While Judge Bill Gibron has no problem crossing every ocean for the sake of locomotion, he really appreciates this souvenir of one of the '80s most influential synth pop bands.
Real heart, stop in the arms to be, everything shouting in the new stone age
Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the entire punk movement wasn't its music or its meaning. Granted, both of those are very important, but what really mattered most to disaffected youth in a mired mid-'70s England was the whole DIY spirit of the movement. Bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash argued that all you needed was drive and determination to express yourself within this new sonic framework. Tenacity trumped talent every time. This led to a kind of countrywide upheaval, with specific regions finding their own unique voice within the din. Coventry co-opted ska to sell their peace and brotherhood message, while Manchester manufactured a gloomy Gothic death knell, best exemplified by the legendary lost boys of Joy Division. But it was the Kraftwerk loving lads of Sheffield that shouted the loudest. Their synthesizer ethos would jumpstart a so-called "New Wave," ushering in the baffling Blitz ideal of furious fashion along with it.
It was a presence felt elsewhere in the country. Two young men from the Wirral Peninsula took a similar path to stardom, doing journeymen duty in several bands before forming Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark. At the cusp of the '80s, the duo of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys represented the thinking man's approach to techno-pop, a group dynamic forged out of history lessons (the single "Enola Gay") and future shock symbolism. Many consider their third album, the stunning Architecture and Morality, to be their masterpiece, a combination of ambient drones and pure song styling reminiscent of David Bowie's Berlin period. Featuring several hit singles—"Souvenir," "Joan of Arc," "Maid of Orleans"—and a clever combination of analog and organic instrumentation, it represented an artistic highpoint for the band. Naturally, there would be more chart success, a run at American acceptance (the recorded "If You Leave," for the John Hughes movie Pretty in Pink), and an eventual breakup.
Now, twenty-six years after the success of that amazing LP, the band has reformed, bringing back all four original members (McCluskey and Humphreys joined by then mates Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper) to recreate Architecture and Morality live. It's not a new conceit. Many old rock acts have found fortune in taking a classic album and recreating it in a concert venue. But this aural overview is different. Over the course of 136 amazing minutes, OMD (to use the hip abbreviation) runs across the course of its entire career, bringing material from their earliest efforts, as well as a few forgotten gems. While they may be older and a bit less adept at hitting those high notes, we still witness the power provided by the first sloppy power chords that careened off a Damned song. In this sensationally eclectic group, we see the DIY spirit alive and very, very well indeed.
For those curious about the set list, here are the songs offered:
Part 1—Architecture and Morality Live (all songs take from the
Part 2—Career Overview
Those who are hit-happy will be a little perturbed by what's missing here. Three of Dazzle Ships' more memorable songs—"Genetic Engineering," "Telegraph," and "Radio Waves"—are absent (perhaps because the band was planning a similar-styled tour for that LP, now confirmed), and there are only three songs from their first two efforts. "Motion and Heart," as well as "Dancing" would have been nice additions as well. Still, with over two hours of material to sort through, this DVD does not disappoint. As a foursome, OMD makes a wonderful racket, the kind of carefully controlled sonic landscape that only a careful combination of machine and man can assemble. Looking older, a little plumper, but none the worse for wear, McCluskey and Humphries offer up luminescent takes on these old favorites. "Tesla Girls" and "Pandora's Box" in particular have a newfound power live, and there is no denying the emotional coda that "Romance of the Telescope" provides. In fact, when you move away from all the chorus/verse poppiness, OMD are wonderful electronic technicians. They give Eno, Ralf, and Florian a run for their emulator money.
As a stage show, there is nothing overly flashy here. The band employs video screens, the better to illustrate their songs with film clips and various artistic interpretations. With three of the four members locked behind keyboard banks/drum kits, only McCluskey is free to work the crowd, and he does so like a seasoned showman. Sometimes, his antics take away from the somber tone of a song (we don't need excessive preening during "Joan of Arc"), but for the most part, he makes a compelling presence. So do the heretofore forgotten members of the band. Unlike other synth pop "duos"—Soft Cell, for example—Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper were there from the beginning, helping forge OMD's sound. Watching them play (when the camera stays on them, that is) is quite a revelation. It's intriguing to watch just how much live drums and additional instrumentation adds to the mix. Overall, this is an excellent concert, a must-own for fans and a good place to start for those curious as to this group's place in the whole New Romantic movement. One viewing, and you'll see why most people agree that Orchestral Maneouevers in the Dark defies easy categorization.
Eagle Vision comes up with another amazing DVD here, one loaded with excellent audio and video elements. The image is a bright and detailed 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, an excellent visual document of the OMD show. The usual issues with concert lighting—flaring and bleeding—are virtually nonexistent and the direction captures the live experience without too much MTV flash. On the sound side, its Dolby Digital DTS all the way, baby. The mix is masterful, adding real depth and dynamics to the songs. There are also 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo options, but stick with the high-end remaster. It sells the sonics brilliantly. As for bonus features, we are given a choice of alternate "edits," different takes on "Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)" and "The New Stone Age." There is also an interview with the band (excellent and quite insightful) and a talk with Hambi Haralambous, the artist behind some of the graphics offered. Add in a wonderful insert essay and you have the kind of digital presentation that perfectly mirrors the concert content.
For those of us who were in college when Orchestral Maneouevers in the Dark first hit, Architecture and Morality was a turntable constant. We just couldn't get enough of its eerie, evocative ambience. While the band's now more pop than pomp, OMD's live concert complements one's memories quite well.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Alternate Edits: "Joan of Arc" (Maid of Orleans) and "The New Stone Age"
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