Record Review: ПРЕДСМЕРТНАЯ КАДРИЛЬ – Прости

Bandcamp | UKR | DL | 2017


[Dying Quadrille: Forgive]

  1. Черная весна [Black Spring]
  2. Трагедия [Tragedy]
  3. Поколение смерть [Generation Death]
  4. Похмелье [Hangover]
  5. Прости [Forgive]
  6. Дерево [Tree]
  7. Покой [Rest]

It seems only yesterday when a rare Monk Mail, from the submission form on this website, alerted me to the debut recording by the Ukrainian Post-Punk band ПРЕДСМЕРТНАЯ КАДРИЛЬ. Curious, I sampled it and didn’t wait for the song to end before buying their download on Bandcamp. It’s another year later now, and the band that translates to Dying Quadrille have chalked up another step forward in their development.

There are a number of changes apparent when listening to “Прости” not the least of which is the preponderance of faster tempos. Never more manifest than on “Трагедия” where the drumming from Andrej favored motorik tattoos of a furious pace as matched in intensity by Igor’s guitar, which still tantalizingly contained surf rock in its DNA, though less than before.

The first album’s gambit of fluid tempos; beginning slowly and building in intensity is  largely abandoned here for a straight up onslaught of velocity. Only “Похмелье” revisits that technique. Its clean, angular riffs in the intro also downplay much of the thunderous reverb the band usually employ on the guitar and Alex’s vocals only join the song nearly a minute and a half into its length. Leading me to expect an instrumental, but once he began singing the tempo then modulated faster for the chorus and slower for the remaining verses of the song.

The title track was thrilling, breakneck Post-Punk that was built for a chase sequence in a thriller; its tightly coiled riffs trading for soaring chords on the chorus and middle eight. When the song faded out on a particularly hot solo on the fadeout I was hungry for more. Well, what do they say in this business called show? Always leave ’em wanting more.

“Дерево” led for a change with Dasha’s bass before some truly glorious guitar cascades took the intro over the top to make this song one of the rare beacons of positivity in this normally dour band. At least musically. Alex’s vocal delivery favored the accusatory tone that I associate with Howard Devoto on this one. Any bands who have looked to Devoto or John McGeoch for inspiration, as I would think that ПРЕДСМЕРТНАЯ КАДРИЛЬ have, are doing something very right.

“Прости” [Forgive] was a consolidation of the synthsizer-free guitar-based Post-Punk that ПРЕДСМЕРТНАЯ КАДРИЛЬ began releasing last year and they have not re-thought their aims as much as committed to honing their already sharp vision. That shows that the band have a firm grasp on their strengths as they deliver powerful darkness that does not yield to defeat, and shows a spirited defiance of the status quo. In these dark times, we sometimes need dark music to help us get through the adversity. I look forward to where they go next. Until then, you can purchase here.

– 30 –

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 7]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Organisation | 1980 – 4

[continued from this post]

Side two of the album began with another of what I found to be the critical core tracks of the album. “The Misunderstanding” dated from McCluskey and Humphrey’s time in the band The Id, but unlike most of their debut OMD album, they decided to revisit this song on their second album. Good thing, too. OMD would not have been capable of giving this song the treatment that it needed at that time and it was better served by giving them some time to think on it.

Here, the song was radically overhauled from The Id version. Gone was the jaunty, almost rockabilly pacing and jangling guitar. The tempo was slowed and the atmosphere was completely re-imagined as a dark, gothic mood piece. It began with low-level sepulchral choral patches that were a harbinger of things to come for OMD and would figure prominently on their next album. Then the sound of what seemed like the empty hulls of oil tankers scraping against the shallows intruded for a time. This was the sort of sound design that this band did that thrilled me. Who knows what they ultimately close miked to achieve this sound, but it was fully worth all of the effort. It all sounded just ponderously immense as the queasy lead synths entered, adding fluttering anxiety to the mix. Then the violent, gunshot rhythms entered the piece and threatened to derail it completely.

