Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 14]

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

[continued from previous post]

After those first two tracks, anything could have happened here. So a line in the sand was definitely crossed when “ABC Auto Industry” began. The track was constructed out of samples and sound bites with the band singing “A-B-C” and “1-2-3” layered together with a kettle drum and a woman’s voice from some radio program discussing industrial robotics. Then the “A-B-C” and “1-2-3” vocal loops were pitched up to the next octave with a commensurate speeding up of tempo. The sound of relay circuits and beeping, such as sound effects used to indicate a computer from the late 60s-early 70s began to build up in layers until they dominated the track. I recognized the sounds from their usage years earlier as the exact same sound effect used to indicate the computer “thinking” in the cult science fiction film “Dark Star,” as made by student John Carpenter in the mid-70s. So I’ll bet that OMD used the same sound effects record that Carpenter had. It’s a striking sound collage that implies all sorts of things, but what you can’t call it is a song.

So this was what OMD was up to. A retreat from pop music into something a little more abstract, to say the least. The essay in the 2009 DLX RM of “Dazzle Ships” sheds some light on the band’s thinking in doing this. From the earliest time of the band, they were interested in making electronic sounds. Sometimes collaged together with sound bites. Anyone who had heard the 1978 “artifact” included with the first pressing of “Organisation” would not be blind-sided by “Dazzle Ships” and its penchant for abstract experimentation. The band were apparently suffering from a dry period writing new material since they had been running continuously from 1979-1982 with nary a moment to pause and reflect. It was suggested that for this reason they decamped back to their roots, which makes good artistic sense for them at this stage of their career.

At just the right moment, the heretofore capped bottle of pop opened up and flowed copiously on the album’s fourth track. “Telegraph” was a fantastic OMD show-stopper of a tune that, had it been the lead off single instead of “Genetic Engineering,” might have given this album an all-important boost right up front. As it was, “Genetic Engineering” made it to 20 in the UK charts following three top ten singles in a row. And by then it was too late. When “Telegraph was released, ” the best showing it could manage was a lowly 42. A shameful event, but the ship had by now sailed. By this time, OMD were throwing pearls at swine.

Because “Telegraph” is one of my all time favorite OMD singles. The ascending/descending synth riff intro sounded a bit like glockenspiel, then Andy McCluskey began singing in earnest with call and response from several of his clones, singing in unison. The piccolo-like lead synth radiates a wholesome naïveté completely at odds with the cynical lyrics decrying the taint of communication by both religion and politics in the modern technosphere. It’s a chilling moment when McCluskey sings:

“God’s got Telegraph
On his side.
It makes him powerful.
Gives him pride.
Even in America (god bless America)
They understand.
The value of Telegraph.
Hand in hand.” – Telegraph

But if it just came down to the euphoric music, one would never know the stakes that McCluskey was invoking here. As a classic serving of OMD, “Telegraph” was a perfect three minute pop song with all of the trimmings.

Next: …Internationalism

About postpunkmonk

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3 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 14]

  1. Echorich says:

    The story may go that OMD was in a dry spell at the time they came to write for Dazzle Ships, but I don’t think that rings all that true as I feel there is a strong conceptual feel to the songs included. There is a strength and bravado in the very overt use of sampled sounds/tape recorded loops.
    Telegraph is the “soul” of Dazzle Ships as well as being a fantastic new wave pop song. Everytime I listen to Dazzle Ships – and it is my go to album from Paul and Andy – it impresses me.


  2. postpunkmonk says:

    Echorich – It also has the benefit of brevity. There’s not an ounce of fat on it and it leaves you wanting more… my first rule in this business called show! As for dry spells, the band have become quite verbal on the topic and once they reformed, made sure to take things at their own pace to allow the creative well to re-fill. That was something that they absolutely didn’t do in the hectic ’79-’88 period where it was record/tour/repeat/try to break America. Ultimately, America broke them instead.

    When you get right down to it, there are four “new songs” on “Dazzle Ships.” Two B-sides from the last album period. And one song from their teenaged years, which is superb and is the icing on the cake of this album. The rest of the album is fragmentary sound/music collage. I’m inclined to think, yes. Maybe they were flailing for material, but the point here was they they flailed brilliantly. Their response to writer’s block was their acme and an album for other artists to envy. They delivered a game changer, for better or for worse. In their case, probably both ends of that spectrum!


    • Echorich says:

      Ok, I will accept your point, and the fact that they may have felt shaky about what they were doing or going to do next, but what a fantastic outcome. As a fan, with much less insight at the time, I envisioned a grand scheme and an important moment in, what at the time I am sure I considered New Wave. The pop muse would return, and maybe betray them, but for a time Dazzle Ships was really something special.


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