When we look back at any artist’s career we tend to remember them by their popular rather than critical acclaim – and as record companies all understandably push for the most commercial tracks on an album to be the ones released as singles, most of our memories tend to be filtered through the rose-tinted ‘Greatest Hits’ or ‘Best Of’ collections that record companies further promote to perpetuate an artist’s popularity and, as a result, sales and revenue.
This rather cynical (but nonetheless accurate) view of back catalogues meant that my recent re-listen to OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ caught me a little by surprise. Take away the undoubtedly catchy ‘Telegraph’ and you’re left with an album that includes many experimental techniques. All of this right at the time, following the release of the successful ‘Architecture & Morality’, when OMD’s world domination appeared to be just around the corner.
It’s a bit of a mixed album if I’m brutally honest – In a time (particularly on cassette) when skipping tracks wasn’t particularly easy, it would have been preferable if ‘Dazzle Ships’, ‘This is Helena’ and ‘Time Zones’ had been the last tracks on side 2. Others, however, still sound impressive; I still have a particularly soft spot for ‘The romance of the telescope’, and the (hauntingly as opposed to annoyingly) repetitive ‘ABC Auto-Industry’. I also love the very short opening track, ‘Radio Prague’.
Of the singles released from this album, I always thought ‘Genetic engineering’ was a bit too ‘noisy’ and OMD’s first single misfire. ‘Telegraph’, although hugely ‘poppy’ has very little depth and subsequent listens don’t add anything to hearing it for the first time.
Often compared to Kraftwerk, I would tend to point towards the instrumental tracks on David Bowie’s ‘Low’ and “Heroes” as more obvious influences.
All of these things being said, OMD released this album at a time when many of their contemporaries were pursuing a brazen road towards more commerciality. I respected them greatly for this at the time, and find that my admiration has only grown and my respect increased with the passing of an unbelievable thirty years.
I now know that the album’s title was inspired by a painting that also inspired the distinctive cover art (sadly over-simplified for the cassette insert). At the time I wasn’t sure if ‘Dazzle Ships’ was some sort of sinister instruction!
Label – Virgin
Year - 1983