Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark

DinDisc/Virgin, 1980

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


While most artists chose to roar their way into the 1980s, OMD quietly slipped through the back door. Their second album, Organisation, is perhaps most representative of this kind of approach.

Instead of building on the success of their debut, the duo instead chose to restrain themselves even more. Only the lead-off song “Enola Gay” became a single and is the sole upbeat track to be found among the nine songs. The rest is a subdued affair, to say the least, so its no wonder that Organisation would end up being one of the more forgotten albums in OMD’s ten-album catalog.

But this attitude and the primitive-sounding synths give each song texture and character and make it a forgotten classic.

The history of synth-pop can be traced back to German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk in the mid-70s. Giorgio Moroder and a multitude of disco artists would assist the genre for the remainder of the decade, until the likes of The Human League, Ultravox and OMD took over. Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys selected Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark simply because it was the most pretentious and preposterous name they could come up with -- and on that level, they succeeded. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Yet this is one of those bands that delivers both commercial and critical hits. “Enola Gay” is arguably OMD’s best song ever, sounding a bit like the Twilight Zone theme set to a shuffle beat. Along with Ultravox’s “Vienna,” it was one of the very first synth-pop hits that is still popular as a cult classic; dubbed a song of the future upon release, it still has that sound.

However, the rest of Organisation sounds absolutely nothing like the song, but this is not a bad thing. Tunes like “2nd Thought” and “Promise” could very easily have been hits with their whistling, slightly off-kilter keyboards and a repetitive, steady bass line. In addition, “Motion And Heart” is a finger-snappingly strong jazz number and “The Misunderstanding” is tortured Goth rock at its warped finest.

The album’s closer, “Stanlow” (a British oil refinery), is a grand, sweeping epic of a track that comes complete with factory noises and multi-part instrumental passages. If I were to create my own soap opera, “Stanlow” would be playing over the opening credits. It certainly helps to end the album as strongly as “Enola Gay” began it.

The only sub-par tracks are “VCLXI” and “The More I See You.” The former is in desperate need of a lyric sheet because the vocal is so distorted that the words are practically indecipherable. Its repetitive melody, hypnotic as it is, leans toward the monotonous and oppressive side. Meanwhile, the sludgy vocal on “The More I See You” is also slowed to a snail’s pace and its percolating music simply does not match, making it a song that would be more at home on a Beta Band album. They are the only two tracks where the experimentation goes in the wrong direction.

Co-produced by Mike Howlett, Organisation is far from perfect but is worth a listen. After all, it’s one of those early British new wave albums that was able to break through to the rest of the world, thereby giving it the dubious distinction of being crowned a classic. Newcomers to OMD should start with the fantastic concept album Dazzle Ships before coming around to this release, though.

Rating: B

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© 2006 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of DinDisc/Virgin, and is used for informational purposes only.