Strongly influenced by the German masters Kraftwerk and associated krautrock music as well as the ambient discs of one Brian Eno, Humphreys and McCluskey's early forays were of the bedroom band variety. After trying out as The Id and VCL X1 and collaborating with Dalek I Love You they settled on their name, one of several scribbled on the wall in McCluskey's house. A one-off single for Factory Records, the aptly named 'Electricity', and a significant tour slot with Gary Numan on his first major UK outing gave them the confidence to learn the studio, as it were. Their self-titled debut (1980) is available as a vastly expanded set, as are most of the CDs in their canon. It was a bold first launch that included their entire live set at that time, including seminal tracks 'Messages', 'Almost' and, of course 'Electricity' which did better in critical polls than the charts but was a foretaste of things to come.
The sophomore disc Organisation – a homage to Kraftwerk's earlier name - had some of Joy Division's epic, doom laden atmosphere although the slightly misleadingly catchy and quirky 'Enola Gay' (a reference to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima) introduced the world to OMD's extraordinary blend of downbeat vocals, hook sprung synth riffs and immaculate craftsmanship. Programmed to perfection the single sold millions, in spite of its undoubtedly grim subject matter.
Buoyed by that success Architecture & Morality sent OMD soaring. Attendant cuts 'Joan of Arc', 'Souvenir' and 'Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc)' were internationally successful, now adding acoustic flavours, strong disco rhythms and unashamed pop melodies. There was no longer much point in their being ambivalent to stardom, it had just been thrust upon them.
In fact McCluskey and Humphreys proved to be increasingly eloquent interviewees. Their dry Lancastrian wit and positive approach, while not at odds with their sound, suddenly gave them kudos in the big selling mainstream pop press as well as more esoteric and fashionable journals. Best of both worlds really.
1983's Dazzle Ships is another fantastic point of entry for the listener. Inspired by a tongue in cheek desire to be both Abba and Stockhausen – why not? - yet again OMD showed us that humanity, lyrical smarts and danceable electronica could easily flourish under the same roof. Although it sold poorly compared to its epic predecessor Dazzle Ships now sounds like a concrete musique masterpiece. The closer you get to catching it up the better it sounds. No less a mean judge of pop than Mark Ronson has cited the album as a lost classic, praising it's lo-fi meets techno design.
If they worried then that their audience had vamoosed OMD needn't have been too concerned. Junk Culture, a wry sideswipe at their detractors perhaps, used a deal of Fairlight, Celeste and Prophet to create a sound that is almost like a lighter Weather Report. By now OMD were getting all the props going in club land where 'Tesla Girls', the robotic 'Talking Loud and Clea'r and the magnificently streamlined 'Locomotion' (arranged by none other than Tony Visconti) all sounded just right, like gliding on oil.
Having become studio globetrotters of late OMD went back to roots for Crush, working with producer Stephen Hague (thus setting in train a career for him that includes Pet Shops Boys, Erasure and New Order) in Liverpool's legendary Amazon Studios. It's obvious today that OMD's influence on a scene beyond their own would grant them a proper legacy. More commercial than anything else they've done Crush was partly aimed at the US market and the ploy worked because So In Love and Secrets were steady sellers in the USA.
Just as they were on the verge of cracking America OMD took stock. They'd written 'If You Leave' for teen flick maestro John Hughes' Pretty in Pink and expanded their sound for bigger halls by adding new members to the album The Pacific Age, whereupon Humphreys upped sticks and quit. OMD now became increasingly McCluskey's project although his former partner would make sporadic appearances. The decade between 1986-1996 did inevitably see a levelling off in chart sales but even so there are trophies in the cabinet including Sugar Tax, Liberator and Universal and some truly spectacular collections of which it's vital to mention a charming Peel Sessions (1973-1983), a set of B-sides called Navigation and a stunning The Best Of which really charts illustrates their progress from young hopefuls to elder statesman of the electronic genre.
