Review Summary: How this ship does dazzle.
Was it a brave move or a stupid one? The choice to mould album number 4 into the most experimental outing yet has strong arguments coming from both sides. On one hand, it would seem a rather daft move for the boys of OMD to go all avant-garde and experimental after the success of ‘Architecture & Morality’ - inexplicably not capitalising on the mass of positive critique by opting not to regurgitating the same formula they used 2 years ago. But on the other hand, it’s a decision that deserves credit and respect. Choosing to experiment when it would’ve been so easy to rinse and repeat shows a great deal of integrity and focused ambition - something that many modern pop artist have neither of in great spates. Fortunately for Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, it’s this second hand that serves as the best summation of what ‘Dazzle Ships’ amounts to.
As the distorted samples of a Czech radio show (from what sounds like decades ago) fill the airwaves for the first minute of the opening track (Radio Prague), it soon becomes apparent that something is out of the blue. Track 2 is just as peculiar - a 3 and half minute synthpop song with samples blurting out words like “robotics”, “future”, “logical” and “efficient” matched to a rather upbeat, rising melody. The rest of the album carries on in a similar vein - with the short instrumental, experimental tracks outnumbering the more straightforward (although nonetheless distinctive) synthpop tunes. OMD just dived headfirst into a pool of experimentation and resurfaced with a cluster of industrial, scientific soundbites and the ability to produce synthpop that was a tantalising mix of sombre and upbeat - of light and dark. They just played around a lot, but the important detail is that it all works. The repetitive, soft vocal of “ABC…123” on ‘ABC Auto-Industry’ is catchy; the short jagged ramble of ‘This is Helena’ provides a much-welcomed burst of energy, and the title track (with the numbers II, III & VII tacked on) is downright haunting - despite only being comprised of a about 3 or 4 samples played successively, the atmosphere is cold and foreboding - a perfect summation of the cynical, uncertain technological vision OMD used to construct this album. There’s also some genuinely excellent, more familiar up tempo synthpop tracks to balance things out a touch. ‘Telegraph’ is incredibly infectious and so ridiculously lively that its too loveable to ignore, whilst ‘Of All The Things We’ve Made’ is quite possibly the most simple, yet chilling song in the bands catalogue - featuring a simple distorted acoustic guitar riff that sounds as if it could fall apart at any moment, a beautiful background melody and moving, affected vocals.
On ‘Dazzle Ships’, OMD risked a lot and they lost some of the chart success they'd managed to pull off in the past three years, but also became immensely more credible at the same time. They could’ve just deployed tried and tested chart geared hits like previous successes, but the point is they didn’t. They chose to experiment, and whilst the album might not necessarily be as immediately grabbing as older chart topping hits like ‘Enola Gay’ when each track is digested separately, but when served as a cohesive album played from start to finish without interruption, ‘Dazzle Ships’ compels just as much and proves that sometimes, the risk is worth the gain.