A repeating keyboard hook courtesy of the Selmer Pianotron played for a few measures before McCluskey began singing the dark lyrics. The song sped up in tempo to almost match the original on the wordless chorus only to slow down again for each verse. Where the original had a cold ending, the new version had a long instrumental coda where the song eventually broke down leaving the slamming drums pounding out their rhythm with the wailing lead synths until even the drums stopped. I’m not certain if the drums were acoustic with heavy treatment or an early drum machine, but they sound more like the former. It must have taken the engineer days achieve the effect if they were acoustic. The hits sound like gunshots. Common now, but a radical approach for its day.

© 1980 Trevor Key

The next song was one of only three here that were not included on the US “Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark” compilation. “The More I See You” was originally a technopop composition that the band had written and then McCluskey started singing the oldie “The More I See You” over the music bed and they decided that it fit; even though the lurching, slightly funky piece sounded nothing like any of the common versions of the Tin Pan Alley hit that originally dated from 1945 but was best known by the 1966 Chris Montez cover that was a big hit. McCluskey was once again trying on new vocal hats with a new baritone croon tried for the occasion, thought his backing vocals once again scaled up to his more usual higher registers. The synth bass syncopated with the drums much more than was the norm for this band but that would also carry through to the next song.

“The Promise” was another new experiment for the band with Paul Humphreys singing his first lead vocal as the band thought that it was a good move to diversify and offer variety. “Promise” was another heavily syncopated tune with synth bass cutting a vibrant path through the song. Humphrey’s vocals were pretty thin at this point in his singing career, leaving producer Howlett the option of tripling his vocals on the song’s chorus. He had yet to establish a large difference between his approach and that of Andy McCluskey to the point where I almost don’t notice that there was a different singer on the tune.

Stanlow refinery: the heart of energy in Liverpool

The album closed with the band’s magnum opus, as far as I’m concerned. “Stanlow” has been described by Andy McCluskey as a “love song to a refinery.” I’d call it something a little more fervent. I’d call it a hymn. Stanlow was central to the Liverpool environment where the band grew up and it figuratively put food in McCluskey’s mouth as both his father and sister worked there.

It began with a field recording by McCluskey with the refinery humming and chugging with a slow steady heart beat rhythm before lowing synth chords and choral patches resolved to a sustained chord that set the stage for McCluskey’s arrival. He tenderly sang the heartbreaking words which personified the refinery in the feminine. The first three verses have only the sound of the refinery keeping the beat with the sustained choral synth patch with McCluskey’s voice singing over it. Mournful chords broke the bleak rhythm like the first light of dawn as the refinery sounds faded. The stillness of it all was transfixing though the clarity of the mix was kept as simple as possible.

The first human rhythm only appeared halfway through the song with a Korg synth pulse similar to that in “Autobahn” that was later juxtaposed by a reedy, oboe-like synth line. Then the drums only began a beat at the long song’s halfway point. Drummer Malcolm Holmes echoed the refinery’s hiss-clunk beat, with scant, subtle rhythmic fills adding frissons of percussive complexity while not straying too far into jazz territory. McCluskey crooned the bittersweet lyrics with resigned air of stoicism until the middle eight where his voice broke with passion on the line “we wanted a heart…to say what we want to” and his multitracked backing vocals crossed over his sustained lead vocals for the only time on the song.

Then, just a one more verse before the Korg pulse once again slowed to fade out to be rejoined by the metal mother heartbeat of the Stanlow refinery; with the same sustained chord held throughout the song until the final “hiss-clunk” of the filed recording brought the song to a conclusion. It was a moving and emotional song to be written about an oil refinery. No one else was making music like this to my knowledge at the time. “Stanlow” cemented OMD’s reputation and fixed it in my mind. No matter what else they did, this would remain the band that had committed “Stanlow” to tape. Nothing could erase this achievement. For this reason they would remain significant to me.

