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So… we return to the OMD Rock G.P.A.® thread, abandoned almost three weeks ago for a sudden obituary thread for someone I’ve known for over 30 years, a snow day where I didn’t make it into work, lunch hours cut to the bone to make up time spent getting new tires installed, and more of missed postings. It was not my intention to let the OMD thread languish this long…again, but it happened.
The next song in the album sequence was very familiar from two years earlier. “The Romance Of The Telescope” was originally the non-LP B-side of the “Joan Of Arc.” There, it had the appellation “unfinished” added to the title, but that just meant that 3:17 song as produced by OMD and Richard Manwaring had been re-recorded by OMD with Rhett Davies and it was now 3:26 long. It sounded very similar, but like “Motion + Heart [Amazon Version]” it was clearly a re-recording, albeit one very similar to the original. It still had that stark, funereal drumbeat with two beats to the bass drum offset by a handclap. The morose horns may have been from the Novatron but could have been Emulator technology in 1982. The original was almost certainly achieved on the Novatron.
McCluskey’s tender vocals marked this as another of the morose ballads that were the mainstay of this extremely melancholic album. It was of three competing vibes of either ebullient electropop of an ironically cheerful nature, heart rending wrist-slitters, or interstitial “think pieces” marking the spaces in between each extreme. As the dour track progressed, bold pieces of the last album’s DNA were present once more here in this throwback piece. That is to say, the choral tapes and tattoos of military snare drums that took this dramatic piece to its conclusion made it more of a piece with “Architecture + Morality” than the bulk of “Dazzle Ships.”
“Silent Running” was a cinematic ballad of sumptuous melancholy. The bass synth and hi-hat in the intro was joined by widescreen synth strings and tubular bells on the middle eight. McCluskey found the time to leave his best baritone crooning by the wayside to push upward and into the red, as he had earlier on “International” as the song neared its climactic fadeout. It really sounded like music of the open prairie as realized with synthesizers. I always felt the pull of Ennio Morricone here and it would not be the last time that OMD was thinking in that direction.
The next song has always been the biggest lost opportunity in the OMD canon. “Radio Waves” was an ancient song by The Id that was dusted off and inserted seamlessly into the album’s flow. Coming as a brilliant uptick of energy right in the middle of the melancholy of side two. This was the song co-written with John Floyd of The Id, and US Epic got the credits on the whole US “Dazzle Ships” album in error over. Once I got an import pressing of this on CD I realized this mistake. No matter how desperate it seemed that OMD were dusting off old B-sides and songs that predated even those by years, it must be said that “Radio Waves” was the most triumphant missed single opportunity this band ever had.
The opening sounded like shortwave radio tuning into different frequencies; attempting to lock onto a signal while the übermotorik drumbeat like that of Klaus Dinger of La Düsseldorf took center stage over the droning synths. Then, Malcolm Holmes threw in a patented Warren Cann motorik backbeat as a fill and the song erupted into full clattering life. The richly chorused synths droned like a phalanx of oboes as McCluskey sang of radio telecomunications and their place in the Cold War. This, thankfully was the deepest of deep cuts the band played when I finally saw them play a headlining set in their 2011 US tour. Every time I listen to this song, I marvel at how the band could have written what would always be one of my favorite songs ever by the band while still in larval form as The Id. It shows that their instincts were spot on brilliant.
The last of the fragmentary bits of sound collage that gave this album an even more chilling air near its climax. “Time Zones” was a series of looped shortwave radio time announcements. [“at the third stroke, it will be… eleven:thirty two”] done in various languages from around the globe. The time announcements loop on their own, at various intervals, though as the piece progresses, they begin to subtly synchronize their tones and rhythms until they are almost in lockstep. Driving home the fact that no matter which culture you are in, the voices of authority; ones that even define time itself, will all become alike as they double down on even the possibility of ambiguity. It all has the inevitability of domineering political power widening and strengthening its grasp over all states equally.
Then the album concludes with the almost numbly desensitized “Of All The Things We’ve Made.” This was another B-side from a single from the last album [“Maid Of Orleans”] re-purposed to guide the album to its almost despairing conclusion. The jangling rhythm guitar from “New Stone Age” was used again here [not surprising as it dated from the same 1981 period] while Malcolm Holmes kept up a steady unwavering beat that lasted almost entirely throughout the 3:32 song. Only a simple [but heartbreaking] piano melody fleshed out the minimal composition. The utter melancholy of McCluskey’s vocals managed to sap the album on any vestigial energy that it might have held from “Radio Waves” two tracks earlier. the recording was another re-recording but this one seemed even closer to the original B-side than “Romance Of The Telescope” had been. Ultimately, this was a poignant ending to an embittered album.
Next: …Non Nuclear Fallout