Architecture & Morality / Dazzle Ships – Live at the Royal Albert Hall
Dazzle Ships at The Museum of Liverpool
Oh, 1983 was a queer spring for rock and pop. Groups that remained true to their innovative roots challenged their audiences. Some survived and took their crowd with them, some were savagely scorned. March of that year was, in particular, rather odd. Before David Bowie rode in and offered some form of rationalisation with Let's Dance, it was a very eccentric landscape. New Order had just gone disco with Blue Monday, Pink Floyd released the moribund and overwrought The Final Cut and OMD issued the frankly rather strange Dazzle Ships.
OMD had always been a bit odd, though. There was little doubting their sincerity or their credentials, but in the end, they always looked as if they were fronted by Keith Harris dancing very badly at the office party. So when they turned up at the peak of their success with an album bereft of melody but long on east European sound effects, it was somewhat difficult to latch on to.
Let's be honest, there had been some precedent – their previous album, the chart smash, Architecture And Morality, had hardly been long on laughs. But this was bizarre. Borne out of the writer's block they had experienced after the global success of their previous album, Dazzle Ships took its predecessor's pitch black elements and somehow made them darker. Inspired by the 1919 painting by Edward Wadsworth, Dazzle Ships In Drydock At Liverpool, the album clicked and whirred; with its found voices and political undercurrents, there was little here for pop fans to sink their teeth into.
Although the 1981 outtake, Telegraph, was a sop to pop audiences, ABC Auto Industry referenced Syd Barrett-era Floyd, with its childlike repetition and sound effects. The inclusion of 18-month old B-sides (Romance Of The Telescope, Of All The Things We've Made) suggested a degree of artistic bankruptcy, as well. ''Dazzle Ships is a strange LP'' Andy McCluskey suggests today ''because obviously it was possibly the lowest selling album that we ever released and yet I am inordinately proud of it. Maybe we did something that was commercial suicide, but we did that album for the right reasons. It has a painful beauty''. Painful, it is, at times (how many times would anyone want to hear its title track). Yet beautiful it is too: Very, very much so.