Thursday, June 7, 2018

Architecture and Morality

Revolutionary in that it brought electronica to the public's attention, Architecture and Morality is Orchestral Maneuver in the Dark's most distinctive offering. (The title suggested by Martha Ladley of Martha and the Muffins after reading David Watkins' text, similarly titled.) This is wildly artistic art pop, essentially crafting electronica out of New Wave. Some would pinpoint Depeche Mode or Gary Numan, while others would arguably insist on Kraftwerk, but the latter was far too German to serve as a z├╝ndkerze (spark plug) to electronic pop. Here, instead, we find Oscar Wilde on synth and a post-modern take on 20th Century romanticism. The melodies are simple, the lyrics painfully poignant, and the wash of sustain and release ecstatic. At times Orchestral Maneuver in the Dark could be chillingly cold war, as distant and alienated as Berlin era Bowie (Andrew McCluskey's at times droning, off-key vocals only heighten the alienation); at times they could be happy and poppy (think "Electricity"). OMD (a nickname afforded them in a more accessible future) were the commercial voice of avant-garde artists like Tangerine Dream or Mike Oldfield, and in no uncertain terms, were the progenitors of techno and ambient music.

Architecture and Morality was not evolutionary, however; instead it was brand new, establishing the idea that a stage set up for live music could include nothing that even resembled a traditional instrument. A&M was the first foray into sounds that had never before been heard by human ears. Depeche Mode would end up more popular and even embrace the genre and philosophy more fully, but this is the LP that opened the floodgates.

Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark were part of that great period, post punk and disco, when independent radio sought them out, along with Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush, and U2, an undercurrent a level below Peter Gabriel. There was a gossamer quality to the genre that unlike most music of its time, holds up marvelously. It was OMD that perfected the marriage between gorgeous melody and ambient experimentation. A&M incorporated choral tapes here, mellotrons there, electronic percussion in league with military drums and primitive ambient sounds set amongst the synth-wash of anthems like "Sealand," an artsy, ambient romp dripping with melancholic synth lines and enough mood to cover a beach. From the 12" hits like "Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans" to "Souvenir" to the atmospheric "The Beginning and the End," what may be most intriguing is the fact that Architecture and Morality is such a monumental period piece (a "period" that vanished in the blink of an eye). Ethereal 80s synths, tape loops and distant sampled war drums never let us forget the serious-minded nature of the LP and the era. Perhaps the most progressive track on the album is "Georgia" an poppy eschatological bomb age hymn, utilizing tape loops of long wave radio synced perfectly with the music and berserk bursts of electronic noise. It certainly points the way forward to another astonishing album, 1983's far less accessible Dazzle Ships, not to mention Black Celebration, Simple Minds and Ultravox, and more recently, bands like M83, Air and MGMT.