Dazzle Ships (album)

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Dazzle Ships
OMD Dazzle Ships LP cover.jpg
Studio album by
Released4 March 1983 (1983-03-04)
LabelTelegraph (Virgin)
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark chronology
Architecture & Morality
Dazzle Ships
Junk Culture
Singles from Dazzle Ships
  1. "Genetic Engineering"
    Released: 1 February 1983
  2. "Telegraph"
    Released: 1 April 1983

Dazzle Ships is the fourth studio album by English electronic band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), released on 4 March 1983 by Virgin Records (under the guise of the fictitious Telegraph label). Its title and cover art allude to a painting by Vorticist artist Edward Wadsworth based on dazzle camouflage, titled Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool.

The follow-up album to OMD's commercially successful Architecture & Morality (1981), Dazzle Ships marked a departure in sound for the group, who contended with writer's block and record company pressure to duplicate their previous release. The album is noted for its experimental content, particularly musique concrète sound collages, and the use of shortwave radio recordings to explore Cold War and Eastern Bloc themes. It spawned two singles: "Genetic Engineering" and "Telegraph".

Dazzle Ships met with largely negative reviews and was regarded as a commercial flop. The record has since been re-appraised, garnering critical acclaim as well as a cult following among music fans. It has also been cited as an influence by multiple artists.


Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool (1919), the ultimate source of the album's name

In the year following the release of commercially successful predecessor Architecture & Morality (1981), co-founder and keyboardist Paul Humphreys had married, and he and singer Andy McCluskey were growing apart.[1] The pair had never expected the success they had achieved,[2] and elected to retire OMD, having purchased their first cars and homes in Wirral. McCluskey said, "After two solid years of work... we had written our final epitaph – ["Maid of Orleans" B-side] "Of All the Things We've Made" – and didn't think we'd ever work together again. And all of a sudden, we were quite rich." However, Humphreys and McCluskey felt a debt to their fanbase, and began discussing new musical ideas.[1]

Virgin Records, who had assumed OMD's contract following the collapse of independent subsidiary label Dindisc,[3] attempted to influence the sound of the album. Humphreys told how the label tried to sway the band towards duplicating Architecture & Morality, while assuring them they would become "the next Genesis"; this compelled the group to change musical direction.[4] OMD were daunted by the pressure of matching the success of their previous release, and early sessions were not fruitful. Seeking refuge in their radio experiments of old, Humphreys and McCluskey came up with the sound collages "Dazzle Ships" and "Radio Prague".[1] Paradoxically, in light of the eventual critical reaction to Dazzle Ships, the more experimental direction taken on the record was partly a response to muted reviews of Architecture & Morality, which "forced [OMD] into new areas".[5]

At the band's Gramophone Suite studio in Liverpool, they reshuffled their inventory of instruments, introducing the E-mu Emulator.[1] Experiencing writer's block,[6] Humphreys and McCluskey moved to California for six weeks to live with the parents of Humphreys' wife. Upon returning to Liverpool, however, the pair had failed to produce any substantial ideas for the album.[1] They elected to exhume "Of All the Things We've Made" for inclusion, feeling it had been squandered as a B-side, and resurrected "Radio Waves", a holdover from OMD precursor group the Id (this track was considered as a single).[3] "The Romance of the Telescope (Unfinished)", which had appeared as a B-side to 1981's "Joan of Arc",[7] was reworked and completed.[3] Instrumentalists Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes grew dejected by the largely unproductive recording sessions, with Holmes stating, "This was the first time that OMD had reached a major stumbling block."[1]

"At one Virgin meeting, the head of A&R asked us, 'Come on guys, are you [Karlheinz] Stockhausen or ABBA?' Andy and I said together, 'Can't we be both?'"

Paul Humphreys[8]

The band were encouraged by critics to become more political.[9] As such, they used shortwave radio recordings to explore Cold War and Eastern Bloc themes, while oscillating between moody pop music and experimental, musique concrète-influenced soundscapes.[10][11] "Radio Prague" features the interval signal of the Czechoslovak Radio foreign service, including the time signal and station identification spoken in Czech. "Time Zones" is a montage of various speaking clocks from around the world. Neither "Radio Prague" nor "Time Zones" carry a writing credit, with OMD being credited only for arranging the tracks. "This Is Helena", "ABC Auto-Industry" and "International" also include parts of broadcasts recorded off the air (a presenter introducing herself, an economic bulletin, and news, respectively).[3]

For a time the group sought inspiration in a new studio, Phil Manzanera's White House (latter Gallery Studios) in Chertsey, and hired producer Rhett Davies. McCluskey said, "We intimidated [Davies] in the end. The songs were simply not up his street. They weren't conducive to being handled with slick touches and it ended up with arguments."[1] This did little to help band morale, as Holmes explained, "Both myself and Martin seriously began to doubt Paul and Andy's judgement... More and more, it was becoming Andy's album." The sample-based approach to compiling the tracks further alienated Cooper and Holmes; the latter would ultimately play on only three songs, which had been recorded during the earlier Gramophone Suite sessions. Holmes spent his time at the White House "playing video games and trying to convince [him]self that Paul and Andy knew what they were doing."[1] Part of the album was also recorded at Mayfair Studios in London.[3]

