Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (album)

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Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Studio album by
Released22 February 1980 (1980-02-22)
StudioGramophone Suite (Liverpool)
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  • Chester Valentino
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark chronology
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Singles from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  1. "Electricity"
    Released: 21 May 1979
  2. "Red Frame/White Light"
    Released: 1 February 1980
  3. "Messages"
    Released: 2 May 1980

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is the debut studio album by English electronic band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), released on 22 February 1980 by Dindisc. Recorded at the group's Liverpool studio, it showcased their minimal synth-pop style and peaked at number 27 on the UK Albums Chart. "Electricity" and "Red Frame/White Light" were released as singles; a re-recorded version of "Messages" provided OMD with their first hit in the UK, reaching number 13.

Much of the album's content centres around war themes, with OMD exploring "the lengths to which people would go in a situation beyond the norm". A sleeper hit, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark met with favourable reviews and became a seminal record of its era. The band expressed dissatisfaction with their production efforts on the album, although frontman Andy McCluskey later came to appreciate its "naivety". It was remastered and re-released in 2003 with six bonus tracks, including the single version of "Messages".

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is also the title of a 1981 compilation album of tracks from this release and OMD's second album, Organisation, issued only in the United States.


Rather than hire studio time to record the album, OMD co-founders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys used their advance payment from Dindisc to build their own Liverpool recording studio, The Gramophone Suite. The duo predicted they would be dropped by the label due to disappointing sales, but would at least own a studio. McCluskey and Humphreys used cheaply-acquired instruments,[1] as well as the low-end Korg M500 Micro-Preset (which had been paid for in many instalments).[2][3] Their studio incurred leakage when the lead covering was stolen from its roof, and so McCluskey had to record his vocals under an umbrella.[4]

The album was largely influenced by German electronic acts, including Kraftwerk.

Dindisc scheduled the album for release in February 1980, allowing three weeks for recording under the supervision of manager Paul Collister.[4] The included tracks were composed during the previous four years: "Electricity" (McCluskey and Humphreys' first ever composition), "Julia's Song" and "The Misunderstanding" were holdovers from OMD precursor outfit the Id.[5] A version of "Electricity" had been issued as OMD's debut single in 1979, and featured an early take of "Almost" as its B-side.[6] McCluskey and Humphreys had to write two final songs, "Pretending to See the Future" and "The Messerschmitt Twins", "off the top of their heads" in order to complete the tracklist.[4] Much of the content centres around war themes; McCluskey noted that the band were exploring "the lengths to which people would go in a situation beyond the norm".[4]

Still generally a duo performing alongside a TEAC 4-track tape recorder christened "Winston", OMD enlisted Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes, the latter of whom had performed with McCluskey and Humphreys in the Id (both musicians would become full-time band members the following year). Cooper played saxophone on "Mystereality", while Holmes supplied percussion on "Julia's Song"; Dave Fairbairn played guitar on this track, as well as on "Messages".[6] Kraftwerk, Neu! and Brian Eno served as key musical influences on the album, which showcased OMD's minimal synth-pop style.[6][7] Biographer Johnny Waller described the finished record as "basically a studio version of their live set".[4]

The group were dissatisfied with the production values of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Humphreys stating, "We didn't know what the heck we were doing half the time." McCluskey, however, feels that "in hindsight it now has a naivety and charm, and is full of energy".[4][8]


The Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark sleeve was created by graphic designer Peter Saville and interior designer Ben Kelly, based on a door conceived by Kelly.[9] It featured a die-cut grid through which the orange inner sleeve was visible. Saville and Kelly won a Designers and Art Directors Award for their work.[9] McCluskey has praised the artwork, saying in 2019, "To this day, I think half the people bought [the album] for the Peter Saville sleeve."[1]

McCluskey stated that OMD did not fully understand the royalty system at the time, and that the band "had a sleeve that cost us so much to manufacture that for every record we sold we were barely earning pennies".[6] Carol Wilson of Dindisc disputed this, saying the cost to the band for the sleeve was contractually fixed and that the label took the expense.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
All Music Guide to Electronica[10]
The Big Issue[11]
Record Mirror[15]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[16]
Smash Hits7½/10[17]
Tom Hull – on the WebA−[19]

Reviews of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were favourable.[20][21] Paul Morley of NME wrote, "Orch Man's debut LP is one of the best of the year... How fine and different their melodies can be, how detailed and distinctive their song structures. It's much more varied and surprising, often exhilarating and always captivating, than dissenters claim this stuff can be."[22] Sounds' Des Moines proclaimed OMD to be "the most inventive of all the new Mersey[side] bands", while noting that they had "pulled off what is traditionally the biggest gamble in rock: playing totally engaging, satisfying music without the facility of the lead guitar".[18] Red Starr of Smash Hits said, "An odd album from an odd duo, sometimes briskly clean synthesiser pop, sometimes strange and intriguing electronic excursions... Buy it and learn to love it."[17]

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was hailed as a superior record within the contemporary synth-pop movement. In an enthusiastic review for The Face, Adrian Thrills contrasted OMD's "melodic immediacy" to the "nauseatingly self-conscious futuristic android pop of the [Gary] Numan/[John] Foxx automation acolytes", and declared the album to have "far more depth" than the Human League's Reproduction.[23] Simon Ludgate of Record Mirror observed an emotional resonance that he felt was typically absent from synth-pop, while recommending the album for its "insidious rhythm and melody", and imagery that "will change at each play".[15] In The Age, John Teerds viewed the record as "perhaps the best synthesiser-based music to emerge [in 1980]."[24] It became the UK's 60th-best selling album that year.[25][26]