“Organisation” evidenced a huge leap forward from the self-described “garage synth” debut album. On this one, OMD unleashed their one trait that their peers could not match them on; their deep-seated penchant for melancholy that was at odds with the perceived image of the nascent synthpop scene. Their attention to sound design assured that they had pulled far ahead of artists such a Gary Numan, who had selected them to open for him on his “Pleasure Principle” tour. By bringing Malcolm Holmes in as their full-time drummer, they also avoided the traps that over reliance on drum machines  had laid for a generation of synthpop bands. As ever, bands that mixed human and machine percussion rose above the pitfalls awaiting such groups.

OMD were rewarded with an album that reached number 6 in the UK album chart and sold reliably well even as it was heralded by its only single, which hit the charts in the UK as well as major European markets and consolidated the open door to success that their previous single, “Messages,” had provided them with. Even in America [god bless america], “Enola Gay” had raised their profile and their appearance in the “Urgh! A Music War” film performing it live didn’t hurt any. We can be thankful that saner heads at Virgin recognized that no other track from the album should have been pulled into service as a single. This sort of simpatico by the record company couldn’t hurt any at all. As 1980 turned into 1981, OMD were poised to continue forward in the consolidation of their success, though by just how much would no doubt have shocked the band at this juncture.

Next: …The A+M years

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Reeves Gabrels + His Imaginary Friends @ The Grey Eagle 10-4-17

The fateful ad

Mother McCree! Lightning can strike when you least expect it to! Last night, after making a pizza, I was having a leisurely dinner with my wife. She had looked at the local freekly, which I had brought home yesterday and had expressed dismay at the appearance of Emo Philips; one of my favorite comedians and one of the four⇓ I have actually paid to see…many, many years ago. Suffice to say, I am not a “comedy guy.” It’s usually music or nothing that snags my entertainment dollar. After she read the newspaper, it was my turn. When I got to the club ads, it was time to pay attention, lest I miss something. It was at the top of the display ad that I saw it; fighting for space against the larger, bolder type surrounding it, not to mention the color photo of Philips.

“Holy Toledo! Reeves Gabrels is playing The Grey Eagletonight” I exclaimed.

“You have to go!” she admonished.

This came as a shock to the both of us since we had just attended a show by The Church [more on this later] only nine days prior and there were no posters at the club trumpeting this important fact. This one must have slipped under the wire quickly. I scoped Gabrels’ website for a showtime. Doors 7:00 p.m. and showtime 8:00 p.m. It was then 7:40. I frantically searched for a t-shirt that was not promoting some YWCA event while my wife grabbed the Tin Machine CD that I would love to have Gabrels autograph and I was out of that house in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. The trip to the club took 15 minutes. I entered the venue, paid my fee and asked the ticket seller [who gave me an actual paper ticket!] how this could have happened. He responded that the club confirmed the booking about three weeks ago; past the production cutoff for this month’s poster quota. I had lucked out in viewing the freekly ad in the most timely fashion possible; not always how this scenario played out.

It was barely after eight and the club was desolate! Apparently there was an opening act, Alex Culbreath, a blues/Americana player who swapped between electric and acoustic while operating a kick drum and tambouring via foot pedals. He began around 8:15 and played the requisite 30-40 minutes as federally mandated by the Opening Act Bylaws, Sec. E, sub-section 17. Not my cup of meat, but he was amiable and I was in a good, if strange, mood. I can’t think of another time when I found myself attending a concert within a window of opportunity lasting a fraction of an hour. My head was still swimming.

The pedalboard of the gods

The crew came out and prepped the stage while slightly more music lovers filtered in. I could not have been the only person blindsided… no… almost blindsided by this event. As the techs did their work, the club now had between 20 and 30 people in it. A magnitude more than for the opener but still evidence of yet another Asheville “pearls before swine” concert at The Grey Eagle. With my tastes in music, it’s a wonder that any act I like gets booked here, thought they seem to do so often enough. Apart from a Southern Culture On The Skids show [whom I never miss], or a one-off like Kishi Bashi, I’d be hard pressed to name a Grey Eagle show that I attended where the club was anywhere close to capacity.

