Most people know at least one Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark song, and that's usually "If You Leave," the song from the prom scene in John Hughes' Pretty in Pink. If they know more than one OMD song, it's usually from the string of pop hits that surrounded "If You Leave," songs like "Secret" and "Dreaming." What many don't know is that before this early electronic act was a pop group, they were one of the more experimental synth bands to emerge in the post-punk, post-Kraftwerk scene. Their early albums were minimalist and sometimes dissonant, searching for the melodic oasis that was waiting somewhere on the computerized landscape. Arguably, that oasis was found on 1981's Architecture & Morality, a musically sophisticated but easily accessible record that covered deeply soulful lyrics in beautiful techno washes. It remains their top album in terms of both commercial and critical success.
So, it makes a lot of sense that this would be the album the band would reunite to celebrate last year. The main duo that formed the core of the band, songwriters Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, haven't performed together since 1988, and OMD Live: Architecture & Morality and More captures the newly reformed band at the Hammersmith Apollo in London last May. Like all the stops on the 2007 tour, they perform all nine tracks off of their seminal album--though in a different order--followed by twelve of their best-known hits.
The Architecture & Morality portion of the show is the first set, and the songs work together well as a kind of mini-symphony. In addition to McCluskey, who sings and plays guitar, and Humphreys, who plays keyboards and also takes vocal duties on a couple of tracks, both the band's drummer Malcolm Holmes and saxophone player/second keyboardist Martin Cooper have also returned. The stage set-up has Humphreys and Cooper on raised platforms on either side of the stage, flanking Holmes in the middle. McCluskey takes center stage down below them. There is a large screen for background films behind the band, and the three platforms that hold the musicians also have smaller screens on the front, allowing for different fragments of the backdrops to work with the larger screen to make a moving, amorphous image. This is particularly effective on songs like "Sealand," where the backdrop is of ocean waves, and having the water surrounding the whole band makes it appear as if they are immersed. Other times, the pictures lock together like the pieces of a puzzle.
In a lot of ways, the set-up reminds me of how Depeche Mode usually designs their stage, and like the Mode, OMD has to rely on their frontman to carry most of the show. Watching guys play keyboards is not infinitely interesting, so it takes a particularly good leader to keep the crowd going. Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan is a master at this, and though Andy McCluskey is nowhere in his league, he does a good job, dancing and clapping and developing a good rapport with the fans. And though his lung capacity is not what it once was, his voice is still in fine form, maintaining the warm tones that have always made him an interesting pop singer.
Humphreys' voice does not fare sas well. His two songs, "Souvenir" and "Forever (Live and Die)," don't quite have the same magic as the others, largely because he doesn't have the vocal range of his partner. On "Souvenir," in particular, he seems to struggle to find the notes.
The direction of the concert piece is quite good, never getting in the way of the performance but using multiple cameras to keep everything moving. The Architecture & Morality section is fairly mellow and may be for fans only (it contains two of my favorite songs, the "Joan of Arc" suite), but once the band segues into the Greatest Hits set, the energy really picks up. The twelve choices are excellent reminders of what a great run of singles OMD had, including some cuts from after Humphreys' departure, when McCluskey carried on with the name all by his lonesome. The band really comes alive for this back half, and manage to prove that despite the years, they still have some fire left. The choice to close with Architecture-era B-side "Romance of the Telescope" brings everything around full circle, innovation through pop and back to innovation.
The full list for OMD Live: Architecture & Morality and More:
1) Architecture & Morality 2) Sealand 3) The New Stone Age 4) Georgia 5) She's Leaving 6) Souvenir 7) Joan Of Arc 8) Joan Of Arc (Maid Of Orleans) 9) The Beginning And The End 10) Messages 11) Tesla Girls 12) Forever (Live And Die) 13) If You Leave 14) Pandora's Box 15) Talking Loud & Clear 16) So In Love 17) Locomotion 18) Sailing On The Seven Seas 19) Enola Gay 20) Walking On The Milky Way 21) Electricity 22) Romance Of The Telescope
OMD Live: Architecture & Morality and More was shot in widescreen for DVD and so the picture looks fantastic. No signs of any pixilation or other glitches, no fuzzy blacks or anything like that.
There are three English audio options to choose from, a 5.1 mix, a DTS surround mix, and a Dolby Digital stereo mix. Electronic bands are nothing without a good sound mix, and fans of the music will be pleased to hear it in this context and with such quality.
The bonus feature interviews also have subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Alternate edits of two songs, "Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)" and "The New Stone Age," shows the performances with the backdrops more integrated into the cut, and more pieces of the straight films are also shown as part of a five-minute interview with Hambi Haralambous, the man behind the graphics.
There is also a twenty-minute segment cut together with individual interviews of each band member, talking about the history of OMD and the decision to reunite.
The interior booklet has a four-page photo collage of images from the concert, as well as a second track listing (in addition to the one on the back cover).
Recommended. OMD Live: Architecture & Morality and More is an excellent concert that shows the breadth of the Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark discography. The contemporary performance finds the band in fine form, with a winning song selection that combines the full Architecture & Morality album with some of the best hits from the band's long career. In some ways, this will appeal mainly to the converted, but if you have any interest in '80s electronic music, this should serve to catch you up on the whole OMD experience.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.