on 11 June 2007
Despite the tragic association with the second series of Alan Partridge, which has helped assist a snobbish response to O.M.D. by default, I feel the need to defend the band mostly known as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. 'A&M' took its title from a book entitled 'Morality & Architecture', the title suggested by Martha Ladly once of Martha & the Muffins and later associated with the Associates. The title fits perfectly the brilliant cover from Peter Saville Associates, who designed the majority of their sleeves (many of these are in an excellent book on Saville, well worth tracking down).
This version of 'A&M' is an extension of the extended/remaster from a few years ago, the major addition being the second disc which has DVD elements (video/live), mostly culled from a performance at Drury Lane. This is the deluxe version of the best-selling OMD album, one the fan's will have to get - if you're less certain, plump for the single disc remastered version which has all the b-sides/bonus tracks. I am one of the few who are hoping their masterpiece, 1983's 'Dazzle Ships' gets the same treatment.
The original nine-track LP is pretty perfect, advancing on the promise of the previous two albums and proving that the perfect pop of 'Enola Gay' was no one-off (which some might think when hearing the bleak electronic soundscapes of 'Organisation'). There is subversive pop, akin to 'Enola Gay', the subject this time being Joan of Arc, a figure who has been read in many ways (perhaps they had just overdosed on 'The Passion of Joan of Arc'?). 'Joan of Arc' is a gorgeous pop single, though it is the relative 'Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)' that seems more powerful, taking the ambient synths that are also found on 'Souvenir' and 'Sealand', prior to a huge classical synth motif and military drums whacked out by robots. The other single was the huge hit 'Souvenir', sung not by Andy McCluskey, but by Paul Humphreys who wrote it with Martin Cooper - more sublime pop perfection, the 'Extended Souvenir' is pretty similar, just a few extra words you might not require...
Things start more oddly with 'The New Stone Age', which has a minimal guitar sound (like Joy Division with banjos!), a metronomic drum machine and whoozy ambient drones as McCluskey sounds possessed, barking out the words: "Oh my god, what have we done this time?" The song goes into overload at the end, feeling like an advance on the Joy Division inflections of 'Organisation.' Following the dark opener, we get some more gorgeous electronic pop in the form of 'She's Leaving', which probably should have been a single - amusingly enough it would be ripped-off for 'Number One' by Goldfrapp, a band who are hip where OMD definitely aren't...
The centrepiece of the LP remains 'Sealand', which may or may not be a nod towards 'Seeland' by Neu! (OMD paid tribute to the Krautrock gods with b-side '4 Neu' a few years later), but advances on the 'Organisation'-epic 'Stanlow.' Just under eight-minutes in duration, it's a fan favourite and OMD at their most ambient, this direction would conclude with Dazzle-joys like 'International', 'The Romance of the Telescope', & 'Silent Running.' The title track predicts large aspects of the follow-up album, leading the way to the concluding tracks 'Georgia' (industrial electronic pop about a state of the Soviet Union, which like 'Enola Gay' sounds perky!) and 'The Beginning and the End' which blends Philip Glass-style minimal elements with guitar and percussion. Still great stuff, a definite perky LP and the choice OMD album (though I remain a 'Dazzle Ships' fellow myself).
The bonus tracks are another reason to buy this reissue, including a re-recorded 'Motion and Heart', tracks that would appear on 'Dazzle Ships' ('Romance of the Telescope', 'Of All the Things We Made'), and the fantastic 'Navigation', which would later give its title to a b-side collection of OMD works - one cd well worth tracking down.
Despite the later descent into stock 80s pop, session musicians and John Hughes soundtracks, OMD were once a great band, like Simple Minds, I tend to plump for the early stuff, picking only a handful of tracks after 1983. A key LP of the era, 'Architecture & Morality' feels as significant as 'Big Science', 'Dare!', 'Music for Parties', 'Non Stop Erotic Cabaret', & 'Penthouse & Pavement.' A key electronic album, even if Alan Partridge digs it!