Marc Pisapia [drums] and Reeves Gabrels filled this space with stunning music

The last time I had seen Gabrels play was at the infamous Chili Pepper, night two, on the “Earthling” club tour for David Bowie’s band. That was nearly 20 years ago. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. I’ve changed dramatically even as the world around me has mutated beyond recognition. The tracks I sampled off of Gabrels’ Bandcamp page from the Imaginary Friends studio album sounded very good. I was expecting a good time, but as Robert Fripp so eloquently put it, albums are love letters while concerts are hot dates. And this date kicked off in the torrid zone and quickly moved to smoking hot.

Quite simply, Gabrels had definitely continued to develop and push boundaries in the 20 years I had not heard him play. His playing this night was whole orders of magnitude more awe-inspiring than when I had seen him with David Bowie decades ago. And I certainly liked him then! The songs he was playing were largely originals with a few covers [“Messin’ With The Kid,”“Wish You Were Her”] added to the mix. I was thrilled to hear a spirited version of Tin Machine’s excellent “Bus Stop!” Now I had heard two songs from “Tin Machine” live. I desperately wanted to experience that band live but it was not in the 1989 cards. The vibe for this band was power trio/alt rock with a touch of blues; but that was just the basic framework. The emotional and technical cores of the performance were the lengthy, improvisational solos of the gods that Gabrels was inserting into the mix like a brilliant jazzbo. With Kevin Hornback on bass and Marc Pisapia holding down a steady beat, Gabrels had the foundation to go to amazing places in his lengthy solos.

Who knew he could sing too?

Not every song had them, but when the seven or eight solos did hit, they were simply astonishing work. The solos could be real face-melters. Not merely reflecting mindless brutality, but breath-taking works of finesse that focused the emotional core of the performance to a visceral peak level. Then they also ran the gamut to simpler, yet stunningly beautiful and fluid explorations of mood and sound. Quite simply, with this concert, Reeves Gabrels joined Robert Fripp at the front of my queue of favorite guitarists.

Throughout the show Gabrels spoke affably to the audience; throwing a little light on the hows and whys of this quick stop in Asheville. Their tour had begun on the 1st in his native Nashville. The band had a two day travel period from the point of origin to their next date in New Jersey. The thought had apparently been “why not stop off in Asheville on the way?” For this I was eternally grateful. With such a sparse audience, we tended to crowd into the stage area for a better vibe.

The infamous “streamers”

I had to laugh at two people in front of me, not a foot apart, live-streaming the show on their phones. Whatever! I took only a few snaps with my iPod to get some illustrations for this review, but I did record the last solo of the evening as he warned us that there were only two songs left in the set at one point. “But one of em’s real long” he added. When that last song began, the thought occurred that I should record his last solo, so I did. All 7:37 of it as he sent us off with a glorious benediction of sound into the evening. When it ended there was a pregnant pause, as we were all loathe to break its spell before the audience gave a spirited reaction.

It was almost 11 p.m. when the show wrapped. There was no encore. After that last solo, what would have been the point? I had seen that the tour manager had set up a small merch table on the floor at stage right. On it were all sorts of Gabrels CDs, priced to move at $10/per. I had spent my mad money on entry to the show but was more than prepared to purchase with their Square account, when I found out that there was no Square account. I panicked for a moment until one concert goer reminded me that The Grey Eagle had an ATM on the premises. Access fee be damned, I was going to have some of the music on offer tonight! I saw not only the studio album with His Imaginary Friends, but also a duet album made with Bill Nelson that I had just seen a few hours earlier on his website discography! Then the ATM in the bar/restaurant area failed to deliver; it had an “out of service” sign on it and I quickly made a bee-line for my car and my credit union’s ATM located a few miles away. Luck was smiling again on me this evening as it was in service for a change. I went back to the club and purchased the two CDs I needed badly, and ascertaining that Gabrels was not venturing out to meet his public [and I could have missed him in the 8-10 minutes it took to go to my ATM and back] I took the trip home.

