OMD – Romance of the Telescope

With Kelly O currently ripping Visage’s Fade to Grey* in another fun/clumsy (ymmv) stab at the corpse of electro-pop, it was pure chance that I was reminded this week of another of my electro-pop heroes: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. After Numan, it was largely OMD who got me hooked on those early synth sounds – their spiralling drum patterns and torch-song melodies had some intuitive emotional hold over me in my pre-teen years. I lost some of my interest later on – perhaps the smoothness of the mid80s sound (from the Fairlight on?) turned me off slightly, perhaps the odd vocal style that was developing – but I still held them in some regard.

By the time I got to record buying age (which for me was quite late on) I only ever worked up the enthusiam to buy the singles compilations (both!), and an opportunisitic 2nd-hand vinyl copy of Architecture and Morality. I was taking them for granted. And in all this time I’ve managed to read through, or disbelieve, all those “places in electro history” articles that mysteriously alluded to Humphries’ more “experimental” leanings. As a certified Kraftwerk/Joy Division/New Order fan, I hope you can tell what a massive mistake I have been making.

The song above is the flip-side of the Joan of Arc vinyl 7″. I’ve taken it from the Navigation B-sides comp – I believe the version on Dazzle Ships is a different mix, but as I’ve just ordered that (AT LAST), so I don’t know for sure.

Despite being issued a couple of times already (once bundled with the singles compilation) it seems like another re-issue of Navigation is being lined up, with the news that OMD are due to reunite, at the very least for a performance on German telly this month. Perhaps Atomic Kitten are to blame. Either way, get this album if you are at all interested in finding out what OMD got up to on the flip side of their chart success. It’s a tremendous spread of sounds – and not just the usual preliminary sketches and stylistic exercises that you can get with B-sides. There are dark gothic wails early on in “I Betray My Friends”, the familar but lovely Elegiac pomp of “Navigation” and instrumental poems covering a variety of moods. I imagined Alpinestars furiously making notes, and on RotT you can clearly hear a distinct downbeat mood that surely impressed a young Stephin Merritt. It’s a song (and song title!) that wouldn’t be out of place on 69 Love Songs – a debt he made explicit in Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits. Obv.

* She admits as much in her Metro interview yesterday.