[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.
“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