Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 15]

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

[continued from previous post]

Following the brilliant pop of “Telegraph,” the album snapped violently back into fragmentary sound collage with “This Is Helena.” This was surely one of the strangest tracks OMD ever committed to vinyl. The brief cut [like five of the twelve tracks here, it was in the 1:30-2:30 timespan] sounded like a robotic pastiche of 60’s “ye-ye” music. Kraftwerk meets The Beatles. The middle of the song even featured sampled crowd noise, further strengthening the Beatles reference in my mind. This is relevant because, OMD, hailing from Liverpool, absolutely never rated The Beatles very much at all. On this one, I fully think they are mocking the band. In that light, its inclusion here was the weakest move they made on what was a very strong vision for this album. This is the one track that seems at odds with the political lens they were peering through.

Anastacio Somoza of Nicaragua

“International” ended the side on a heartbreaking note. The song opened with a radio news quote regarding a young girl who was tortured and maimed by the Somoza regime. Then the distinctive OMD waltz beat with bass synth slowly faded up as McCluskey crooned the deeply melancholy song’s verses with the string patches being gated on the beat of the rhythm box for a staggered effect on the melody. The waltz beat has a habit of sticking in my mind for hours at a time since it so carefully fits the overriding melancholy of the song. Strangely enough, the first verse here seemed more like a middle eight as all subsequent verses adhered to a uniform, but alternate structure.

At the song’s midpoint, a soprano choral synth patch began a delicate dance of descent as a way of leading into McCluskey’s impassioned third verse, which erupted out of the safety zone the song had, until now, built for it. His delivery here was antithetical to the reserve he displayed earlier in the song and fully represented the sense of outrage that the soundbites in the song’s intro should engender in any compassionate person listening. It remains a peak OMD moment and this song has been my favorite OMD composition for at least the last dozen years as “International” has managed to make “Stanlow” step aside from the top position in my pantheon of OMD classics. Then the melody of the later verses returned as an instrumental theme, sounding not unlike a sea shanty, took the song to its emotional conclusion.

In the normally commercial pole position at track one of side two of “Dazzle Ships” was its highly abstract “title song.” “Dazzle Ships [Parts II, III + VII]” was a sound collage of whale-like steam whistles, sonar pings, and warning klaxons blaring with the power to make you jump the first time you hear them. After 90 seconds of these sounds, the final part of the series began to tread on more familiar OMD sonic territory. Impressive chords of a maritime horn alternated with Mellotron’s [actually a Novatron according to the liner notes, but that’s splitting hairs] choral tapes that set the stage for the next song.

Next: …Something Old, Something New

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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9 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 15]

  1. Echorich says:

    Everything about This Is Helena screams 60’s to me. It has a bit of a “sock it to me” pop psychedelia to it while having a very motorik feel as well.
    It’s also a favorite ringtone I created for my iPhone…
    International has a devastating beauty to it. Play it in the dark and you will get even more of the anger and compassion that is blended together. There is something else about songs like International and even Genetic Engineering that I have picked up on. There is a wider, European, feel to these songs. It reminds me of some of the early Simple Minds efforts that seemed to break free of their Anglo perimeters and fly across the alps and Baltic Sea.
    Dazzle Ships II/III/VII is simply Proto Post Rock to these ears.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Anger and compassion are a powerful blend of emotions. The sort that is needed to actually provoke change in society. You’re onto something by invoking Simple Minds peak period with OMD’s as on this album. That rejection of American/UK Rock Hegemony that Foxx was all about even earlier marked them all as like minds. Thus making the choice for Foxx + The Maths to remix recent songs by both OMD and Simple Minds completely predestined in retrospect.


  2. Giddy Gavin says:

    I have always liked ‘This is Helena’ very much,but didn’t get quite the same vibe be from it that you seem to.I agree it sounds ‘retro’,to use a vile word.
    ‘International’ is such an epic work,always been in my top three OMD songs.All my life I have wanted an Eko Rhythmaker drum machine for my home studio,those sounds are so evocative.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Giddy Gavin – We welcome your new avatar, sir! When I was a lad, I had a friend whose family were peripherally “show people.” Children’s religious puppetry theater; but the guy had some interesting gear at his disposal. They had a Mattel Optigan in their living room so it was like having access to a Mellotron; only better!


      • Giddy Gavin says:

        What a thrill for you!
        I had the Rosedale Electric Chord Organ,as use by The Dame on Space Oddity LP!
        I had to log in using my FaceAche,for some reason my usual guest list was closed!


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Giddy Gavin – Disturbing that WordPress is favoring the FB credentials for commenting! We would prefer not to have FB links at PPM but there’s only so far we can go down that road without annoying people trying to comment. So I am hands off on that score. Speaking of The Dame, in 1970 I also had an original Stylophone! I wish I had not left it in the house when we moved away.


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