Souvenir: A 36-year old album you should buy right now

OMD

The lead single from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s 13th studio disc drops today. “La Mitrailleuse” is a vintage slice of the electropop that made the Wirral, Merseyside duo rich and famous in the 1980s. The title is French for “the machinegun,” an all-too apt reference these days. It features looped recordings of gun and cannon blasts and the evocative lyric “Bend your body to the will of the machine.”

Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys combined forces under the OMD banner in 1978. Just three years later, they produced an LP so close to perfect that it continues to make best-of lists around the world. There aren’t many synth-pop records that can lay claim to such remarkable longevity and sustained admiration. Architecture & Morality deserves its place on that short list.

A marvelous creaking opens the disc, coupled with what sounds like a burst pipe and an overtly electronic drumbeat. All de rigueur for OMD at the time. Their first two albums laid plenty of groundwork for new wave experimentation. A surprise was on the way though. Just 24 seconds in, a guitar – the very last instrument we expected to hear on an OMD album.

Three singles were released. “Souvenir” was the first. Its choppy synth intro remains a testament to the remarkable sounds artists like OMD produced with rudimentary analog synthesizers back in the day. Years later, Moby produced a remix of this track that only added to its agelessness.

What followed has to be one of the great one-two punches of electropop history. “Joan Of Arc” and “Joan Of Arc (Maid of Orleans).” Plaintive, melancholic, the two singles wash over you like a summer breeze. I remember thinking at the time that this ought to be on every easy listening radio station in the world. My dad took a different view.

Architecture & Morality never rose above No. 3 on the UK charts. It hit no. 1 in Belgium and Holland. Criminally, it failed to crack the top 10 anywhere else.

Thirty-six years later, that hardly matters. The album stands up as well as any other of the era. That has less to do with the singles than it does the entire LP. The continuity running through these nine tracks is what sets this apart from other great albums of the period. It is a masterful display of sweet, contemplative song writing.

A 1981 edition of OMD’s newsletter described the recording process with characteristicly British modesty: “We wrote the whole thing in the Manor Studio in three days. We decided to call it Architecture & Morality and then proceeded to throw onto tape everything ‘architectural’ and ‘moral’ that we could think of. Over the three days we gradually added and subtracted all manner of sounds until we had made something from all the noises.”

The new album is due out Sept. 1 on 100% Records. It’s called The Punishment of Luxury. Tour dates – in the U.S. and Europe – have also been announced.

Kevin Press

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