Song of the day – 380: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (a love song in five parts)
Just the past month or so, I’ve been listening to the third Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark album Architecture & Morality every day.
I can’t deny that:
1. It’s a guilty pleasure for me
It’s not that I believe such notions should necessarily exist, but they do. There are certain forms of music I would rather not be associated with. “You can also judge a person by the company they avoid,” as a billboard outside a local church has it. I normally eschew this form of white-bread crowd-pleasing sensitive synthetic music from the early 80s: I choose to really not like Tears For Fears or The Blue Nile or any of the other types commonly lumped in with this. For example: why, oh why, did Andy McCluskey have to dance like that? And yet, I cannot deny that:
2. This is a nostalgic delight for me
I arrived at Goldsmith’s College, tail end of 1979. The decade of the three-day strike, and I was suddenly living in an area (Deptford) called one of the “worst parts of London”. (There were lots of black people there: that’s how middle England judged such things back then.) I moved into Rachel McMillan Hall of Residence (shortly before they built the kick-ass security entrances and high compound walls) in Creek Road, and found myself befriended by a homesick St. Helen’s boy, name of Paul Cross. He was into the first dozen or so Factory Records singles, Martha & The Muffins, Neil Young and Tom Waits. It was my introduction to each. (Sure, I was aware of Joy Division already: I wasn’t a total hick.) (I did choose to buy the debut B-52s album over Unknown Pleasures, though. As I say, I wasn’t a total hick.) I adored FAC6, the debut Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark single – ‘Electricity’. (Not the version that later became known.) What a fantastic five-note melody. That’s all I wanted. That’s all I wanted to know. I wasn’t aware of Kraftwerk beyond the couple of singles everyone knew (‘Neon Lights’ on 12-inch florescent vinyl; ‘The Model’) and Gary Numan. This I adored. And yet, I cannot deny that:
3. The following term, when I got glandular fever, and came back a few weeks late, having already spent my entire year’s grant on records in the just-opened Virgin Megastore (Oxford St) and Rough Trade and other stores in Ladbroke Grove (etc), necessitating me re-selling half these records a few weeks later for a fraction of the price, my shoplifting skills not being what they used to be …
The first Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark album was among them. It was too polished. I’d fallen for the Peter Saville sleeve design without wondering what was on the inside. The beautiful five-note melodies were a fraction too overwhelmed by the gloss, and half the time it seemed they were trying to be someone else (I wasn’t aware who). There weren’t enough out-and-out fantastic five-note melodies, or nostalgia-saturated refrains. And yet, I still cannot deny this:
On and off over the years, however, the first three Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark albums have haunted me. (That packaging! That ineffable coolness! Even now I cannot bring myself to refer to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark as OMD. They became crap when they became OMD.) I’ve been meaning to listen to them for the past five years, the same way I’d been meaning to listen to them the previous five years, and the previous five years before, and so on. I never got along with their albums after that initial hasty purchase, too many tracks that didn’t contain the five-note melodies, too much smooth studio trickery: but oh! Those first seven singles (up to ‘Maid Of Orleans’) in all their various 10-inch and extended formats! (OK, not the rash ‘Red Frame/White Light’, which never sat well with me – I much preferred Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark when they lingered and didn’t hurry.) Such a great run of singles. Such a great run of singles. I could never deny this:
5. The above is today’s Song of the Day, if anyone’s still keeping count.
But (for sure) I could never deny this:
6. The Field Mice, that’s all I’m saying. Surely you’ve spotted the points of similarity?
Not the hastier tracks, you fool. But listen to those sweet soporific boy-boy vocals and the wash of synthesizers. It is so Sarah Records’ flagship band I’m astonished it’s taken me two decades to realise it. Maybe I spotted it before: I have little memory of what transpired when I was in a different country (the past). Bearing my love for some of the more sweeping of Field Mice songs, of course I could never deny this:
7. Damn. This is so, so great.
Or, especially, this – one of the most poignant love songs to a mass-murdering killing machine ever composed.
And yet, I cannot deny that:
8. I need to declare a vested interest.
This is a strange one. One of the folk I have enjoyed hanging out with the most since moving to Brisbane three years ago is QUT’s Head of Music, the Grammy Award-winning album producer Mike Howlett. And the reason I picked on Architecture & Morality to listen to again after all this time is because it was co-produced by Mike, and I was intrigued to hear if my knowledge of the man and his endearing foibles – albeit 30 years on – would affect my judgment and enjoyment of the music. The studio trickery and perceived smoothness of sound begin to sound quirky, endearing: the melodies aren’t smothered, but brought into even brighter focus, the sound … the sound can just fill the main room of this beautiful wooden Queensland home day in, day out and I haven’t yet grown tired of it. Not just the singles, and not after six weeks, and not after a lifetime of wondering when it’ll be that I finally start connecting with this fine, fine band. I am so pleased.
Of course, I did try listening past the point they became OMD and – blow me down and call me Sandra – they’re fucking terrible, anodyne, Blue Nile wannabes. And I really do NOT like The Blue Nile.