The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


30 Years On: OMD's Architecture & Morality Remembered
John Doran , November 29th, 2011 02:36

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark released one of the Quietus' favourite albums in 1981. John Doran reflects on the warmth of Architecture & Morality and talks to Andy McCluskey

Add your comment »

A lazy but widespread criticism of the English synth pop scene of the early 80s was that it was soulless or lacking in human warmth. While there certainly were acts who came across as detached or alienated (Cabaret Voltaire, The Normal, John Foxx) if anything, the opposite was generally true. There is an almost baroque level of (exquisitely judged) romantic melodrama to Soft Cell's 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye'; despite Gary Numan's dead-eyed automaton image, Tubeway Army's 'Are "Friends" Electric?' is quite clearly a very fragile and keenly felt song about heartbreak; and the early releases of Blancmange, Depeche Mode and Eurythmics were torrid with the emotion expressed... no matter how affected the delivery was.

Of course some of this was down to that old chestnut about how real music containing real soul and real emotion was played on real instruments such as guitars and drums. But this is also a confusion between form and content. Sometimes when listening to synth pop I automatically think of a Mancunian friend with a pacemaker who has the demeanour that is common among many of us who are born in the North Western rain shadow area. Once when out with a much more demonstrative European girl from sunnier climes, she asked him: "Is this why you have no emotions - because you have a robot heart?"

One group more than any other managed to successfully combine yearning, lovelorn, romantic content within a futuristic, 'European', supposedly 'cold' form however and that was Liverpool's Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. Critics hold varying opinions on different stages of their career but OMD always made pop music of one kind or another. Look behind the austere design and photography (and the forbidding title) of Architecture & Morality and you will find a collection of three and a half minute long nuggets of pop gold. (Well, almost. The hypnotic, ambient wash of 'Sealand' written about the oil refinery on the banks of the Mersey, unfolds at a much slower, Eno-inspired pace.) It was no coincidence that John Hughes would go on to ask them to contribute to the Pretty In Pink soundtrack after hearing the album.

When you take this into account, they seem less like a geographical anomaly and more like another big-hearted Liverpool group with an ear for a timeless melody. Another bunch of Catholic lads with a Protestant work ethic in the extremely insular but creative musicscape of post-Beatles Merseyside. (The album track 'She's Leaving' is a subtle but knowing tip of the hat by the core duo of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys to The Beatles, the band who had made their name in the Cavern on Mathew Street, just yards from Eric's, the club that spawned OMD.) This work ethic saw them release two albums in nine months and such startling early singles as 'Red Frame White Light', 'Electricity' and 'Enola Gay'. But it was their third album Architecture & Morality that really marked them out from the crowd. The duo had been signed briefly to the nascent Factory imprint in the late 70s, where they met feted designer, Peter Saville who created the austere artwork that still stands up (along with his sleeve for New Order’s 'Blue Monday') as one of the most iconic of the era.

The sheer arrogance of the title and artwork are met equally by the music contained within. This cockiness suggests McCluskey and Humphreys knew exactly what they were doing, and nothing reflects this more than the conceptual joke of having two songs dedicated to a 15th Century French martyr, which in turn led to them releasing two consecutive singles called 'Joan Of Arc' - both of which came out within months of each other. In fact it was only due to bosses at Virgin panicking that they were differentiated from each other by the first by having the moniker Maid of Orleans added in brackets. The second of them, 'Joan Of Arc (Maid Of Orleans)' highlights the utterly berserk weirdness of OMD. It is at once highly experimental for a 7" destined for the upper reaches of the pop charts (an electronica piece in waltz time about a Saint who died half a millennia beforehand, featuring a Mellotron) but soulful and almost sentimental in its warmth for the subject. This feeling of religious fervour permeates the rest of the album through the use of austere synthesized sounds, Gregorian chant, choral singing and perhaps adds to the sense of timelessness.

