[Review] Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: Organisation (1980)

This is the band’s goth album, sort of: a moody, atmospheric record that found them eschewing melody in favor of melancholy.

Kronomyth 2.0: OMD’d on life itself.

OMD’s second album is a dark, somber affair, which has occasioned more than one critic to dismiss it as a sophomore slump. I’ll concede that it is a bit OMDpressing, but so was Vienna. Co-produced by Mike Howlett (ex-Gong), the album is in some ways a refinement of their approach as Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphreys and Malcolm Holmes focus on sounds, textures and patterns. The sum effect does feel underdone, but I don’t know if that’s because the band didn’t have the time to develop their songs or simply short-circuited the development process in favor of creating a specific mood/feel. It is a moody album, and that’s clearly by design.

The opening “Enola Gay” is the brightest star in this collection, a fitting followup to “Electricity” that somehow manages to turn a song about nuclear destruction into a love song. Nothing else on Organisation approaches it; Paul Humphreys’ “Promise” is the next closest thing to a single. The remaining six songs are gloomy expressions of man and machine mixed together. There’s a wistfulness in this music that seems to take its cue from “Enola Gay,” as though McCluskey and Humphreys were living in a world they couldn’t change, and so accepted it with a resigned sadness. It is a sad record too.

So what do we do with this sad, moody record? It was easily enough avoided in my home country (the United States of A**kicking), being a pricey import, while the miserable English vaunted it into the Top 10. It’s an intriguing record, as electronic music was still a novel concept, and OMD was clearly pushing the fringes of the medium’s frontier on these early albums. The problem is, the group lacked the numbers and the musicianship to make a proper go of it. The band’s palette consisted of synthesizers, bass and drums, and they only had one good vocalist (McCluskey). Organisation has its limitations. It also has a good imagination.

Two contemporary bands rarely clumped together are OMD and The Cure, yet I would offer that Organisation is their goth album. “The Misunderstanding,” for example, would have found a sympathetic setting in Seventeen Seconds. I believe that Humphreys and McCluskey were trying to make a serious album – both thematically and musically, within their chosen medium of electropop. They succeeded, I also believe, in large part because of the novelty of synthesizers. The next time they tried to make a serious record (Dazzle Ships), audiences would be less forgiving. Of some interest, the original UK elpee included a bonus four-track EP with live performances from 1978 that actually point forward to the mixed media experiment of Dazzle Ships. All four tracks were appended to the expanded remaster in 2003.

Original elpee version

A1. Enola Gay (Andy McCluskey) (3:32)
A2. 2nd Thought  (Andy McCluskey) (4:11)
A3. VCL XI (Paul Humphreys/Andy McCluskey) (3:48)
A4. Motion And Heart (Paul Humphreys/Andy McCluskey) (3:12)
A5. Statues (Andy McCluskey) (4:27)
B1. The Misunderstanding (Paul Humphreys/Andy McCluskey) (4:52)
B2. The More I See You (Harry Warren/Mack Gordon) (4:11)
B3. Promise (Paul Humphreys) (4:47)
B4. Stanlow (Paul Humphreys/Andy McCluskey) (6:35)

Limited edition bonus EP
A1. Introducing Radios
A2. Distance Fades Between Us
B1. Progress
B2. Once When I Was Six

CD reissue bonus tracks
10. Annex
11. Introducing Radios
12. Distance Fades Between Us
13. Progress
14. Once When I Was Six
15. Electricity (Dindisc 1980 version)

The Players

Malcolm Holmes (drums and acoustic percussion), Paul Humphreys (synthesizers, electronic organ, electronic and acoustic piano, rhythm programming, acoustic and electronic percussion and vocals), Andy McCluskey (synthesizer, bass guitar, electronic organ, treated acoustic piano, rhythm programming, acoustic and electronic percussion and vocals). Produced by Mike Howlett and Orchestral Manoeuvres; engineered by Max Norman and Lawrence Dana.

The Pictures

Sleeve design by Trevor Key, Interphoto and Peter Saville.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on October 24, 1980 in the UK, Australia and New Zealand (Dindisc, DID/DIDC 6), Germany (Dindisc, 202.971), Israel (Virgin, BAN DID 6), Japan (Virgin, VIP-6967) and Portugal (Dindisc, VVD 33.062.62SC) with limited edition free EP. Reached #6 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1985 in Japan (Dindisc, DIDCD6).
  2. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1986 in the UK (Virgin, OVED/OVEDC 147) and Japan (Virgin, 25VB-1070).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1987 in the US (Virgin, 90612-1).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in the US (Virgin, 90612-2).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc on May 2, 1991 in Japan (Virgin, VJCP-23074).
  6. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2003 in the US (Virgin, 82749-2) with 6 bonus tracks.
  7. Re-issued on half speed mastered elpee in 2018 in Europe (Virgin, 0255705083).

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