Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Live At The Royal Albert Hall, 09.05.2016

by Oliver Rose

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark are one of my favourite bands ever. My two favourite records of theirs are Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships. Imagine then, my surprise, to hear that both albums would be performed in full at the Royal Albert Hall on May 9th – imagine next my disappointment as ticket scalpers dashed yet another fan’s hopes and dreams…

I’m beyond thankful then, that this release has come to fruition, containing as it does the full one hour and fifty-minute performance. This includes not just the two LPs in their entirety, but also a selection of other tracks from the early catalogue – Enola Gay, Julia’s Song, Almost and Messages to name but a few.

This album is a real treat for fans; both Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships were critically panned on release for their experimental aesthetics and bleak, avant-garde lyrics, honed largely on the commercially unviable topic of Cold War geo-politics. Naturally, these very nuanced records have garnered a very loyal and defensive following – to have them celebrated in such a massive way is an extraordinarily emotional affair (I’ll unashamedly admit to having cried a couple of times throughout the duration). What’s more, both LPs have, in recent years, been the subjects of re-appraisal: beginning with an apologist article in Melody Maker in 1986 after the same magazine had slated it on release, Dazzle Ships particularly has at long last been acknowledged for its adventurous, political sound and self-reflexively European electronic character. More than a simple nostalgia trip then, this live performance is a very triumphant moment in the history of new wave – for OMD anyway, it’s an unbelievable victory for art, to which Andy McClusky’s insistent thanks throughout are heart-warming testament.

To anyone not entirely au fait with Architecture & Morality or Dazzle Ships, here’s the low-down quick. Architecture & Morality, released in 1981, is OMD’s third album after their lo-fi eponymous debut in 1978 and 1980’s Organisation, an altogether less poppy and bleaker record. The textures here are discordant and metallic, with the abrasive electronic textures of krautrock re-appropriated in combination with pop sensibilities to form a kind of proto-industrial sound that is both commercially viable and yet aggressively alternative (the LP spawned three UK top five singles and yet, it features a seven-minute drone soundscape). Dazzle Ships is a more difficult album; turgid on the impatient ears of contemporary critics, it’s this record over its predecessor, which managed to fall the shortest of praise, before its glorious resurrection in recent years as the band’s magnum opus. Of the twelve tracks, roughly half are acutely designed, Europhilic intermissions, whilst the remainder represent the last proper new wave songs recorded by OMD. These tracks are scratchy, anxiously energetic and incredibly wonky. That their otherness remains totally inspiring over thirty years after their inception is reason enough to check them out.

I would definitely recommend listening to these albums in full before trying this release. Though both records are played through, this show eschews chronology totally – for anyone unfamiliar with the material, this will sound quite odd. I would also recommend listening to both albums if you’re new to the band or interested in new wave, but unsure about OMD. These guys are quintessential British synthesiser artists, built seemingly with the power to last as they continue to make excellent electronic music beyond their 2007 reformation, something that can be said for very few bands of the synth-pop Britannica era.

My one and only gripe concerning this release is that it’s a little pricey – £9.99 for the digital download, £22.59 for the double CD and £40.12 for the triple vinyl. Annoyingly, it’s also exclusive to the band’s PledgeMusic page, so these are the prices folks, here to stay. That said this is something of a definitive Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark moment, with amazing performances, beautiful artwork and massive heart. It’s also easily one of the best live records I have ever heard. Needless to say, my vinyl copy is due for dispatch mid-June.