Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 13]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Dazzle Ships | 1983 – 4

[continued from previous post]

When the needle hit this wax the opener, “Radio Prague,” abruptly let us know that we were not in Kansas anymore. The sort of musique concrète that had been tucked into the middle of side two of the previous album was now up front and in our faces right at the start. In our post-album era, beginning any album with less than the catchiest hook on offer… immediately, would be inconceivable. It was starkly bereft of any musical component played by the band; being entirely arranged from shortwave samples of the titular Radio Prague musical identity. It perfectly set the tone for the album with its eastern bloc propaganda feel and deliberately alienating stance.

The next song had been the first single released in advance of the album, though when confronted with the album, I had no idea of this at the time. The sampled typewriter in the intro in retrospect, seems like an inspiration from The Associates berserk “Kitchen Person” single from 1981, though the usage of typewriter here was far removed from the chaotic approach favored by Dundee’s finest. Here, the typewriter sound had been sampled into their Emulator and carefully arranged into a neat matrix of sound; echoing the precision of the subject matter of the song itself.

Winsome, nursery school keyboards ensued while the opening vocal salvo of the song featured an infectious multi-part harmony round-robin intro that seemed to embody the height of irony as it touted the benefits to come when genetic engineering would transform life on earth.

Effective…and Practical.
Using all Resources…to the best of Our Abilities.
Changing. Designing.
Adapting…our Mentality.
Improving Our Abilities…
For a Better Way Of Life!” – Genetic Engineering

McCluskey then sang of the lies that “all god’s creatures would inherit all our lands” with embittered passion while the clattering rhythm track featured sampled handclaps. Then the song’s coup de grace was delivered by a Texas Instruments Speak + Spell toy.  The song’s refrain was made on this toy, which children typed letters into and then got to hear the word they typed pronounced by Texas Instrument’s 4-bit voice synthesis chip. The words it “spoke” were like a new spin on Kraftwerk’s familiar vocoder effects, but these were truly machine generated voices from phonemes; not altered human speech. It said:

Engineer.” – “Genetic Engineering”

The effect of this over a music bed that sounded like a hyperkinetic nursery rhyme was ultimately chilling. OMD have gone on record that they were bullish on the idea of genetic engineering at the time they recorded the song, but the queasy ambiguity of it all insured that I, as their audience, never interpreted it as anything but a warning.

Next: …Real ABCs

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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1 Response to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 13]

  1. Echorich says:

    I love the Radio Prague opening on Dazzle Ships. It portends the importance of what was to come on the album.
    Genetic Engineering is a mammoth song in the annals of Synth Pop! The martial quality of the song, begun with their emulation of the Selectric and into the genius mix of nursery rhyme and marching rhythm takes their heroes Kraftwerk’s ideas on futurist pop and runs laps with them.
    The message of the song is perfectly ambiguous in the end, as I too Monk, always thought it was warning rather than a endorsement. What it ended up being is a message ahead of it’s time even in 1983.


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