There isn't a note out of place on Architecture & Morality. From the panic-ridden, cold war paranoia and booming Numanesque synths of 'The New Stone Age' to the wistful 'The Beginning And The End' which sits somewhere between Japan and The Smiths (and is certainly more Hal Hartley than John Hughes), this is one of the finest 1980s pop albums. 'Souvenir' is perhaps the moment when they lay their cards on the table and say, 'Look, we're actually trying to break your heart.' It features Humphreys in only the second of his rare turns taking over vocals from McCluskey (the first being 'Promise' from Organisation). But even here, ethereal synths, tape loops of choral singing and the sound of distant war drums never let us forget the seriousness implied in the album's title. (This ominous nomenclature was suggested by Martha Ladley, of Martha and the Muffins, after reading David Watkins' Morality And Architecture textbook.) Perhaps the most progressive track on the album is 'Georgia' an eschatological bomb age hymn, utilizing tape loops of long wave radio synced perfectly with the music and berserk bursts of electronic noise. It certainly points the way forward to another astonishing album, 1983's Dazzle Ships.

What attracted you to the figure of Jean D’Arc?

Andy McCluskey: Well, it started innocuously enough. On the Organisation tour we were in France playing in places like Rouen and Orleans that were historically associated with Jean D’Arc. Our support band dubbed it the Joan of Arc tour. So I thought I’d learn about it when I got back home. I was terribly swotty and precious about my songs I’d read books on a subject before writing about it. I’m not sure if other people did that but I did. The more I read about her the more fascinated I became. She is a very politicized figure and she has been used by everyone. Anti-imperialist historians, feminist historians, Marxist historians, everybody has their own spin on her and what she means to them. For me I’m very fascinated by people who have the moral certainty that they are doing right because I’m not. I find it hard to commit to things. I was fascinated and wanted to write a song. Wrote one ('Maid Of Orleans') didn’t think it worked and thought bin that and write another ('Joan of Arc'). It was the guys in the band who said what about that 6/8 one why don’t we work on that before we go to the studio. We worked on it together and it really came together. So it was a case of two for the price of one really. You write these songs naively but you discover this stuff later.

How do you remember the song being received?

AM: There are plenty of mad women out there just like there are plenty of mad men. And in the same way that a lot of insane men think they’re Napoleon or Julius Caesar reincarnated. Top of the list with women is Cleopatra but Jean D’Arc is a very close second. The number of girls getting in touch with me saying thank you for writing that song about me... It was unbelievable.

I thought is was a conceptual masterstroke putting two songs with the same name together on the album and then releasing them one after another as singles just to have them both chart...

AM: I tried to get that one past Virgin. After the first one was a hit they said that they wanted to release the second one but could we change the name. I said ‘No. That’s the fun bit. That’ll really fuck people up.’ And they said ‘No, really, Andy people won’t get it. They’ll think you’ve released the same single twice.’ So I succumbed but I did quite like the mischievousness of it.

With Architecture, I think the balance between the avant garde and your own innate pop sense is the most finely balanced. Was that coincidence? Were you actually aiming for one thing over the other?

AM: I don’t think we had clearly defined aims. I’d imagine subconsciously they were finely balanced because we could write songs and knew we could. But really we’d done two albums where effectively we’d done whatever we wanted to do and had hits. The first one went gold and the second one had ‘Enola Gay’ on it and sold even more, so we’d developed this confidence which was like, ‘We do whatever we fucking want.’ So we carried on in the same direction. But the weird thing was that Architecture & Morality was so big we kind of blew ourselves out of the water. When you’re that young and you think that doing something radical with your music is the most important thing you can envisage and then you sell millions of records and at some point you sit down and think, ‘Have we changed the world? No? We were wrong.’ And what we chose to do was to go even more radical on Dazzle Ships. We abandoned a lot of the sweet melodic aspect of what we did and went specifically, lyrically radical. We fell off the cliff basically. We went too far for most people. You’re aren’t the only one who thinks we got the balance right with Architecture.

I think that Dazzle Ships is as good a record if not better but you can cut this a number of different ways. There are big differences between critical and commercial success...

