Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark

Virgin, 1980


REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


I have opted for the early, obscure and experimental work by OMD over the commercial stuff that was released later in the band's career. I’ve found their first few albums have a longer shelf life. The self-titled debut may sound bare-bones and primitive upon first listen, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a whole lot more to enjoy. Known as the orange album by many OMD fans, it was one of the first British releases to be recorded almost entirely on synthesizer.

Even a subpar track like “Red Frame/White Light” has grown on me over the years.  The lyrics and music may be minimal, but sometimes you don’t need a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles to craft the perfect pop song. The one moment that falls flat as a pancake is “Dancing,” a warped mutation instrumental piece that is a total failure. Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys surely must regret ever including it in this otherwise superb set of tunes. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Providing the bookends to the album are “Bunker Soldiers” and “Pretending To See The Future.” Both feature simple melody lines and overlapping vocals and are fair representations of just how much promise British music had back in 1980. As the quaint ballad with eerie tendencies, “Almost” has the sound of steam being released and a gentle vocal performance by McCluskey. It is in stark contrast to the challenging, freeform vocal he supplies on the impressive “Julia’s Song.”

The two singles released from Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark are the manic “Electricity” and a slower version of “Messages.” Though they were bigger hits in the UK than the US, they are nothing compared to the two songs that are my personal favorites, “Mystereality” and “The Messerschmitt Twins.”

The former is a fun, bouncy track that features, of all things, a saxophone solo. As for the latter, OMD’s quietest song is also the most magical. Full of entrancing tones, “The Messerschmitt Twins” is almost like a torch song because it just builds and builds. I can’t help but wonder what it might have sounded like had it been played on a bagpipe instead of a keyboard. Pure bliss, no doubt.

The duo of OMD held out for as long as it could, but after ten years, Andy and Paul would quietly go their separate ways. Andy would attempt to carry on OMD as a solo act, but after just three more albums, the profits had dried up to the point where even Andy was forced to call it a day. Try as they may, OMD was never quite able to find its footing in America, nor did they ever have the cult status other synth pop duos like Pet Shop Boys or Erasure.

Still, as far as pioneers of electronic music go, OMD will forever be at the very top of the list.

Rating: B+

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© 2007 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 Virgin, and is used for informational purposes only.