In terms of their ongoing legacy it's worth noting their admirers include Moby, La Roux, The Killers, The Pet Shops and Radiohead, luminaries who give you some insight into the shining light that is Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
If there was a clear high point for OMD in terms of balancing relentless experimentation and seemingly unstoppable mainstream success in the U.K., Architecture & Morality is it. Again combining everything from design and presentation to even the title into an overall artistic effort, this album showed that OMD was arguably the first Liverpool band since the later Beatles to make such a sweeping, all-bases-covered achievement -- more so because OMD owed nothing to the Fab Four. All it takes is a consideration of the three smash singles from the album to see the group in full flower. "Souvenir," featuring Paul Humphreys in a quiet but still warm and beautiful lead role, eases in on haunting semi-vocal sighs before settling into its gentle, sparkling melody. The mid-song instrumental break, with its shifted tempos and further wordless calls, is especially inspired. "Joan of Arc," meanwhile, takes the drama of "Enola Gay" to new heights; again, wordless vocals provide the intro and backing, while an initially quiet melody develops into a towering heartbreaker, with Andy McCluskey and band in full flight. If that wasn't enough, the scenario was continued and made even more epic with "Maid of Orleans," starting with a quick-cut series of melancholic drones and shades before a punchy, then rolling martial beat kicks in, with Malcolm Holmes and technology in perfect combination. With another bravura McCluskey lead and a mock-bagpipe lead that's easily more entrancing than the real thing, it's a wrenching ballad like no other before it and little since. Any number of other high points can be named, such as the opening, "The New Stone Age," with McCluskey's emotional fear palpable over a rough combination of nervous electronic pulses, piercing keyboard parts, and slightly distorted guitar. "She's Leaving" achieves its own polished pop perfection -- it would have made an inspired choice for a fourth single if one had been forthcoming -- while the heartbreaking "Sealand" and "Georgia" hint at where OMD would go next, with Dazzle Ships.
Words: Ned Raggett
OMD's glistening run of top-flight singles and chart domination came to a temporary but dramatic halt with Dazzle Ships, the point where the band's pushing of boundaries reached their furthest limit. McCluskey, Humphreys, and company couldn't take many listeners with them, though, and it's little surprise why -- a couple of moments aside, Dazzle Ships is pop of the most fragmented kind, a concept album released in an era that had nothing to do with such conceits. On its own merits, though, it is dazzling indeed, a Kid A of its time that never received a comparative level of contemporary attention and appreciation. Indeed, Radiohead's own plunge into abstract electronics and meditations on biological and technological advances seems to be echoing the themes and construction of Dazzle Ships. What else can be said when hearing the album's lead single, the soaring "Genetic Engineering," with its Speak & Spell toy vocals and an opening sequence that also sounds like the inspiration for "Fitter, Happier," for instance? Why it wasn't a hit remains a mystery, but it and the equally enjoyable, energetic "Telegraph" and "Radio Waves" are definitely the poppiest moments on the album. Conceived around visions of cryptic Cold War tension, the rise of computers in everyday life, and European and global reference points -- time zone recordings and snippets of shortwave broadcasts -- Dazzle Ships beats Kraftwerk at their own game, science and the future turned into surprisingly warm, evocative songs or sudden stop-start instrumental fragments. "Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III, and VII)" itself captures the alien feeling of the album best, with its distanced, echoing noises and curious rhythms, sliding into the lovely "The Romance of the Telescope." "This Is Helena" works in everything from what sounds like heavily treated and flanged string arrangements to radio announcer samples, while "Silent Running" becomes another in the line of emotional, breathtaking OMD ballads, McCluskey's voice the gripping centerpiece.
Words: Ned Raggett
The lightweight synthesizer pop of Crush represents a nearly complete reinvention of the band's original ideals, trading in the influence of Ultravox and Kraftwerk for the more contemporary fare offered up by The The, Howard Jones, et al. From a commercial standpoint, the move paid off, breaking the band into the U.S. Top 40 on the strength of singles like "So in Love" and "Secret." Anyone looking for signs of OMD's original identity, however, will have to settle for "Joan of Arc" rewritten as a pop song ("La Femme Accident," arguably the album's most pleasant moment), some interesting patterns on "Crush" and "The Lights Are Going Out" that recall Dazzle Ships, the relatively edgy "88 Seconds in Greensboro," and shades of Brian Eno's "Third Uncle" on "The Native Daughters of the Golden West." Switching horses in midstream does allow OMD to cultivate a new audience without losing their U.K. listeners, but it also invites the suggestion that Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were stylemongers rather than electronic visionaries. Producer Stephen Hague keeps the arrangements clean and simple, so much so that it's difficult to hear what (if anything) Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes contribute to the final product. Unfortunately, given the lyrics on this album, OMD picked the wrong time to be intelligible (and including a lyric sheet is just begging for trouble). The words to "Crush," "Bloc Bloc Bloc," "Hold On," and "Secret" reveal that melodies really are their strong suit. Crush offers very little of substance; maybe that's always been the case with OMD, and earlier albums simply masked it better by taking the road less traveled.