AM: Well it had neither to be honest. It got panned and no one bought it. To be honest Architecture didn’t get rave reviews when it came out because it was a bit more ambient and gothic and God knows about Dazzle Ships. People who thought that we were supposed to be synth pop and all about 'Messages' and 'Enola Gay' stood back and went ‘What the fuck are you doing here lads; getting a bit too proggy eh?’ It’s kind of been reassessed a little bit now but quite a few of the journalists were not 100% keen on it.

Talking of which, you’ve still got a lot of these old men who wear cowboy boots running the 'respectable' music press. Do you think synthesizer music will ever be treated as seriously as rock?

AM: I think there are certain elements in the rock press – people of a certain age who were young enough in the late 70s and early 80s to be looking for something a bit different - who like ourselves saw the country and rock music as being old fashioned. Fuck off out of the way – there’s something new coming. And they were probably disappointed like we were in the 90s when the Britpop generation couldn’t find anywhere new to go so they went back and reinvented 60s guitar pop. For me it was gobsmacking. But you’re right there’s still that element there now: if it ain’t got a guitar it ain’t rock and roll and if it ain’t rock and roll it ain’t proper music.

Did you see yourself as a pop band or an experimental band in this period?

AM: I think during the first four albums we were a lot more weird and experimental than a lot of our contemporaries. We used to have arguments with Virgin all the time. They used to say ‘Will you make your minds up whether you want to be Can or Abba?’ But we wanted to be both.

When you first signed to Din Disc OMD were an extremely prodigious band – why was that?

AM: I think, more than anything else, it was because Paul and I had been writing songs together since we were sixteen so we’d built up a catalogue of ideas so when we finally got the opportunity to make albums and recordings it was like the flood gates opened. The first two albums were both released within nine months of each other. It was like, 'Bang!' Also just being given the opportunity to do it and enjoying doing it. There was nothing else more important to us than making music. When we weren’t in our own studio we were on tour and when we weren’t on tour we were back in the studio. And when you’re recording for the first time you haven’t exhausted all the possibilities. It’s all virgin territory.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.

Horace Windy
Nov 29, 2011 8:50am

We used to have arguments with Virgin all the time. They used to say ‘Will you make your minds up whether you want to be Can or Abba?’

Ha ha!

From the very first time I heard them at the age of 8(ish) I loved OMD. In fact I think the opening bars of Electricity (along with the opening bars of DM's Blasphemous Rumours) did more to shape my future taste in music more than anything I'd heard before. I remember thinking THIS is what I want to listen to. Give me more of this!

Reply to this Admin

Nov 29, 2011 11:31am

Nice article, John. This album was a massive influence on me when I was 16. I was still listening to a mixture of crap music (Journey) and good music (Clash)... don't ask! But hearing this album in the quiet moments while in my bed, man, just blew me away. I still hear "Sealand" and it takes me right back. I know other bands like Depeche Mode get way more credit, but not in my book.

Reply to this Admin

Lucia Lanigan
Nov 29, 2011 12:52pm

The book argues that modernism is rooted in Hegel's idealist notions of the zeitgeist and the absolute spirit, which David Watkins - an advocate of classical architecture - sees as dubious. Advocates of modernist architecture, he reckons, defend it and comdemn the likes of him in moralistic terms. So in a synthpop context, 'Architecture & Morality' suggests a place for classic pop songwriting and perhaps more traditional instrumentation, in the wake of Kraftwerk's pure modernism, where form follows function very strictly (i.e. songs about technology built purely from synthetic sound).

However, modernists and neo-classicists alike continue to condemn McCluskey's jumpers in highly moralistic terms.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Nov 29, 2011 1:37pm

In reply to Lucia Lanigan:

You see... we need more comments like this. Not, 'Boo hoo! You didn't mention the mastering on the bonus live tracks...'

Reply to this Admin

Stevo Music Man
Nov 29, 2011 3:48pm

I remember sellig this album by the bucketful on VINYL!!!!
Still think the best single wasn't a single
'She's Leaving' - but the best track has to be honest is
'The Beginning & The End'

Still a cool band today

Stevo Music Man -

Reply to this Admin

Nov 29, 2011 5:39pm

One of the best albums in general...made my dreams much more sublime and my present like I'm in dreams again....

