[Review] Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: Architecture & Morality (1981)

The band’s third album strikes upon a brilliant balance of Victorian romance and Bauhaus minimalism.

Kronomyth 3.0: Better Bauhauses and Gardens.

The first two albums by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark showed real promise as a new voice in the new wave/synthesizer scene. Architecture & Morality is that promise fulfilled. Here, more than on any other album from the period, the romantic and the robotic waltz together through the ages. The record eventually sold millions of copies and remains a high point of the 80s new romantic movement alongside such classics as Roxy Music’s Avalon and Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream.

The genius of Architecture & Morality isn’t its sheer originality so much as its brilliant borrowing of bits from Brian Eno, Ultravox, Cluster and Kraftwerk to make a new kind of ethereal pop music. Anyone who has heard Eno’s Another Green World, for example, will instantly recognize that album’s influence (particularly the song “Golden Hours”). Sealand would seem to indicate that OMD was at least passingly familiar with Discreet Music as well. And we’ve already established that Andrew McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were aware of the foundational work of Ultravox (cf. “Enola Gay”).

As with any architecture, OMD’s music is built on what came before. That doesn’t detract from the beauty of Architecture & Morality one bit. The grand, gorgeous sound of Souvenir and Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans) exist in their own dreamworld. She’s Leaving and Joan of Arc are less breathy and more flesh & blood but no less mesmerizing. Add Georgia, and you have five songs that might reasonably have been radio singles.

Architecture & Morality isn’t all gossamer romance; the band was clearly interested in creating industrial soundscapes as well. In fact, the opening track (The Stone Age) had me wondering if Nitzer Ebb might not have their own copy of A&M tucked away somewhere. And that brings up another point worth making: this album still sounds remarkably fresh today. The band’s pioneering use of electronic drums and smart sound choices (not many new-wave bands knew what to do with a mellotron) set the bar for the synth-pop that came after—or at least it did for me.

Teenage boys fantasize about doomed, chivalrous notions of romance. “Souvenir” and “Maid of Orleans” gave expression to those fantasies like nothing before or since, and for that I’m forever thankful. But the half of Architecture & Morality that is dedicated to electronic exploration is an equally valid argument for its elevated stature among new-wave albums. Unfortunately, OMD took the experiment too far on Dazzle Ships and never regained the balance of art and angst that made their early records so effective. For thirty-five minutes, though, OMD shone more brightly than any other band.

Original elpee version

A1 The New Stone Age (Andrew McCluskey) (3:20)
A2. She’s Leaving (Paul Humphreys/Andrew McCluskey) (3:26)
A3. Souvenir (Paul Humphreys/Martin Cooper) (3:20)
A4. Sealand (Paul Humphreys/Andrew McCluskey) (7:42)
B1. Joan of Arc (Andrew McCluskey) (3:48)
B2. Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans) (Andrew McCluskey) (4:12)
B3. Architecture & Morality (Paul Humphreys/Andrew McCluskey) (3:43)
B4. Georgia (Paul Humphreys/Andrew McCluskey) (3:24)
B5. The Beginning and the End (Paul Humphreys/Andrew McCluskey) (3:48)

CD reissue bonus tracks
10. Extended Souvenir
11. Motion and Heart (Amazon version)
12. Sacred Heart
13. The Romance of the Telescope
14. Navigation
15. Of All the Things We’ve Made
16. Gravity Never Failed

The Players

Paul Humphreys (synthesisers, piano, mellotron, acoustic and electronic percussion, organ, rhythm programming, radios, melodica and vocals), Andrew McCluskey (synthesisers, mellotron, guitar, bass, rhythm programming, acoustic and electronic percussion, reed horns, organ and vocals) with Martin Cooper (saxophone), Michael Douglas (synthesisers, piano and electric organ), Malcolm Holmes (drums, electronic and acoustic percussion, bass synthesizer), David Hughes (choral tapes on A3). Produced by Richard Manwaring and OMD except A3 by OMD and Mike Howlett; engineered by Richard Manwaring and Howard Gray; mixed by Brian Tench.

The Pictures

Album design by Peter Saville and Brett Wickens.

The Product

Released on elpee and cassette on November 6, 1981 in the US (Dindisc/Epic, ARE 37721), the UK (Dindisc, DID/DIDC 12), Germany (Dindisc, 204 016) and Greece (Dindisc, 2473 825) with picture innersleeve. European versions feature a diecut cover. UK versions featured yellow and blue cover variations.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in the UK (Dindisc, CDIDP 12).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the Netherlands (Virgin, CDIX12).
  3. Re-released on extended, remastered compact disc in 2003 in Europe (Virgin, 581507 2) with 7 bonus tracks.
  4. Re-released on half-speed mastered 180g vinyl elpee in 2018 in Europe (Virgin).

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