Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 16]

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

[continued from this post]

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


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 16]

  1. Echorich says:

    Radio Waves is just, uh, dazzling! It’s Motorik, it’s New Wave, it’s Punk, it’s Futurist. It’s bloody brilliant! If I had anything to say about their current tour, I would open every show with Radio Waves…shock and awe over 3:43…
    Time Zone is my current ringtone. I have chopped it up in three sections and sprinkled it among my friends in my iPhone contacts list. It went off the other day at work – should have had the phone on mute – and it absolutely freaked my co-workers out…job well done.
    I love that the album ends with All The Things We’ve Made. It goes a long way to wrap together all the emotions, politics and angst of the album.
    Dazzle Ship’s title is very telling once you listen to the album. Songs mask emotions and politics in their ingenuity, their sparseness, their ebullience…
    As I was listening to the album tonight to get a better feeling for your own impressions, Monk, I let the iTunes drift to the next song and it was the John Foxx + The Maths remix/remodel of Dresden. If any song brought the intent of Dazzle Ships forward 30+ years this particular remix proves all the value of Dazzle Ships foundation for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Richard Anvil says:

    OK, a few corrections for you. Both Romance of the Telescope and Of All The Things We’ve Made are not re-recordings but have been re-produced (rather than remixed) by Rhett Davies, from the original tapes. McClusky has it in writing that they tried to re-record Romance but could never reproduce the magic of what was essentially a demo/experiment which they originally thought was unfinished but then decided it was the most complete song they ever wrote and recorded. It’s McCluskeys favourite which is why they always play it as an encore. Also Radio Waves was planned to be single number 3 but was scrapped when Telegraph did so badly. Finally it’s a toy piano in the middle 8 on Silent Running, not tubular bells.

    To give my two penneth worth on Dazzle Ships I know it divides fans but when it was released as a fan I did find it a disappointment. This was mainly because the number of ‘songs’ on it was far less than any of the previous and it reused not one but two b-sides which, while they are good, would already be owned by any serious fan (ie me). Some bands did sometimes put a b-side on a later album (eg Blancmange, Yazoo, Talk Talk (though re-recorded in a completely different version) but Dazzle Ships is the only one where they put two on and as they were. If you also realise Telegraph was an outtake from Architecture and Radio Waves was from years ago from The Id and Radio Prague is just recorded from a radio and Time Zones is recorded ‘speaking clocks’ then the only new songs are Genetic Engineering, International and Silent Running with one piece of music This Is Helena and experimental noise of ABC Auto Industries and Dazzle Ships it is a bit of a weak album. While I love some of the tracks, Telegraph is my favourite OMD single and I am always in awe of International which is such a unique song, but as a whole it’s weak. If you read the bands official biography Messages, you get the full background story of how after Architecture and the demise of Dindisc, who had put them under pressure to achieve, they felt worn out with no motivation and with new label Virgin just leaving them to it without any direction or support. So Andy went back to their roots, hence Radio Waves being included, and played around with ideas. In the book they agree it is a poor album and that they could have done better, and it was because of this failure that they decided to stop experimenting and start creating ‘normal’ structure songs, so it also ended their most exciting and innovative period. In retrospect it’s not bad and far more interesting than their later albums and it is good that it has been reassessed and indentified as a crucial part of their most exciting and experimental period but what I do object to is the resent promotional statements, some from official sources, saying that Dazzle Ships has been reassessed as being better than Architecture and Morality, which it isn’t! I think it’s more likely to be McCluskeys wishful thinking.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Richard Anvil – Finally, a moment to reflect and respond to your considered comment. I must admit that I have very fixed listening habits for music. 90% of my careful listening happens in my car during the long commute to and from work. As such, it almost never involves headphones to take me to that “forensic listening” place where I should dwell more often. So I listened as carefully as I could but could not ascertain the basic reusable of the two B-sides. And I have never nabbed a copy of “Messages,” so the detail there on the subject had eluded me. It’s probably time for a new OMD book at this late date, do you think?

      I understand your concerns with “Dazzle Ships.” It is brief. It lacks “songs.” Half of the songs it does have were written and even recorded years earlier. But what it has more than any other OMD album is a vibe and that vibe is as strong as an iron bar! The coherence to the thematic worldview it represents stands head and shoulders far above any other OMD album, which are largely collections of unreleased songs. True, they put across the OMD worldview, but they are all fairly eclectic and loose in comparison. “English Electric” comes close to it, but they were obviously trying hard to do so.

      It has been interesting to see the critical re-assessment of it following the DLX RM they released in 2009. It’s true that there were scant albums that were trying to do the same thing in 1983. I’d put that number at zero if you removed OMD from the equation. But of course, there was precedence, with Kraftwerk’s “Radio Activity.” In OMD’s case, being second to market, even eight years later, was still far in advance of the marketplace’s ability to absorb what they were releasing. Personally, I take issue with McCluskey’s moping and complaining in the “Messages” book. I don’t think OMD failed with “Dazzle Ships.” I choose to blame society. Seeing the next generation accept it has been gratifying to me. And while I agree that “Architecture + Morality” is a stronger album, it’s not necessarily a better one for my ears.


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