Album Review by MARK BAYROSS
As this album will attest, Liverpool’s Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the duo of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, were originally inspired by the minimalist experimental electronica of Kraftwerk and Neu.
Certainly, the cold electronic pop of BUNKER SOLDIERS, ANNEX and THE MORE I SEE YOU navigate that desolate turn-of-the-eighties Northern sound similar to same-era Depeche Mode. OMD originally signed to Tony Wilson’s Factory Records and at times they come close to the sound of labelmates Joy Division, especially on JULIA’S SONG, with its plodding bass and slowly-building swirling keyboards.
The album isn’t always so bleak, though: the deep resonance of 1980’s MESSAGES (their first UK hit) has a certain warmth, while the Devo-like RED FRAME WHITE LIGHT offers playful respite and the electro-beat of THE MISUNDERSTANDING could even approximate the early work of darkwave acts like “In Strict Confidence” or “Leæther Strip”.
Nor is the instrumentation limited to electronics: GENETIC ENGINEERING has frantically riffing guitar and thumping drums and sounds like U2 jamming with Adam and the Ants, while OF ALL THE THINGS WE’VE MADE makes good use of piano and guitar to craft a very pretty ballad.
There’s experimentation here, too. DANCING is supremely weird – a slow, funky bass underpinning a collection of bizarre watery samples, Moog effects and a shuffling beat. It must have sounded even stranger in 1980. MOTION AND HEART adds more flesh to the same sparse beat, bizarrely fading out while McCluskey continues to sing, while ABC AUTO-INDUSTRY mixes understated pipe-banging with malfunctioning electronics – a kind of quiet Einsturzende Neubauten.
The stand-out track, of course, is the wonderful ENOLA GAY, the song that propelled them to international stardom and secured them their first UK Top Ten hit, even though it is named after the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The song’s up-tempo catchiness still sounds vital today, so much so that it seems incredible that it was released 20 years ago.
The album ends with ELECTRICITY, OMD’s first ever single (the one that appeared on Factory Records) and a song they were still playing live in the 1990s. Like JULIA’S SONG, it has that Joy Division bass, although this time the bassline drives the song along at quite a decent speed.
Given that this is a collection of raw early material, it makes for fairly interesting listening, especially when you consider that this is the band that went on to record such pop classics as (FOREVER) LIVE AND DIE, LOCOMOTION and SAILING ON THE SEVEN SEAS.
Of course it sounds very dated and primitive (Peel Sessions albums always do), but it serves as a fascinating curio for fans of OMD and electronic pop alike. Despite the fact that most of the tracks here are half-formed blueprints, it’s great to hear how ENOLA GAY, in particular, has stood the test of time.