Many of England’s post-punk/New Wave/synthpop/New Pop acts started out with an unspoken premise: We are weird and arty people with the same right to make hit records as the normals. While those bands achieved that goal even beyond their expectations, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark lacked commercial ambition during their most successful period: All of their early singles positioned melancholy synth riffs where a sing-along chorus should sit, and their biggest album in England and much of Europe, 1981′s platinum Architecture & Morality, boasted two Top Five dirges celebrating Joan of Arc. Rightly surmising that they could, at this point, get away with anything, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys followed it up with a 1983 disc heavy on musique concréte and light on actual songs, one that actually sold better at home than their mid ’80s albums designed to court the American market.
Embraced by a new generation of bedroom synth boffins whose wee pocket pool tunes will never go gold, Dazzle Ships today sounds like the big-budget brother of Washed Out, Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi, and other chillwave underachievers. Of course, McCluskey’s got an emotive, accomplished croon those acts lack: “Silent Running” is the melodramatic ballad that would’ve followed those Jeanne d’Arc ditties up the charts had it been a single, and the jittery beats of “Radio Waves” and “This Is Helena” harken back to the post-punk-on-synths rattle of their 1980 debut. But more often than not, he shares center stage with arcane sound effects and short-wave radio announcers, and the mischievously obscure result suggests a secret Eastern Bloc transmission before the Berlin Wall fell and capitalism took over. This is what happens when a best-selling-by-accident art band simply says No.