To maintain the band's image of being signed to an indie label, the Dazzle Ships record sleeve purported that the album was issued by the fictitious "Telegraph" label.[3] It was released on LP, compact cassette and compact disc. The cover art was created by longtime OMD collaborator Peter Saville;[3] Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool, the painting which inspired the record's title and artwork, is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.[12]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Record Collector[16]
Record Mirror[17]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[18]
Smash Hits8/10[19]
Times Colonist[20]

Contemporary reviews of Dazzle Ships were largely negative.[6][22] Mark Moses of The Boston Phoenix rechristened the album "Guzzle Shit by Offensive Manure in the Park".[23] Record Mirror's Jim Reid observed a "nightmarish" album "replete with the worst kind of futuristic nonsense",[17] while John Gill of Time Out labelled it "redundant avant-garde trickery".[1] Canadian Press journalist Michael Lawson dismissed the record's experimental content as filler, adding that "too much attention [is] given to soundtrack-like effects that only clutter what decent electropop baubles there are here."[24] More forgiving was Paul Colbert of Melody Maker, who said that "as an album from start to finish it's a challenge and a reward".[25] Smash Hits reviewer Johnny Black applauded the record, stating, "The songs are waiting to be found and are as melodic, passionate and vital as ever."[19]

Dazzle Ships peaked at number five on the UK Albums Chart (remaining in the top 20 for six weeks),[26] and achieved global sales of 300,000 copies.[27] The record was deemed a flop in comparison to multi-million selling predecessor Architecture & Morality (1981), which prompted OMD to move in a more conservative musical direction thereafter.[27] McCluskey recalled, "The painful joke at Virgin was that it shipped gold and returned platinum."[28] Critical hostility towards Dazzle Ships lingered into the early 1990s, with Jim Arundel of Melody Maker expressing incredulity towards British band Saint Etienne's praise for the record.[29] It received scattered acclaim from the mid 1990s onward, with Dave Castle, co-author of The Rough Guide to Rock (1996), writing, "This austere evocation of modern alienation is the classic OMD album. Excellent use of samples and incredible synths on strong, melodic and above all highly intelligent pop music."[a]

Dazzle Ships would experience a critical reappraisal upon its re-release in 2008.[33] Pitchfork's Tom Ewing wrote, "Luckily, you don't need a contrarian streak to love it... history has done its own remix job on Dazzle Ships, and the result is a richer, more unified album than anyone in 1983 could have imagined."[6] In a five-star review, Daryl Easlea of Record Collector observed the album's "consistently eccentric" and "dark and detailed" content, calling it "a weirdly satisfying listen".[16] Quietus reviewer Luke Turner asserted, "It stands the test of time as a heroic statement... Dazzle Ships was a fine realisation of that desire to be both pop and important that OMD first hinted at with 'Enola Gay' and 'Electricity'."[34] Ned Raggett of AllMusic said the record "beats Kraftwerk at their own game, science and the future turned into surprisingly warm, evocative songs."[13] He and colleague David Jeffries hailed the album as a "masterpiece"[35][36]—an opinion echoed by numerous critics.[37][38]


Dazzle Ships has been recognised as a "cult classic",[39][40] and one of the great underrated albums of its era.[b] It was included in The A.V. Club's "Hall of Fame",[11] the Chicago Tribune's "10 essential New Wave albums",[30] and the 1980s edition of Uncut's Ultimate Record Collection,[43] among other distinctions; Slicing Up Eyeballs readers voted it one of the top 25 albums of 1983.[44] PopMatters' John Bergstrom wrote, "It's becoming all-too-common to re-brand yesterday's commercial failures as 'overlooked masterpieces', but Dazzle Ships' critical salvage job was well-deserved."[33] Stuart Huggett of The Quietus charted the record's journey "from 1983 release to 2016 Classic Album", noting that it features some of the band's strongest work but is "likely to remain too off the wall ever to permanently join the general public's Classic Albums canon".[45]

Dazzle Ships has been championed by multiple artists, including producer Mark Ronson

Quietus critic Ian Wade described Dazzle Ships as "deeply influential".[46] Saint Etienne have cited the record as a major inspiration, particularly on their 1991 album, Foxbase Alpha.[5] Founder member, music journalist Bob Stanley, noted that Dazzle Ships came to be "accepted as a great record".[47] It has also influenced artists including Death Cab for Cutie,[48] Moby,[49] Future Islands,[50] and Telekinesis,[51][52] who has named Dazzle Ships as his favourite album.[53] Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie identified it as the record that "everyone points to as [OMD's] magnum opus", adding, "It's really a gorgeous album. It's daring and it's weird and it leans a lot on the paranoia of the Cold War."[48] Owen Pallett played an encore of songs from Dazzle Ships on their 2006 tour.[54] Rapper Kid Cudi sampled "ABC Auto-Industry" on his 2009 track, "Simple As...",[28] and Another Sunny Day and Eggs each released a cover of "Genetic Engineering" as a single.[45]

