October 1980 was more of a time of consolidation for Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. After a promising start by Andy McCluskey & Paul Humphreys with their self-titled début LP, and with a top 20 hit to their credit with “Messages”, we didn’t have to wait too long for the group’s second LP. Taking on a gothic, slightly melancholic tone (which some say was influenced by Joy Division), the sound on “Organisation” was much fuller than before, thanks not only to Mike Howlett’s production, but also to drummer Mal Holmes, who by that time was already part of the live set-up.
On to the songs then, kicking off with “Enola Gay” which had been a big hit the month before. The upbeat feel of the song (inspired by the plane which dropped the first atom bomb on Hiroshima) was at odds with the rest of the tracks. Book-ended by that trademark primitive drum machine pattern it’s still hard to believe that the instruments used here are still pretty basic by today’s standards. (That synth melody you hear at the start was actually created by an organ and a very basic synth sound, combined together and treated with the usual studio effects. Simple when you know how!)
Now this is where the melancholia begins. “2nd Thought” starts off with some synthethic bell sounds before settling down as a mid-tempo synth/organ piece, while “VCL XI” (title inspired by a picture of a valve on a Kraftwerk LP sleeve numbered VCL 11) sounds a bit harsh with a repeating bass pattern, overlaid with organ which sounds as though it’s been brought too far forward in the mix, and various treated piano sounds brought in before the end.
“Motion & Heart” could have been a logical choice for a second single – in fact the group later re-recorded the song at Amazon Studios, but didn’t see the light of day until it appeared as one of the tracks on the B-side of “Souvenir” the following year. On this version it’s a more basic feel, but it’s a pleasant sounding track.
Moving on to “Statues”, the lyrics of which are, in part, about Joy Division front-man Ian Curtis, who passed away in May 1980. OMD had toured with them during their early days and it was the melancholic feel of Joy Division’s material which had a major affect on the “Organisation” sessions.
“The Misunderstanding” was an early number by The Id (which featured Andy & Paul), although this version had been radically reworked from the original, guitar-driven track which surfaced later on an EP which also featured early versions of “Electricity” and “Julia’s Song”.
“The More I See You” is a bit of an unlikely choice of number – according to some stories I’ve seen, the duo were working on a new track when McCluskey started singing the lyrics to the old Chris Montez number over the top of the backing tape. The combination doesn’t quite work, but they actually got away with it.
The next track, “Promise” is a bit of a revelation. Featuring Paul on lead vocal for the first time, (and one of his own compositions by the way) it’s a pretty good effort from him despite his voice sounding a bit strained in parts, and wouldn’t have felt out of place on OMD’s first LP.
And then the sound of a diesel pump heralds the final track, “Stanlow”, which takes its title from the oil refinery in Ellesmere Port on the Wirral peninsula where Andy’s father and sister worked. The backdrop of the refinery at night was always a welcome sight to the group after being away on tour. And that diesel pump you hear at the beginning? Well, that was actually taken from a recording Andy made whilst at the refinery, and adds to the overall atmosphere of the track.
But our look back at this album doesn’t quite end here…
A big selling point was a free EP which came with initial copies of the album, containing some recordings from around 1978. “Introducing Radios” was exactly that – just a recording of a radio scanning up and down the dial, “Distance Fades Between Us” and “Once When I Was Six” are simple instrumentals featuring just bass, organ and the odd synth sound here and there, while “Progress” consists of passages of synth arpeggios which don’t quite resolve themselves until they fade into a wash of electronic noise before “Once When I Was Six” fades in.
Overall then, it’s a solid effort, but it’s more like a work of transition – with Andy and Paul finding their sound through this album and “Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark”, but it wasn’t until “Architecture & Morality” in 1981 where they managed to achieve the perfect balance of experimental and commercial.
“Andy, Paul, the big time’s that way….”