I popped in the “Fantastic Guitars” CD made with Nelson and was rewarded with electronica that took in gorgeously abstract soundscapes in the first minute, but I wanted to hear something else. I had recorded that final solo and thus played it from my iPod Touch through the car stereo. It sounded excellent. Why had I not recorded the whole concert? Because you never know when lightning is going to strike as it most definitely had that evening. Fortunately, there is a recourse for us. On October 1st, Mr. Gabrels had released a live album with the same lineup I had just seen that evening. On it, you will get an experience similar to what I had just lived through with all of the solos that were only barely hinted at on the studio album. And it’s yours for the price of a chai latte and biscotti. Sample below.

But that’s just the next best thing. What you really need to ask yourself is this question: do I live within driving distance of the Reeves Gabrels US tour of wonder that The Monk has just encountered? If the answer is “yes,” then good lord, drop everything and bask in the glow of this man’s eloquent guitar at your earliest convenience! This is music packed with beauty, power, and a sense of adventure. Playing of this caliber doesn’t happen every decade! Here are the remaining 13 of the 15 dates in total.

Reeves Gabrels + His Imaginary Friends | Fall US Tour | 2017

6 Oct | Lizzie Rose Music Room | Tuckerton, NJ
8 Oct | Amazing Things Arts Center | Framingham, MA
11 Oct | Maxwell’s Tavern | Hoboken, NJ
12 Oct | The Cannery Music Hall | Southbridge, MA
13 Oct | The Falcon | Marlboro, NY
14 Oct | The Hangar on the Hudson | Troy, NY
15 Oct | UnchARTed Gallery | Lowell, MA
16 Oct | cafe nine | New Haven, CT
18 Oct | The Middle East | Cambridge, MA
19 Oct | The Narrows Center for the Performing Arts | Fall River, MA
22 Oct | Garcia’s at the Capitol Theatre | Port Chester, NY
23 Oct | The Cutting Room | New York, NY
25 Oct | The Spot on Kirk | Roanoke, VA

You’re welcome!

– 30 –

⇓ For the record I have also seen shows by: Judy Tenuta, Sandra Bernhard, and Eddie Izzard.

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 6]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Organisation | 1980 – 4

[continued from previous post]

Having established their top flight pop chops right up front, “Organisation” then makes the effort to map out new territory for the group. “2nd Thought” sported a downbeat intro of unresolved, descending chords before the overloaded, flanged bass and gossamer “choral” patches joined the CR78 rhythm box in setting up the minimal song for maximum atmosphere. Melody was carried here by the insouciant vocal of McCluskey; who began to approach Ferry-esque crooning on this one. He dispassionately related a failed relationship as the song seemed to embody positivity and negativism in equal measures.

The radio tube from the back of Kraftwerk’s 1975 opus bears the title cribbed from here

The next song, “VCL XI,” was something entirely different. For sure, it was the second Kraftwerk reference on the album. Following the album’s title, this song took its name from a tube diagram [right] on the back of the “Radio-Activity” cover from 1975. Thus far, the album was moving in very different directions on each song. This one sounded like a mechanical wind-up toy full of jollity. The clockwork rhythm was steady. Organ chords added to the rhythm, and the cheerful timbre of the Pianotron [sounding much like a glockenspiel] suffused this song with a child-like naivety. McCluskey’s vocals here were almost whispered in a high register with unusual, jazzy phrasing sometimes coming to the fore of the song. In a way, this song telegraphed the band’s penchant for child-like melodies coupled with darkly contrasting lyrical content, though to be honest, after 37 years I still can’t make out what McCluskey was singing.

Where the song really goes places was in its prescient evocation of glitch aesthetics. I really can’t recall hearing anything else like it this early on. The interplay of the bass and lead synth on the “chorus” soon diverged from synch to allow elements to float in and out of the mix at a random pace as the song developed. The basic beat remained steady, but sometimes it was embellished with  additional rhythms on the off beat, giving the song the shambolic air of a machine trying its level best to provide a song but eventually breaking down. The coda eventually succumbed entirely to its own entropy as the song sputtered and hissed to its close.