Words: Dave Connolly
OMD's first full album won as much attention for its brilliant die-cut cover -- another example of Peter Saville's cutting-edge way around design -- as for its music, and its music is wonderful. For all that, this is a young band, working for just about the last time with original percussionist Winston; there's both a variety and ambition present that never overreaches itself. The influences are perfectly clear throughout, but McCluskey and Humphreys would have been the last people to deny how Kraftwerk, Sparks, and other avatars of post-guitar pop touched them. What's undeniably thrilling, though, is how quickly the two synthesized their own style. Consider "Almost," with its dramatic keyboard opening suddenly shifting into a collage of wheezing sound beats and McCluskey's precise bass and heartfelt, lovelorn singing and lyrics. The chilly keyboard base of "The Messerschmitt Twins" gets offset by McCluskey's steadily stronger vocal, while the swooping, slightly hollow singing on "Mystereality" slips around a quietly quirky arrangement, helped just enough by Cooper's at-the-time guest sax. Even the fairly goofy "Dancing" has a weird atmosphere at play in the metallic vocals and groaning tones. In terms of sheer immediacy, there's little doubt what the two highlights are -- the re-recorded and arguably better version of "Electricity" is pure zeitgeist, a celebration of synth pop's incipient reign with fast beats and even faster singing. "Messages," though it would later benefit from a far more stunning reworking, still wears the emotion of its lyrics on its sleeve, with a killer opening line -- "It worries me, this kind of thing, how you hope to live alone and occupy your waking hours" -- and a melody both propulsive and fragile. The mysterious chimes and spy-movie dramatics of "Red Frame/White Light" (inspired by a phone box) are almost as striking. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is just like the band that made it -- perfectly of its time and easily transcending it.
Words: Ned Raggett
The Pacific Age is the last OMD album to feature founding member Paul Humphreys (although The Best of OMD does collect a pair of subsequent singles). With producer Stephen Hague returning and guests Graham and Martin Weir elevated to full-time members, OMD aggressively targets the American pop market cultivated with Crush and the Top Ten single "If You Leave." With the Weir's horns and a trio of female backing vocalists, the music on The Pacific Age sounds larger than life (the opening "Stay" in particular), a trait common to popular music in the mid-'80s. The added production value and better material represent an improvement over Crush, despite the opinion of some that The Pacific Age is a bland sellout. It's true that tracks like "(Forever) Live and Die," "Shame," and "Goddess of Love" are more style than substance, but it's a style that plays to OMD's mastery of melody and mood. The album follows the familiar trend of alternating tracks sung by Andy McCluskey and Humphreys, which effectively shifts the mood from energetic to understated often enough that the material feels fresher than it might otherwise. On the quieter tracks -- "Dead Girls" and "The Pacific Age" -- the ghost of their earlier work reappears. The band also continues to string snippets of sound together to create interesting patterns; nothing on here is as jarring as the experimental Dazzle Ships, and tapping into Martin Luther King's legacy on "Southern" might be overreaching the limited range of pop, but the band does bring their technical skill to bear on a few cuts. If their last album was a halfhearted attempt to court commercial tastes, The Pacific Age benefits from its wholehearted pursuit of the same.