Dazzle Ships has received further endorsements from Angus Andrew of Liars,[55] Animal Collective,[56] Amanda "MNDR" Warner,[57] physicist/musician Brian Cox,[58] and producer Mark Ronson, who said, "I was just completely floored... It's just so elegant but a bit lo-fi at the same time."[57] Andrew named Dazzle Ships as one of his favourite records, describing it as "such a cohesive statement, portraying a bleak and lonely environment of a different sort." He added, "It's such an incredible feat to feature experiments like 'Dazzle Ships, Pts. 1-3' [sic], and have them... enhance an album with more straight forward tracks like 'Telegraph'."[55] Novelist and visual artist Douglas Coupland included the record on his list of 12 "must-have" albums, stating, "Dazzle Ships is amazing. It's like a love letter to machines. Like caraway seeds or hot mustard, it's an acquired taste."[59]

Band response[edit]

Following the release of Dazzle Ships, the band came to view the record as a creative mis-step. Humphreys lamented that "the good songs on it were lost in the overall presentation aspect." McCluskey assumed much of the responsibility, saying, "When the ideas man ran out of ideas, there was nothing left for the melody man [Humphreys] to work on." OMD manager Gordian Troeller expressed regret over not insisting the album be re-recorded. He said, "I didn't fight, Virgin didn't either... I think some of the misgivings Paul felt about the work at the time were too easily overriden by Andy."[1]

Following the album's critical re-evalution, the group began to view it more favourably. Humphreys remarked, "When we re-released it a few years ago we got five-star reviews... so perhaps it was just a bit ahead of its time. I know fans still cite it as their favourite [OMD] record."[60] He later named Dazzle Ships as one of his three favourite OMD works, along with Architecture & Morality (1981) and The Punishment of Luxury (2017).[61] McCluskey said at the time of its re-release, "The album that almost completely killed our career seems to have become a work of dysfunctional genius... it's taken Paul [Humphreys] 25 years to forgive me for Dazzle Ships. But some people always hold it up as what we were all about, why they thought we were great."[27] McCluskey has stated that he is "inordinately proud" of the record.[62]

Track listing[edit]

  • Label copy credits: All songs written and/or arranged by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (except "Radio Waves", by OMD/Floyd).
  • Writing credits below from ASCAP database.
Side one
1."Radio Prague"Arranged by Humphreys, McCluskey1:18
2."Genetic Engineering"Humphreys, McCluskey3:37
3."ABC Auto-Industry"Humphreys, McCluskey2:06
4."Telegraph"Humphreys, McCluskey2:57
5."This Is Helena"Humphreys, McCluskey1:58
Side two
7."Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III & VII)"Humphreys, McCluskey2:21
8."The Romance of the Telescope"Humphreys, McCluskey3:27
9."Silent Running"Humphreys, McCluskey3:34
10."Radio Waves"McCluskey, John Floyd3:45
11."Time Zones"Arranged by Humphreys, McCluskey1:49
12."Of All the Things We've Made"Humphreys, McCluskey3:27
Bonus tracks on 2008 reissue
13."Telegraph" (The Manor Version 1981)Humphreys, McCluskey3:25
14."4-Neu"Humphreys, McCluskey3:34
15."Genetic Engineering" (312MM version)Humphreys, McCluskey5:12
16."66 and Fading"Humphreys, McCluskey6:33
17."Telegraph" (extended version)Humphreys, McCluskey5:38
18."Swiss Radio International"None; "Arranged by OMD"1:03

The "Manor Version" of "Telegraph" was recorded at the same time as Architecture & Morality. "Swiss Radio International" was dropped from the album at the last minute. Like "Radio Prague", it contains the call sign for a radio station and was once referred to as "The Ice Cream Song" by drummer Mal Holmes due to its similarity to the melodies played by ice cream vans.


Production details[edit]

  • Recorded at The Gramophone Suite, Gallery Studio and Mayfair Studio
  • Mixed at The Manor Studio
  • Engineered by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Rhett Davies, Ian Little, Keith Richard Nixon, Brian Tench
  • Produced by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Rhett Davies
  • Mastered at The Master Room by Arun Chakraverty
  • Designed by M. Garrett, K. Kennedy, P. Pennington, Peter Saville, and Brett Wickens for Peter Saville Associates.


In terms of instrumentation, Dazzle Ships saw the band begin to explore digital sampling keyboards (the E-mu Emulator) in addition to their continued use of analogue synthesizers and the Mellotron.

List of used instruments:


Chart performance for Dazzle Ships
Chart (1983) Peak
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[63] 100
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[64] 25
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[65] 19
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[66] 11
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[67] 10
Spanish Albums (AFYVE)[68] 3
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[69] 38
UK Albums (OCC)[70] 5
US Billboard 200[71] 162


Certifications for Dazzle Ships
Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[72] Gold 100,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.



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External links[edit]