Reply to this Admin

Nov 29, 2011 8:04pm

I remember being 12 years old, in Sweden, listening to a radio show where 'Souvenir' was presented as: 'trendless, classic and with feeling, but without guitars'. I've loved OMD ever since.

Reply to this Admin

Nov 29, 2011 9:35pm

In reply to Maria:

Nice piece John... but, sorry, OMD weren't from Liverpool.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Nov 29, 2011 9:39pm

In reply to Coops:

They were both from over the water right? I know this is probably tantamount to blasphemy but they're a Liverpool band as far as I'm concerned.

Reply to this Admin

Nov 29, 2011 9:45pm

Maid Of Orleans is an awesome song, particularly the opening

Reply to this Admin

Nov 29, 2011 10:28pm

Nice article but.....Catholic lads? John, do you know both Andy and Paul are atheists? The Blue Nile, for example, were proud and open about their Catholic upbringing. If anything AM has shown a complete hatred towards any "Catholic upbringing" he supposedly had (though I doubt he really had one at all).

Reply to this Admin

Nov 29, 2011 11:03pm

Throw in the bsides (the heart-stopping Sacred Heart, and the achingly romantic the Romance and the Telescope and Of All the Things We Made), and you have one of the greatest pieces of music of all time.

Reply to this Admin

sparkttweet 371
Nov 29, 2011 11:30pm

probably the most under rated band of all time
A & M was glorious but Dazzle Ships was pure genious
seem the probably 16 times last in 2010 and they were magnificent even if Andys MoO dancing hasnt improved in 30 years

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Nov 30, 2011 2:23am

In reply to Dave:

You obviously understand what I'm saying... I'm a polytheist/atheist and I'm still 'a Catholic lad'... I was born to Irish Catholic parents in Merseyside. The distinction is quite clear.

Reply to this Admin

Fat Latch
Dec 1, 2011 2:20pm

if you're at all successful, you're from Liverpool...if not, yer just another bunch of woolie wanna-be's...

Reply to this Admin

David Canning
Dec 1, 2011 11:34pm

Really good article. This album changed my life and is still my favourite album of all time. It was like nothing I had ever heard before, lush synth, haunting melodies and songs that 'broke the mould' of traditional pop music of that era. Saville's iconic sleeve artwork still looks good today - both visually and audibly standing the test of time, as good now as it was then. A true classic.

Reply to this Admin

Dec 2, 2011 12:43pm

A masterpiece album with a nice reminder intro to its 30th birthday.

Reply to this Admin

Dec 2, 2011 1:36pm

Good article and interview. A couple of minor points, for the anally retentive fanboys/girls among us: Paul Humphreys also sings on 'The Misunderstanding' on Organisation (leastways I've assumed for the last 31 years that it was him) and on the 'She's Leaving' Beatles hat-tip, I remember AMcC saying in any interview very explicitly that they weren't influenced by the Beatles and that he particularly didn't like them.

Reply to this Admin

Dec 2, 2011 2:03pm

A&M is indeed wonderful. However, whilst It must be said that a few of OMD's albums have not lived up to their early creations, the latest History Of Modern offering was a real return to form and contained some beautiful work. Therefore, it seems a shame that the Mr Doran writing glowing reviews of A&M for Quietus, is the very same Mr Doran who ripped History Of Modern for the BBC website! Perhaps he should stop living in the past and realise that OMD in the present still have more to offer than many of their contemporaries are capable of these days..

Reply to this Admin

Dec 2, 2011 3:30pm

omd r the greatest group to ever come out of the 80s.
seen em in concert so many times , just brilliant.

Reply to this Admin

Ian S
Dec 2, 2011 5:57pm

In reply to Howard:

@ Howard - Andy McC did the vocals on The Misunderstanding, not Paul.

Re Dazzle Ships, I recall the reception it got when it was released, and Andy is being a bit kind on himself and the record - it was almost universally panned. I remember being hugely disappointed by it, and the fact that it contained 2 b-sides, which any fan would already have got, which meant there were precious few new proper songs. I have grown to like it more tho over the years. It was the last good album they made, IMHO.