Words: Dave Connolly
If OMD's debut album showed the band could succeed just as well on full-length efforts as singles, Organisation upped the ante even further, situating the band in the enviable position of at once being creative innovators and radio-friendly pop giants. That was shown as much by the astounding lead track and sole single from the album, "Enola Gay." Not merely a great showcase for new member Holmes, whose live-wire drumming took the core electronic beat as a launching point and easily outdid it, "Enola Gay" is a flat-out pop classic -- clever, heartfelt, thrilling, and confident, not to mention catchy and arranged brilliantly. The outrageous use of the atomic bomb scenario -- especially striking given the era's nuclear war fears -- informs the seemingly giddy song with a cut-to-the-quick fear and melancholy, and the result is captivating. Far from being a one-hit wonder, though, Organisation is packed with a number of gems, showing the band's reach and ability continuing to increase. Holmes slots into the band's efforts perfectly, steering away from straightforward time structures while never losing the core dance drive, able to play both powerfully and subtly. McCluskey's singing, his own brand of sweetly wounded soul for a different age and approach, is simply wonderful -- the clattering industrial paranoia of "The Misunderstanding" results in wrenching wails, a moody cover of "The More I See You" results in a deeper-voiced passion. Everything from the winsome claustrophobia of "VCL XI" and the gentle, cool flow on "Statues" to the quirky boulevardier swing of "Motion and Heart" has a part to play. Meanwhile, album closer "Stanlow," inspired by the power plant where McCluskey's father worked, concluded things on a haunting note, murky mechanical beats and a slow, mournful melody leading the beautiful way.
Words: Ned Raggett
Smarting from Dazzle Ships' commercial failure, the band had a bit of a rethink when it came to their fifth album -- happily, the end result showed that the group was still firing on all fours. While very much a pop-oriented album and a clear retreat from the exploratory reaches of previous work, Junk Culture was no sacrifice of ideals in pursuit of cash. In comparison to the group's late-'80s work, when it seemed commercial success was all that mattered, Junk Culture exhibits all the best qualities of OMD at their most accessible -- instantly memorable melodies and McCluskey's distinct singing voice, clever but emotional lyrics, and fine playing all around. A string of winning singles didn't hurt, to be sure; indeed, opening number "Tesla Girls" is easily the group's high point when it comes to sheer sprightly pop, as perfect a tribute to obvious OMD inspirational source Sparks as any -- witty lines about science and romance wedded to a great melody (prefaced by a brilliant, hyperactive intro). "Locomotion" takes a slightly slower but equally entertaining turn, sneaking in a bit of steel drum to the appropriately chugging rhythm and letting the guest horn section take a prominent role, its sunny blasts offsetting the deceptively downcast lines McCluskey sings. Meanwhile, "Talking Loud and Clear" ends the record on a reflective note -- Cooper's intra-verse sax lines and mock harp snaking through the quiet groove of the song. As for the remainder of the album, if there are hints here and there of the less-successful late-'80s period, at other points the more adventurous side of the band steps up. The instrumental title track smoothly blends reggae rhythms with the haunting mock choirs familiar from earlier efforts, while the elegiac, Humphreys-sung "Never No More" and McCluskey's "Hard Day" both make for lower-key highlights.
Words: Ned Raggett
OMD have rarely been as dance-oriented as they are on Liberator, a collection of retro-disco and contemporary '90s club cuts. While it is far from the experimental and edgy synth-pop that earned the group rave reviews in the early '80s, it is an enjoyable, lightweight collection of appealing dance-pop.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
O.M.D. fans had reason to rejoice in 2007 when the band reunited for a tour performing 1981’s ARCHITECTURE & MORALITY, an album many consider the group’s best, in its entirety. With O.M.D. classics like “Souvenir” and “Joan of Arc,” ARCHTECTURE & MORALITY is one of synth pop’s finest moments, and the band gives it an energized reading some 26 years after its release. Paul Humphries, Andy McCluskey, and company still sound surprisingly spry, and LIVE is therefore a safe bet for both newcomers and old school fans looking to relive memories. Performances of the hits “Enola Gay,” “Electricity,” and “If You Leave” add to the appeal.
Words: Anthony Tognazzini
"The Best of OMD is a compilation album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, released in 1988.
The version of "Electricity" used is the same as the one featured on their debut album (which itself is the band reworking Martin Hannett's original Factory version). The band was originally going to use their very first version of this song, but found the drumming to be inferior and so settled for the remix of the track instead. "Messages" is the more popular 10" single version. "Tesla Girls" and "Talking Loud and Clear" are both 7" edited versions. The Australian version of the album featured "We Love You" since that song had been a popular hit there. The album was a significant commercial success. "Dreaming" was released as a single and made little impact on the UK charts, reaching number 50, but it was a hit in the US (#16) and Germany (#26).