies of “Dazzle Ships” sold in 1983, I maintain that it was not the music per se or the approach that saw their audience plummet by a factor of ten. I say that their moment in the sun [1980-1981] had simply passed and the zeitgeist that had grown to embrace their abstraction and obscurity mated with strong melodies had moved downstream.
1983 was the era of Culture Club and blue eyed soul. Obvious music for an obvious era. OMD delivered what they knew how to do best with “Dazzle Ships.” They all but re-wrote “Radioactivity” by Kraftwerk, albeit with better ideas and songs, only to see it released to a dwindling audience who were, like all audiences; largely transient. In this pop game you’re lucky to have a three year window of major sales. Afterward, the stunned band retreated into love songs and became in effect a different band. They could still produce good music, but they gave up their essence for sales. Mediocrity became more apparent in their music as it retained their melodic approach, but rarely their point of view. [“Tesla Girls” was a fun throwback to the OMD of old]
On the night of May 9th at Royal Albert Hall, none of this compromise was apparent. This was a snapshot of a golden era for the band. Just music from their first four albums [albeit with one great ringer] was played. In that respect, this was a classic catalog homage by the band for the hard core fans, much like the “5×5 Live” tour by Simple mInds a few years back. In both cases, I could not drop several grand jetting across the Atlantic for the sets, so thank goodness that live recordings were issued!
The first disc was dedicated to “Dazzle Ships” and this was the reason for the ticket sales. OMD had already performed “Architecture + Morality” as a live classic album set back when they reformed in 2007. Their recent concert at the Museum Of Liverpool leaned heavily on it for songs but there were a few never played live that would be here this evening. The sequencing of the album began the shows with the three sound collage pieces that originally broke up the album. Hearing these abstract cuts right up front really set the stage for what Andy McCluskey referred to as “1980s gold war geopolitical songs.” They are not that startling in the OMD scheme of things. The previous, best-selling album had a similarly abstract, instrumental title track. Following these mood pieces the concert got straight to the heart of the matter with the incredible “International.” Over the years, this has become my favorite OMD song, due to the pathos and passionate emotion that it triggers. I can’t listen to it today without weeping.
The performance here opened with updates news broadcast sound bites that showed what little had changed in the generation following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was disquieting hearing a smattering of recognition applause once the original sound bite that began the song appeared as it only makes me weep now to hear it. Applause is not what comes to mind. Still, that distinctive waltz time beat with the pulse gated string patches had an indelible power of melancholy that was more than met by the now deeper vocals of McCluskey. It was riveting hearing him nail the final verse, delivered as ever in fortissimo. Now more devastating as ever as the song faded into its sea shantry coda.
It staggers my mind to think that the tremendous deep cut “Silent Running” had never been played prior to this show. That such powerful material had been delivered stillborn 33 years ago and was only now being explored live must count as some kind of crime. Though less devastatingly sad as the preceding “International,” it shares enough of the the beautiful melancholy of that song to make it a passionate chaser to the earlier song. The delicate melody here was framed by the crisp hi-hats and metronomic drumming from Stuart Kershaw, now ensconced in the band as Malcolm Holmes replacement, following his second heart attack.
The two singles from this album were paired and still sound fantastic. “Genetic Engineering” remains the most sinister nursery rhyme imaginable and “Telegraph” has long been a favorite OMD single of all time. The high register that McCluskey originally sang this in was so problematic, that he [foolishly] avoided this song ever since the 1983 tour for “Dazzle Ships,” but as evidenced here, his adjustments to sing this in his current range have showed the song little worse for wear and we are all richer for his efforts.
I counted myself fortunate to have heard “Radio Waves” picked as a deep cut for the band’s 2011 US tour so at the end of the day, that may be the only song I ever hear from this album live. It’s a gift since the song in an alternate, smarter universe, it would have been the triumphant leadoff single from the album instead of the pricklier “Genetic Engineering.” The track was an older song by OMD precursor The Id that fit so snugly into the overall concept for the “Dazzle Ships” album, its hard to believe that it was not written at the same time. Followed by the one-two punch of “Telegraph,” it may have ended differently for the public’s response to this album. Or not.
The most radical shift in the arrangement of any material here was for the collage piece “Time Zones.” It was fairly cut and dried shortwave time announcements in its original guise, but here, it’s been mashed up with samples from the tracks “Please Remain Seated” and “Decimal.” Those being tracks of a similar nature from 2013’s “English Electric” that took their cues from the “Dazzle Ships” period. That the topline melody from “History Of Modern’s” “The Right Side” flowed over it all like caramel didn’t hurt either.
The album ending “Of All The Things We’ve Made” functioned as the closing curtain to this album performance. It’s poignance was too appropriate here to relegate it merely to its original B-side status on the “Joan Of Arc [Maid Of Orleans]” 12” single. Afterward, there was a coda of four songs not from the album. The “Genetic Engineering B-side” was the delicate and chilling “4-Neu.” This was followed by three tracks from their debut album. “Julia’s Song” always sounds robus in live performance, and it really shone here. The fact that there is less programming on the early material works in its favor in a live setting.
And you can be assured that it is very live thanks to the endearing bum notes that manifested on the intro to the still brilliant “Almost.” In an age of digital perfection, such errors are worth their weight in gold. The song is still so strong that block chords stuttering through the hissing white noise hi-hats conjures up a mysterious analogue era of synthesizers that I never grow tired of. An always robust airing of “Messages,” their breakthrough single brought the first set of this concert to an upbeat close. With that, it was time for intermission.
Next: …A+M [not the record company]