Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 9]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Architecture + Morality | 1981 – 4

[continued from previous post]

When the needle hit the wax I was greeted by sounds heretofore alien to an OMD record. Creaking machinery, pneumatic hissing, and frantically jangly rhythm guitars that sounded almost banjo-like until the wailing polysynths added mild reassurance that this was, in fact, OMD. Andy McCluskey’s vocals were completely bent out of shape with anxiety as he lamented “oh my god what have we done this time?” It felt like Bowie’s “Sense Of Doubt” escalated into an outright panic attack. The synth leads cut in and out of the mix; imbuing it with a chaotic wrath that was certainly a new leaf for this band.  In the song’s coda, an oppressive hum, like that of a bomber’s engines, gradually displaced the wailing lead synth. Ultimately, only the droning hum, the steady 4/4 beat, and the metallic creaking remained as it all faded down.

The next song was actually the most likely hit single on this album, thought it was only ever released as a single in West Germany, back in the day [one resides in my Record Cell]. “She’s Leaving” was the logical follow through to the kind of pure-technopop as represented by “Messages” and “Enola Gay” that the band was probably best known publicly for. The rhythm box in the intro gave way to a pair of descending bass chords before drummer Holmes backbeat really gave it an appealing swing while McCluskey’s elegantly crooned vocals were worlds apart from the chaos that had just gone before.

The lilting synth melody here was another OMD heart tugger that played nicely against the bittersweet lyrics detailing the end of an affair. Virgin had wanted to issue this as a single in the UK but after three [hit singles had been pulled from this album, OMD put their feet down and that killed the idea… except for in West. Germany, where the label did it anyway! I’d like to think that saner heads would have prevailed since this makes for a song too strong to languish as a deep cut on an album even this popular, but there we are.

The first single released from the album was “Souvenir,” as mentioned earlier. It was a stunning calling card for this album as it was completely different to any previous OMD sound yet was still filled with their now trademark heartbreaking melodies. This band astounded me as they were avant-garde in many respects, having been influenced by Krautrock, yet their sense of melody was overwhelmingly strong and could not be displaced by any amount of experimentalism. Moreover, that sense of melody was usually heart-breaking in its melancholy and poignance. This song was exceptionally so.

Dave Hughes was in the band largely as a live player for most of the previous year, until he was replaced by Martin Cooper. He remained in contact with the band and ended up giving Paul Humphreys access to some choral tapes he had made and Humphreys slowed them down for the ethereal air that they ultimately took on here. He then co-wrote the song with Hughes’ replacement, Martin Cooper. The result was perhaps the third electronic ballad ever made. Only Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights” [the first] and “Just For A Moment” by Ultravox come to mind as earlier examples for me. The combination of the delicate choral tapes with the winsome, arpeggiated lead lines were powerful enough, but when the immense rhythm track of Malcolm Holmes was taken into account, it took this already winning song to new heights.

Adding fuel to the creative fire was that this was the second song that was ever sung by Paul Humphreys, so that contributed further to its distinction. His thin vocals were multi-tracked to beef them up a bit but he really fit right in with the delicate feel of the track. The song stood apart from the rest of the “Architecture + Morality” album in that the producer for it was Mike Howlett, who had helmed the “Organisation” album and not Richard Manwaring, who helmed the latest album.  As with many OMD songs, the strong instrumental melody took the place of a traditional chorus.  The middle eight featured the choral tapes isolated with the drum track playing a shuffle beat with elegant amounts of echo and space.

This track was always breathtakingly beautiful. It was astonishing to me to learn, decades later, that Andy McCluskey found the song “soppy” and didn’t rate it highly. Well, Humphreys had found “Enola Gay” too “poppy” [like that’s a bad thing?] so it shows that no one is perfect. Others agreed because “Souvenir” reached as high as #3 on the UK charts [with a silver disc] and it topped the Spanish and Portuguese charts. It remains OMD’s highest charting single in England.

Next: …An epic length haiku

 

About postpunkmonk

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10 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 9]

  1. Gavin says:

    I agree that “She’s Leaving” would have been an exceptional single on wider release.
    I too have the 7″ import with the lovely sleeve.In recent years the wonderful Greek synth female duo Marsheaux (check them out if you don’t know them!) did a splendid cover of the track.

    Regarding electronic ballads-I would say that “Complex” by Gary ‘Nine-Inch’ Numan would be a strong contender in my view,though I agree with your choices too.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – As soon as I posted that the notion of “Please Push No More” came to mind but I discounted it as it was piano driven. But wait… So was “Just For A Moment!” I’ll have to get back to you on this… and Gary “Nine Inch” Numan – hilarious!! I completely forgot about “Complex,” but that’s because [ssssh!] I don’t rate “Pleasure Principle” very highly at all and rarely take the slog through it. I much prefer the albums that bookended it.

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      • Echorich says:

        I think I have to agree with Gavin’s offer of Complex, but there was a lot of Numan’s work that may not be considered the definition of ballad, but based on choice of tempo play were approximating ballads – even if they weren’t romantic or sentimental per se.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – I’ve heard of Marsheaux but not actually heard them.

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      • MathManDan says:

        Marsheaux released a cover of the entire “A Broken Frame” from Depeche Mode, and it is a joy to listen to.

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        • Tim says:

          Thanks for the tip on Marsheux, I am investigating them right now, their cover of Get The Balance Right reminds me very much of (tribute band) West End Girls.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          MathManDan – I hearing about that one! One of my favorite DM albums, and the one that got me hooked after the frankly lightweight debut. I don;t care what Martin Gore says… he’s wrong.

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          • MathManDan says:

            I love ABF! Close to the top from them for me. DM of the last decade, not so much.

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          • Tim says:

            Yup, the sophomore album is usually the the make or break point and often a bit of a step down in quality but for me the DM catalog starts with ABF. I like me some Vince Clarke via Erasure but he just didn’t work for me in DM or Yazoo.

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            • postpunkmonk says:

              Tim – Then I suggest we are twins sons of different mothers, because I agree 100% with your ABF/Vince Clarke assessment. And it took four albums before I gave Erasure the time of day.

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