Before John Cleese could utter “and now for something completely different,” the next song was the fourth mood proffered in as many tracks. “Motion + Heart” was briefly mooted as the second single from the album, but saner heads prevailed and the decision was made to let just “Enola Gay” represent the album as a single. I understand why they thought that “Motion + Heart” was their closest thing to a second single here, but it would have been a bad choice to be the new public face of the band as it was the odd song out on this album.  The borderline showbizzy tune featured fingersnaps and a bouncy shuffle beat that screamed “cabaret” and really, it was nothing more than a momentary outlier for this decidedly experimental band. The fact that the lead melody was piano over the synths said it all.

Finally, side one ended with the song that best showed off the rapid maturity that the band had been evidencing between the debut album and this one. A subtle cha-cha beat from the rhythm box and still more delicate, descending chords quickly painted a picture of tranquil melancholy that soon became one of the defining traits of the OMD artistic point of view to me. “Statues” was a stunner of a song, with a haunting, insistent melody that was as dark and cool as the night was long. It was the kind of melody that could stick in my mind for the better part of a day as all of the playing of this song recently have all but assured.

This one had all of the earmarks of a great Bowie instrumental tune from side two of “Heroes” with a delicate McCluskey performance on the vocals, which were written about Ian Curtis. OMD opened for Joy Division early on and their emotional and sonic influence was made apparent by the time of the writing of this album. The wordless middle eight was heartbreaking with its synth notes cracking and distorting like shards of sunlight briefly penetrating the curtains of a darkened room, only for the light to fade again.

“What is faith
And when belief
And who knows how
These things deceive
I never said
And though I tried
If I could leave
And sleep tonight” – “Statues”

Next: …ID Revisited


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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 5]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Organisation | 1980 – 4

Having enlisted Gong’s Mike Howlett to re-record their breakthrough single, “Messages,” it was naturally left to his hands to helm the follow-up album as well. Its title was yet another nod to Kraftwerk by the group as it was named for the early band that Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider recorded one album with in 1970 that became the precursor to Kraftwerk.

The pace was moving quickly at OMD central. Their debut album had been largely the product of material previously written during their teenaged years, with much of it dating back to the OMD precursor, The Id. This was usually the time for the dreaded sophomore jinx to rear its ugly head, but OMD had already been writing new material while the first disc was being pressed up. Andy had done some research on WWII aircraft for the writing of “The Messerschmitt Twins,” and during his reading he became fascinated by the story of the Enola Gay, the B-29 superfortress that was named for the mother of the pilot, Col. Paul Tibbets…oh, and it also dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Dindisc supremo Carol Wilson heard the new song and had picked it as the pre-release single to launch the album. Andy McCluskey, who wrote the song was surprised to hear that his partner, Paul Humphreys did rate the song very highly. Nor did their manager, who thought it was too pop oriented…but nevertheless considered it a strong commercial move. Beset by this negativity, McCluskey’s confidence began to waver and he wanted Howlett to remix it. He ended up re-recording Andy’s vocals as well and the resulting single kept up the top ten momentum that their last single, “Messages” had begun. Better still, the tune topped the charts in Italy, France, and Portugal. OMD were taking flight.

The song quickly made an impression with its fast paced drumbox beat with a crucially oscillating percussion riff that pingponged between the two channels for maximum stereo spread and stimulation of the listener’s hemispheres. Then they unleashed the keyboard hook and two measures later the drums kicked in with a crisply paced 4/4 beat, played this time on real drums by Malcolm Holmes, who had only guested on one track on the previous album. He was now the third wheel on the OMD bus.

This one was ear candy of an infectious sort. 3:37 of perfect technopop with machines firing away in perfect synch with a traditional rhythm section. The reedy timbre of the Korg Micropreset leads were unabashedly winsome. This was all the better to contrast greatly with the dark lyrical content, with its references to radioactive contamination [“this kiss you give is never ever gonna fade away”] and simply the conceit of naming a harbinger of a new and horrifying level of destruction after one’s mother. That notion alone could probably bankroll a whole building of analysts for who knows how many years. How lucky for us that OMD wrote this song instead. It’s typical of the McCluskey mindset in that it observes a phenomenon and comments ambiguously on it to provoke a reaction from the listener.

