Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Domestic reissue of 1980 UK synthpop landmark

OMD is one of the transitional entities that bridged early electronic music pioneers like Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Wendy Carlos, with the synthpop bands that populated the New Wave and dominated the early years of MTV. The band’s 1979 single, “Electricity,” pushed its synthetic instruments and machine rhythms up front, but warmed them with Andy McCluskey’s bass, a catchy electric pianotron riff and a duet vocal from McCluskey and Paul Humphries that celebrated the power source of their music. The flip, “Almost,” is an equal combination of synthetics and warmth, but the keyboards are less angular and more expansive, with a soaring lead line and steam-like backing for the lush, Bryan Ferry-esque vocal of longing and indecision.

For this first full-length album, issued in 1980, McCluskey and Humphries followed the same template, using their primitive electronic instruments to create pulsating and jabbing backings for vocals that borrow the strident tone of mod and punk. Their lyrics are often impressionistic sketches of emotions and concepts, including a soldier’s life (a theme they’d revisit to even greater effect on “Enola Gay”), the illusions of time, and fatalism. The new-wave “Red Frame/White Light” unspools a series of telephone box snapshots, and the album’s most conventional lyric in “Messages” finds the singer recoiling from the unwanted contact of a departed lover. The boozy near-instrumental “Dancing” sounds like a record caught off spindle, and the atmospheric “The Messerschmitt Twins” brings to mind the Human League’s first full-length, Reproduction.

Microwerks’ CD reissue is delivered in a tri-fold cardboard slipcase that reproduces the original LPs die-cut front cover and adds excellent liner notes by Jim Allen. The original ten tracks are augmented by four bonuses (though not the band-disliked Martin Hannett productions of “Electricity” and “Almost,” which were included on EMI’s 2003 import reissue). There is a longer single of “Messages” whose bassier, fuller mix greatly improves upon the album version, and three B-sides: the dark “I Betray My Friends,” an instrumental remix/dub of “Messages” titled “Taking Sides Again,” and a pop-staccato cover of Lou Reed’s “Waiting for the Man.” Though critics more highly laud the band’s follow-ups, Organisation and Architecture & Morality, this debut laid out the template and still sounds innovative today. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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