The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Monday, February 04, 2002

OK, so "Architecture and Morality," the third and best album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, may have been sonically ahead of its time, but it could only have been made in its time, the autumn of 1981.

They were ex-Factory recording artists (albeit from Liverpool rather than Manchester) so knew as well as anyone the importance of Ian Curtis' suicide in catalysing/causing New Pop. "A&M" is up to its solar temples in hock to, and rememberance of, Joy Division. Even the first lines of the first track "The New Stone Age" refer directly to "Decades" - "This is the room/This is the wall/This is the body/I've been hoping for" - a heavily ironic paean to triumph set against a chorus of "Oh my God what have we done this time?" (i.e. pressed the button) by a perpetrator similar in nature to that of REM's "World Leader Pretend" seven years thereafter, hammering at the walls of his bunker. Musically quite unlike anything else OMD ever did - a ukulele-timbered multi-guitar thrash vs. electrobeat, reminiscent of nothing so much as The Fall. Back to basics after the ruination?

As they salute "Closer" so must they salute "Atmosphere" in the second track - and the number one single which never was - "She's Leaving," one of the great faux-JD/New Order songs, though lyrically a sequel to, and refutal of, McCartney's "She's Leaving Home" with the protagonist disillusioned with the proverbial man-from-the-motor-trade ("A cheap affair/A sordid truth") and returning to home, having abandoned even hope.

Next, the first single "Souvenir." Guided by a hovering choral drone which periodically crops up throughout the album in various guises (Greek chorus?) this plaintive cousin of a manifesto to Rowland's "Let's Make This Precious" is sung by the indispensable (as later OMD work would prove) Paul Humphreys, sounding very much like David Van Day. Unsettling enough to stop school disco participants in their thoughts, if not their tracks; yet still a top three hit.

"Sealand" summarises and completes side one and is the axis of the album. A slight return to the ambience of "Stanlow" which concluded their previous album "Organisation," but reaching much further out and with a far less assured destination. Long, percussive drifts with occasional melodica inserts (JD/NO again) and an elementary minor-key synth theme, this anticipates Aphex Twin's "Selected Ambient Works Vol 2" by some 13 years. The solemnly intoned lyrics are a sort of haiku: "Sealand/She forgets/Her friends/She'll not/Leave them/Again/Mother/Sister/And home/These arms/Fail you/So." So. The next chapter on from "She's Leaving" but with a home which cannot quite be articulated. "These arms." War again? A piece which, like the rest of the album, needs to be ideally heard on Cromer beach on a windy November night.

But on side two this woman now turns out to be Joan of Arc, or a convenient metaphor for her rootlessness and purposeless sacrifices, which will happen time and time again. "Joan of Arc" the song (#5 in winter '81 as a single) tells the story of the break-up from the male protagonist - "Baby Please Don't Go" for Carl Dreyer fans. An immaculate electropop ballad with an impassioned vocal from McCluskey - almost a Barry McGuire-type growl ("Listen to us gooohud and-a listen well-ah!") - and even more impressive overacting on TOTP as I recall.

Next "Maid Of Orleans" which seems to be about Joan of Arc proper, and incredibly a bigger hit than its predecessor (#4, Jan '82) with some uncompromising Cabaret Voltaire-type atonality for an intro (cue nervous Radio 1 DJs at the time - "They're just tuning up - heh heh - here's the proper song!"). Possibly, along with Japan's "Nightporter" (which isn't really) the only electropop waltz ever to make the UK charts.

"A&M" the title track is a quasi-industrial instrumental - sort of Throbbing Gristle's "Six Six Sixties" as scored by Vangelis. Lots of heavy machinery sound-effects and a fearlessly discordant choral bass drone set against a Children's Hour-type wakey-wakey set of ice-cream chimes (false security?).

Then it's "Georgia" which was briefly mooted as a fourth single but not released as one. A fairly palpable WWIII scenario song "Well! Here we are again! Too good to be friends!" with some great samples of whirligig noises and staunch Red Army choir, and a predictably glum payoff: "Dancing in the ruins of the Western World/Blindfolds on and we don't care." Cue a final solemn synth swirl, from whose bowels emerge a chanteuse from the previous war "Keep the home fires warm - but none survive." Again, bear in mind this was 1981 and therefore this was actually pretty scary at the time.

Then, a wistful ballad to end - "The Beginning and the End" with an almost Mike Oldfield-esque guitar (synth?) motif. He and she (Architecture and Morality?) are reunited but now both hearts have to be sacrificed - "And here you and I/Parting due to me only/And now . . ."

Critics slated "A&M" at the time (still only five years after punk, thus still scared of Rick Wakeman lurking in the wings). Even Morley reviewed it with dim regard, much preferring Depeche Mode's debut "Speak And Spell" - although the latter would catch up 12 years later - and how! - with "Songs of Love and Devotion."

The album was on the charts for 18 months. OMD kept the experimental trip going with "Dazzle Ships" although this time it was rather half-baked, one ear listening to Laurie Anderson, the other rescuing "A&M" era B-sides to pad the album out. Then in 1984 it was no-apologies pop with "Junk Culture" - commercial and heartless, and pretty much a template for the rebirth of a heartless Joan of Arc from the post-nuclear waves - Atomic Kitten.

(Mind you, the title track from 1985's otherwise crap "Crush" is worth keeping - woozy trombones, distended samples, McCluskey growling "I can't stand the fucking rain.")

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