It’s cooly dispassionate but in recent years, when I hear the wordless middle eight and its four explosive drumblasts from the kit of Mr. Holmes, I shudder and weep at the destructive power the Manhattan Project set free from its Pandora’s Box. This terrifying event ushered in a doomsday scenario that was all to real for the minds of humanity trying to cope with the implications… and this song had a great beat… and you could dance to it.

Next: …The Deep Cuts Begin Here

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 4]

OMD’s 1980 live lineup with Mike Douglas and Malcolm Holmes

[continued from this post]

After the Kraftwerk pastiche of “Electricity,” it followed with another dip into the Düsseldorf waters for “The Messerschmitt Twins.” This time, the template was side two of the “Autobahn” album. “Morgenspaizergang” in particular, from the days when Florian Schneider was still allowed to play the flute. The longish number began with random, flutelike synth tones drifting across the barren soundscape. White noise winds roared off in the distance of the horizon and the insistent chug of a rhythm box began setting the funereal pace.

The nagging plod of the rhythm coupled with the vague, deliberately flat melody painted a picture of bleak, anxiety over a decision already made, and about which absolutely nothing could be done.

“Your mind is made up
The time is taken
You reach decisions
We can’t avoid them
There’s no success, no matter what we do” – “The Messerschmitt Twins”

It was an arid landscape that investigated a thread that Kraftwerk had eliminated from their music completely by 1977. The detuned synths spoke of moral ambiguities and an angst that had no place in the machinelike confidence of modern Kraftwerk. This was one of the top pulls of OMD for these ears. Their work was obviously informed by Kraftwerk’s groundbreaking sound design, but the emotional tone of the work was the furthest thing from that of Kraftwerk. Andy McCluskey, in direct contrast, was a seething cauldron of doubt, fear and anxiety as compared to Ralf Hütter. At least on disc.

Their breakthrough single was “Messages,” but not in the form that the album contained. Here, the song was in its larval form with a simple sequencer loop, drumbeat, and sustained organ chords. McCluskey’s vocals examined the difficulty of communication over the soaring, tremolo synth leads on the Korg which pointed back to the seminal technopop of the “Telstar” single of The Tornadoes from eighteen years earlier. By this time the band’s penchant for writing songs with instrumental verses was very noticeable. This was a major signifier of the band’s naive period. The gently loping album version was considerably re-arranged and re-recorded for the band’s third single attempt. Virgin roped in producer Mike Howlett who invested the song with a dramatic new buildup that took it to the UK top 10, giving OMD a leg up for a very strong and long run on the UK charts.

The band reached once again back into their scrapbook for “Julia’s Song;” an old [ca. early ’77] song from their days in the OMD precursor The Id. The cut was so-named for co-writer Julia Kneale’s lyrics, which were far away from the usual OMD concerns. The darkly sensual poetry coupled with the least restrained vocals ever by McCluskey conspired to make this one stand out from the bulk of OMD material even as it was a touchstone to the band through the years; culminating in a re-recrding in 1984 for the B-side of the “Talking Loud + Clear” single.

Andy trilled. Andy bleated. Andy sang in a falsetto for the first time as he stepped far outside of his early comfort zone. The music here was equally differing with organ chords on top of an atypical mambo rhythm from former drummer for The Id Malcolm Holmes and the centerpiece was the bass line by McCluskey which lurched to and fro in a compulsive manner that was unusual for OMD. This was not a band known for strong bass lines. Dave Fairburn contributed his only addition to the OMD oeuvre with his barely perceptible guitar jangle. The Pianotron carried the melody rondo that eventually manifested even as the song’s coda dipped its toes into dub territory for the chord organ.

The band’s second single, following “Electricity,” had been “Red Frame/White Light.” It had not troubled the charts, but that didn’t mean that it had no pull with these ears. In fact, the passage of decades has only caused this one to take on new power with this listener. It’s the one song from “Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark” that I would pay good money to hear live as I simply loved the abstract, New Wave bop value of this one.

