[continued from last post]
When OMD reformed and toured their top selling “Architecture + Morality” album in 2007 it was probably a given that they would record the tour for posterity. It came down to a CD and DVD after they signed to the Eagle Rock label for the first time off Virgin Records since their Dindisc days… and those were still distributed by Virgin. I was happy that this happened since there was nil likelihood that I would be able to attend this tour. The DVD contained the entire concert, but with a single CD, the need was there to edit the show to fit. I was surprised to see that they did not follow the playlist from “Architecture + Morality” in its running order. They shook up the listing for a different flow.
It began with the abstract title track; a dauntless move. Also a somewhat bloodless one, since the track was heavy on musique-concrete tape manipulation on the album. That meant that most of the playback, save for rhythm, was Memorex, not live. Things warmed up a bit more on the next track, the long, atmospheric “Sealand.” This one sounded much less canned, and I appreciated the differences in timing from the album versus this live performance. The music seemed to have expansive breathing room here and lacked that quantization sound so common in the modern era.
The next song was the highlight of the album. “New Stone Age” daringly differed from the album version with Gregorian chanting used in the intro and outro. The famously wailing lead synths were sampled from the original tapes and had the necessary impact, but the drum track contained tom tom beats that I had never heard before for a welcome effect. I also liked how the backing vocals were more distinct. Instead of lumping together in the song in an unintelligible whole, they were woven into the track so that the listener could follow either the lead or backing vocal lines and tell what was being sung. The cold abrupt ending had had much more impact than the album fade.
“Georgia” was a highlight deep cut from the original album for me. The chirpy, singsong quality of the song was even more animated. One big difference was the recording of the Soviet Men’s Chorus was mixed down almost to the point of silence, but the explosive drumbeat on the ending was very compensatory. After a sprightly “She’s Leaving,” the band commenced with the hit single portion of the album with all three singles played in order of release. This became the “Architecture + Morality suite” for their subsequent concerts, where the songs are often played together.
I especially liked the live energy that “Joan Of Arc” achieved with the drumming of Malcolm Holmes more than matched by the hammering bass of McCluskey. After that, there was only “The Beginning And The End” to complete the album. This all sounded good to hear, but after track nine ended, on the DVD, McCluskey said to the audience “that’s all the culture done with…this is just for us lot now, all right? We owe you this, it’s been too long. We’ll play about twelve hit singles in a row, okay?” At that point, the album bifurcates from Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark to plain OMD. The shift in tone was palpable and depressingly, mirrored the same shift within the band’s music over their initial phase one career.
On the DVD, they ease into things with “Messages,” and “tesla Girls.” On the CD the aesthetic whiplash was far more profound. The tenth song was “If You Leave” which was nowhere near a hit in the UK, but their biggest [#4] in America. I’m guessing that it was included on the CD as a way to insure the album was sold in The Colonies. It may have been a requirement by Eagle Rock. In any case, the shift from OMD at their best to them at their most pedestrian was dispiriting. The next four songs were a plunge into the band’s mediocrity, with only “Forever Live + Die” almost reaching the heights of yore, yet still hamstrung by the sampled horn solo in its middle eight.
The band managed to pull their fat out of the fire near the end for a stompingly great “Enola Gay” and their traditionally climactic “Electricity.” They saved “The Romance Of The Telescope” a “Architecture + Morality” B-side as their encore. This album was a perfect example of the two different bands fighting for dominance within the skin of a single OMD. The art band and the pop band, and there was only about 20% overlap between them. Some of their later pop material still had vestiges of their sound; a certain melancholy, but increasingly in the service of far more banal subject matter.
This concert, enjoyable as it was, highlighted the conflict that the band had to reconcile going forward, since they were committed to the recording of a new album after a few jaunts on the road playing their old material. The older, wiser OMD would need to take better care of itself if they wished to still exist in the larger scheme of things. The OMD captured on this CD/DVD documents the schizophrenic nature of the band over the developmental arc of its first phase.
Next: …Plotting their next move