Reply to this Admin

Dec 2, 2011 7:12pm

It's still selling, playing and amazing people to this day. Maybe that is proof enough to those that weren't kin on this record.

Reply to this Admin

Dec 2, 2011 7:18pm

In reply to James:

Didn't see your posting, and just laughed my ass off. Mr. Doran come on and be true to yourself and think over your review of HoM. After all, it maybe you in a few years saying you were wrong about it. Better sooner then later right? lol

Reply to this Admin

Dec 2, 2011 11:06pm

This is my first introduction to The Quietus & I am rather impressed with both the interview & your website. OMD remain my all-time favourite band & Architecture & Morality will always be my all-time favourite album. Should have moved on after 30 years but hey...

Reply to this Admin

Dec 3, 2011 9:07am

A very professional discourse on the activities of the band and of the music that formed a musical taste of an entire generation. And still does it from a distance of 30 years.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Dec 3, 2011 9:44am

In reply to Tom:

I don't like the album I'm afraid. I'm glad that other people do, but I have to call it like I see it, otherwise what we do is just PR and advertising for the music industry not independent journalism. It's not my job to be friends with rock stars and bands or their fans... which is a shame as my life would be a lot easier in this respect if it was. I interviewed Andy in front of a group of fans in Norway at the start of the year and while he knows about that album review, I guess he also knows how important I think OMD are through writing here and in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die etc. I have the utmost respect for OMD but can't enjoy the last album.

Reply to this Admin

Dec 4, 2011 1:25am

In reply to John Doran:

Mr. Doran, Thanks for the reply. I hope you understand that I was attempting to be lite hearted in my response. I think it is wonderful that you are at the least honest in your thoughts of the content. No one walks to the cool-aid "just becuase", they have to be lead there to drink it. I just hope there are more people like yourself out there.

Reply to this Admin

Dec 4, 2011 3:50am

In reply to John Doran:

All responses to music are necessarily subjective, so we are all entitled to our opinions. Whilst I don't know the circumstances of your meeting with Andy McCluskey in Norway, I can't imagine him being confrontational enough to raise the issue of your review in front of the public. However, I am surprised that you could not find genuinely deep feeling and creative writing in songs like New Holy Ground, The Right Side?, Bondage of Fate and many others on History Of Modern. What exactly were you hoping for? A 30 year old band to change the world all over again? Surely they are allowed to express themselves in their own beautiful style without being expected to make consistantly radical steps forward in a world where it is almost impossible to balance songwriting and "modernity".. whatever that is these days.

Reply to this Admin

Paul (Discovery Records was my 2nd home)
Dec 4, 2011 1:19pm

In reply to Stevo Music Man:

She's Leaving was a european single release, I have a German copy.
Still love ya Steve me old mate.

Reply to this Admin

Mark Leighton
Dec 4, 2011 2:23pm

If you enjoy the likes of OMD, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and select tracks from Malcom Middleton and The Young Knives,listen to my radio program. I do a weekly 1-hour program for Canoe FM, a Community Radio Station in Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada.

It's just not another Saturday night with "HiGhLaNd ReWiNd." Listen on-line at 4:00 ET - moving to 9:00 ET January 14th.

Reply to this Admin

Dec 4, 2011 5:39pm

Best OMD album to date lets hope english electric will be as good in 2012. Can not wait to see them live in concert again because we all love Andy's dancing,haha!

Reply to this Admin

James Causey
Dec 27, 2011 10:23pm

I bought this album in Austin, Texas during my Junior Year of High School at a School band contest we had gone to from Houston.
Absolutely flipped ALL my musical perceptions, and what a Pop Group could be, blending the avant garde with a High Pop sensibility.
There was just nothing at all like it at the time.
Now I'm 46, and A&M STILL weirdly sounds like I'm playing it for the first time. Absolutely NO AGING ! WOW.

Reply to this Admin

Sep 4, 2014 12:56am

A classic example!

Reply to this Admin