The Roland CR78 intro beat was also used on “Gary Numan’s Remind Me To Smile,” Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass,” and Roxy Music’s “Same Old Scene.” I love every one of these songs and is it a coincidence that they all feature the same, slightly Morodoresque beat? I think not. That OMD would write a song about the most abstract of subject matter: the phone booth near their studios, marked them as arch-nerds of a rare stripe. The pull between the abstract and analytical and the dark emotions of anxiety that this band trafficked in pulled me in like an angler. It said everything that the B-side to this single was a song called “I Betray My Friends.” Most people would simply not write such a song! How I would love to hear an extended remix of this one, but alas, the 12” single is the straight LP cut.

The least typical song on this album was “Dancing,” pure B-side material if ever there were any conscripted to fill out a debut album. The use of recorded tapes collaged in the pre-sampler era looked back to nostalgia of the war-era while also pointing to the future via the unique lead lines here that found the band using a Kawai polysynth that had a tendency to wail like a cat in heat. Various vocal tapes were given what sounded like a ring modulator treatment. The title was vocoded and it all sounded random to these ears; one of the shabbiest OMD tracks from this era. It was one thing to dig out older but strong material from The Id to populate the album, but this really did sound like something created one afternoon because they were a song shy of an album.

Fortunately, the album ended on a much stronger note with “Beginning To See The Future.” This was gifted with a stuttering technopop beat and exceptionally cynical and self-referential lyrics from McCluskey bemoaning their newfound fate as cogs in the music industry machine. The sound was clean and technical but suffused with a defeatism that was edging into melancholy. That melancholy would blossom soon enough on the band’s next outing, but here, it was still below the surface, since the teenagers who wrote these tunes probably didn’t quite have the seasoning for such emotions.

I like “Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark” well enough, but for me it’s the weak sister in the first five albums. I liked hearing the full album following my exposure to the US compilation that had hooked me but bad, but of all of the five songs that were only on the original debut album, and not the Frankenstein’s monster that Virgin/Epic released, just “Red Frame/White Light” and “The Messerschmitt Twins” were to a similar high standard that compilation represented. “Dancing” was substandard any way I cared to slice it, making this an album of no small promise whose latent value was apparent in spades with the release of “Organisation” just nine months later.  The growth curve between albums one and two was definitely one for the books.

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The End Of An Era: Billy Currie Selling Violin

Billy Currie onstage ©1983 Pete Still

While I was away on [business] travel last week and celebrating my birthday this week, I chanced to get an astonishing email from the contact form on the blog on Monday. Mr. David Myrvold wordlessly sent me the link to an auction on eBay UK wherein Billy Currie is selling off one of his violins. I was aware that Currie had made public pronouncements to the effect that Ultravox, following their spate of opening dates for the Simple Minds arena tour of the Christmas 2013 season. Words to the effect that “it [Ultravox] is finished…” which have now been scrubbed from whence he posted, but it certainly ruffled feathers at the time. I got the impression from Midge Ure that this sort of blindsided him. Having read this when it was current, I was of the opinion that Ultravox was finally through even though Currie has backpedalled and proclaimed that the band was “parked” for now. When Billy Currie is selling off his gear, that seems pretty indicative to me.

As of right now, the violin has ten bids and is sitting at just under £1100, if you’ve got the urge. Caveat? The buyer has to meet Currie in London and pick it up in person, where he’ll be glad to sign it for the winning buyer. So Billy is cleaning house if anyone wants to pick up the violin that the solo from “The Thin Wall” was recorded with,now is your big chance. The auction has a hidden reserve so who knows if this will find a buyer this go round or not. If you probe deeply enough, one can also find Currie’s French gold disc for “Fate To Grey” also on the auction block. Reserve not currently met at £495.00.

I wanted to just pop  this quick mini-post in today. I realize that we had just started an OMD Rock G.P.A. and it’s barely begun, but the timing is not good right now, so it will have to wait until next week and even then, I may have to disrupt it with some timely reviews that are concurrently percolating.

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