[continued from previous post]
After an intermission, the second disc began with the more popular of the two albums being played that night. As if to draw comparisons, they chose to begin with the musique concrete title track in much the same way that they had with the sound collages for the “Dazzle Ships” portion of the show. Then they threw a curve ball with the long, mournful “Sealand,” That album’s moral equivalent to “Stanlow.” The seven minute long track was kicked off with some surprising errors where Paul Humphreys must have been struggling with the stage lighting. Not as badly as Billy Currie had done in 2009 on the “Return To Eden” album. Only with greater nimbleness as he scrambled to correct his course! This is why we love “instant bootlegs!” No fixing it in post. This CD was being burned for takeaway before the walls of the Royal Albert Hall were through reverberating. Even mail order sales like this got the unvarnished truth.
The biggest difference in arrangement on this half of the show came with the altered intro for “New Stone Age.” It now began with Gregorian Chant instead of the traditional engine noises. Intriguing. The same brash, twanging guitar though; still managing to hold its own against the wailing, foreboding synths. I did appreciate that the mix here really gave prominence to the backing vocals on this song for the first time ever. Then the fadeout brought back the Monks for a return to the mix.
The buoyant “Georgia” came next and its deep synth bass contrasted wonderfully with the twee topline synth. The arrangement of the song was really “cut up” and probably was a fair pointer to the next album “Dazzle Ships.” How many noticed just how bizarre this song was at the time? The Soviet mens chorus samples here were somewhat lower in the mix than on album. In a better world, this may have been a single on its own. This actually came to pass in… America of all places! Epic released it as a promo 12″ as they had the rights to OMD at the time.
Another quasi single [it was the fourth single from the album in the West German market where the album went through the roof] came next with the simply lovely “She’s Leaving.” I love how open the song sounds in this live version. The motorik drumbox, organ fills, bass guitar and lurching backbeat work wonders. There’s nothing but space between all of its elements, and it holds together delightfully. Then came the trilogy of gold. I heard one wag in the audience call out for “Stairway To Heaven” but OMD came close in their own way with “Souvenir,” “Joan Of Arc,” and “Joan Of Arc [Maid Of Orleans].” That these three consecutive singles all troubled the UK top 5 over a four month arc of 1981 into 1982 seems astounding in retrospect. They still have an incredible vocabulary of sound between them. The tom tom solo on the middle eight of “Souvenir” is still quietly thrilling as the melody on this one will break your heart with its introverted delicacy; echoed in the choral samples flowing through the number.
Andy managed to break up laughing halfway through “Joan Of Arc” sounding giddy with delight before asking the audience to “sing it.” They had no trouble complying. But the first “Joan Of Arc” is just a warmup for the second. Have the band ever made as stirring and powerful a single ever again? for atheists, they sublimated a lot of religious passion into this second look at the famed saint. As ever, the mellotron lines conjured up the ghost of prog rock as the motorik, waltz-time drumming that pushes the song to its climax sound nothing like classic rock.
Then it ended with the album closer “The Beginning And The End.” It remained a crisp and melodic slice of nursery rhyme/melancholy that was the stock-in-trade of this band. Then it was time for the “bonus tracks.” “Electricity” and “Enola Gay” were still go-to classics, that the band would have played even back in 1981. A concert by them without these, even now, would be unthinkable. Good thing the tunes are impeccable even today. I liked the wailing Farfisa touch to “Enola Gay” but the bomb blast drums in the middle eight still chill my blood when I hear them. Has a song about nuclear holocaust ever been as paradoxically jaunty as this one? I love how the drumbox was still chugging away through the band introductions at the song’s end.
Though McCluskey commented on how the night featured no songs from after 1983, they managed to pull a great new song for the encore that fit well with this material in the title track to “History Of Modern [part 1]” that showed that even in 2010 the band knew how to write a pop song about the thermodynamic end of existence itself. Then the band played the final song missing from the show; “The Romance Of The Telescope.” It was the link between both albums as it began as a B-side to “Joan Of Arc” before being included on “Dazzle Ships” two years later.
With this album, the rehabilitation of “Dazzle Ships,” so damaging to the psyche of this band in 1983 is almost complete. The band remastered the album with a selection of bonus tracks in 2007 to a world that was ready to catch up with its Cold War melancholy as a form of post World Trade Center therapy. But the comments made by McCluskey throughout this show reveal that he is still scarred by the failure of the album to connect only a tenth as well as the previous album had. “Dazzle Ships” is a great album, but it’s not really a quantum leap from “Architecture + Morality.” It’s challenging, but not what I would typify as difficult listening. I maintain now that the band didn’t lose their audience as much as have the commercial window pass them by as the dumbing down of eighties pop during the Thatcher era had begun in earnest. It was barely off the staring blocks in 1981, but by 1983, the Falklands War had assured that sentiments like those on that album were no longer to be tolerated in the public commons. In fact, the public commons were no longer to be tolerated!
All of the touchy remarks about “it wasn’t like this back in 1983” and “hits” [he drops the phrase several times throughout the concert] reveal that McCluskey is still haunted by his decision to meet the marketplace head on instead of following his muse. One hope that after filling the Royal Albert Hall [5272 at full capacity] to hear this possibly misunderstood album as well as an additional three shows of this concert to be held in their biggest market, Germany, shortly after this, that McCluskey can finally come to grips with this pivotal album in his band’s canon. He needs to recognize that whenever he aims at scoring hits above all else that he is being duplicitous to his basically curious geek makeup and that way dragons lay.
Even though the pledge period leading up to the show has ended and album has shipped, it is still available to purchase here in a variety of formats [MP3, FLAC, CD, LP], but who knows for how long. Buy in haste. Regret in leisure.
OMD US TOUR TICKET GIVEAWAY
This just in. OMD have a pair of tickets to shows in their upcoming US tour [with Howard Jones and Barenaked Ladies] to give away to interested parties here. You get to pick the show you’d like to win tickets to. I’ve already got mine, so good luck.
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