Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - The first album
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
- Released 22nd Febrary 1980
Track Listing... Supplied by Nigel
- Bunker Soldiers
- The Messerschmitt Twins
- Julia's Song
- Red Frame / White Light
- Pretending To See The Future
- Messages (Single Version)
- I Betray My Friends
- Taking Sides Again
- Waiting For The Man
- Electricity (Hannett/Cargo Studios Version)
- Almost (Hannett/Cargo Studios Version)
Back in 1979 there weren't many new bands who were able to record their debut album in the comfort of their own studio. Well with their substantial record deal advance from Dindisc that's exactly what the weirdly named duo of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (the band) did in their very own Gramophone Suite in
The resulting self titled debut was released in February 1980 after just a few months of recording and final production. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (the album) may now seem rather amateur and dated in its style and simple technology, yet with this album electro-pop was effectively born well before it was even given a name, and it also served as a blueprint for the band's musical style for some years to come: an eclectic mixture of pop melodies mixed with more experimental sounds with lyrics ranging from the ironic to the poetic to the cynical….often all in one song.
The opening Bunker Soldiers shows how Humphreys and McCluskey could easily mix social comment with danceable tunes in this cynical portrayal of military warfare (“Trained bodies in coordination ..it's a nicer way to spend the war”). Almost takes us into a more poetic realm with this touching ballad of forlorn love ("..when I get there I find that I've changed my mind / happens all the time to a friend of mine"). Mystereality is an oddball number mixing drum machines, beepy synths and a repetitive bassline with Martin Cooper's strong sax line making it almost into a 'ska' driven ditty (“reality don't fool me / No mistakes this time”). The seminal Electricity ("nu-clear and H.E.P!") had been with the band for a few years as their debut single on Factory a year before effectively giving them their break into the indie scene via the trendy label and John Peel recognition. A more polished new recording features here and remains a synth-pop standard after all these years. Side 1's closer The Messerschmitt Twins again approaches the war theme but in a slower and softer mode (“There's no success / no matter what we do “), and you can almost waltz to it.
Side Two opens with the catchy Messages, one of the albums stronger tracks but which would be completely re-recorded and produced by Mike Howlett later in the year effectively giving the band their first hit single and break into the big(ger) time. Julia's Song is the most labour intensive song on the album featuring a guest lyricist (Julia Kneale, giving the song its title) a guitarist (Dave Fairbairn) and skin and bone drummer Malcolm Holmes who was to become a permanent member of the group. This song, among others, was originally performed by OMITD's previous band incarnation The Id. Red Frame / White Light is infamously a song about a local telephone box ("you had a yellow book, with adverts") and was chosen as their second single released slightly prior to the album also in 12" format. The single was not the success they hoped. Dancing gives us a taste of the band's love of more experimental sounds mixing wobbly synth noises (from the Dalek I Love You days), treated vocals, sequenced rhythm machines and McCluskey's ever present bass; it's one of the band's more unusual and unconventional “songs” and naturally they chose to perform it on their TV debut on The Old Grey Whistle Test. The closing Pretending to See the Future is the band's rather cynical take on record company deals and the music business in general (“We've tried to resist but it's so hard to say no… “), perhaps rather unfairly since they were being treated surprisingly well by a Virgin subsidiary!
The Peter Saville designed sleeve completed the album with it's suitably anonymous original grid design (read Factory-chic) later to be replaced by a more conventional sleeve with writing on it.
The 2003 re-mastered release features the aforementioned single release of Messages, their first hit single, together with its B sides, a live favourite cover version of Waiting For the Man and Taking Sides Again a sort of dub instrumental version of Messages, again something fairly new and 'experimental' at the time. The Red Frame single typically featured the more experimental soundscape type composition I Betray My Friends as a B side (featured here), a technique the band would use for years to come. The issue is completed with the Martin Hannet produced versions of Electricty and Almost recorded at Cargo Studios in
In retrospect you can't help feeling that OMITD 'copped out' a little in producing their debut album almost completely abandoning their more experimental side, initially inspired by the likes of Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk often showcased during early performances, for a more acceptable poppier sound. But no matter, the album was more than effective in getting sales, recognition at least nationwide for now and produced a set of fine songs. There would be time for the more experimental later....