In a retrospective appraisal, Trouser Press referred to Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as "a demonstration of stylish electro-pop" with "a knack for melodies and hooks".[27] Steve McDonald, in a review for the All Music Guide to Electronica (2001), noted "a very quirky, nervous album of clockwork synth-pop that avoided the lock-step imposed by primitive technology, mainly by dint of Andy McCluskey's twitchy, frantic bass and vocals."[10] Pitchfork's Scott Plagenhoef wrote that the record's "adventurous blend of drama and pathos—and its nods toward the more rhythmic end of Krautrock—elevated [OMD] above the [Brian] Eno/Kraftwerk template clung to by many of their peers."[13] Dave Segal of The Stranger described the album as "a masterpiece of enchanting melodies, fascinating rhythms, and cherubic vocals".[28]


Herald critic Nicola Meighan saw Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as the first of "four vital, influential albums" from OMD, preceding Organisation (1980), Architecture & Morality (1981) and Dazzle Ships (1983).[29] Joseph Burnett of The Quietus identified it as "one of the key early British synth-based pop/rock albums";[30] PopMatters journalist Max Shand felt the record's "synthesizer bleeps disclos[ed] the way electronic music could avoid traditional song structures while still generating something buoyant."[7] In addition to being named by contemporary reviewers as one of the finest albums of 1980, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark has appeared in subsequent lists of the year's best records, with Greg Reibman in Boston Rock placing it at no. 4.[31] Classic Pop readers voted it the 71st-greatest album of the 1980s,[32] while the magazine's editorial staff ranked it 26th among the decade's best debut albums.[33] Listeners of 89.3 The Current positioned the record at no. 291 in the "893 Essential Debut Albums".[34]

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was a formative influence on electronic group Depeche Mode.[14][35] Original bandleader Vince Clarke (who later founded Yazoo and Erasure) has cited the album as an inspiration during his early days as a synthesizer player,[36] with the track "Electricity" being his impetus to pursue a career in electronic music.[7][37] LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy "constantly" listened to the record, and follow-up Organisation, during the making of This Is Happening (2010).[38] Physicist and musician Brian Cox has named the album as a major influence and one of his all-time favourites.[39][40] Leftfield sampled "Almost" for their track "Snakeblood" (without attribution), which appeared on the soundtrack of The Beach (2000).[41][42]

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was publicly championed by rock group ZZ Top, who purchased and played it over the PA system at concert venues.[4][43] The record has also received endorsements from Pet Shop Boys vocalist Neil Tennant,[44] No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal,[45] and Spandau Ballet bandleader Gary Kemp, who found it to be "so ahead of its time".[46] U2 singer Bono recalled "[lying] on the bed, staring" at his poster of the album cover in the early 1980s.[47]

Track listing[edit]

All songs were written by Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, except where noted.

Original release[edit]

Released on LP and compact cassette, the album was well-balanced for playback time, 18:23 on side A and 18:44 on side B. A 1980 French cassette release, offered as part of Collection Chrome high performance line, is notable for using more expensive chromium dioxide tape instead of standard ferric oxide tape. This release quotes slightly different running times, 17:36 and 18:23 respectively.

Side one
1."Bunker Soldiers"2:51
5."The Messerschmitt Twins"5:38
Side two
6."Messages" 4:06
7."Julia's Song"McCluskey, Humphreys, Julia Kneale4:40
8."Red Frame/White Light" 3:10
9."Dancing (Instrumental)" 3:00
10."Pretending To See The Future" 3:48

US release (O.M.D.)[edit]

A 1981 US compilation, also using the band's name as the title of the release, collects material from the first two OMD albums, and uses a differently coloured, non-die cut version of the sleeve-art from the debut LP.

Side one
1."Enola Gay"McCluskey3:31
2."2nd Thought"McCluskey4:12
3."Bunker Soldiers" 2:51
4."Almost" 3:46
5."Electricity" 3:32
6."Statues" 4:08
Side two
7."The Misunderstanding" 4:45
8."Julia's Song"McCluskey, Humphreys, Julia Kneale4:32
9."Motion And Heart" 3:13
10."Messages" 3:59
11."Stanlow" 6:30

Remastered CD release with bonus tracks[edit]

Virgin / DIDCDR2

1."Bunker Soldiers" 2:54
2."Almost" 3:44
3."Mystereality" 2:45
4."Electricity" 3:39
5."The Messerschmitt Twins" 5:41
6."Messages" 4:12
7."Julia's Song"McCluskey, Humphreys, Julia Kneale4:41
8."Red Frame/White Light" 3:12
9."Dancing (Instrumental)" 2:59
10."Pretending to See the Future" 3:48
Bonus tracks
11."Messages (Single version)" 4:46
12."I Betray My Friends" 3:53
13."Taking Sides Again (Instrumental)" 4:23
14."Waiting for the Man"Lou Reed3:00
15."Electricity (Hannett/Cargo Studios Version)" 3:37
16."Almost (Hannett/Cargo Studios Version)" 3:51


  • Andy McCluskey – voice, bass, keyboards, electronic drums, drum programming.
  • Paul Humphreys – keyboards, voice, percussion, electronic drums, drum programming.

Additional musicians[edit]

  • Malcolm Holmes – percussion on "Julia's Song"
  • Martin Cooper – saxophone on "Mystereality"
  • Dave Fairbairn – guitar on "Messages" and "Julia's Song"



Certifications for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[51] Gold 100,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b Wilson, Lois (30 September 2019). "OMD". Record Collector. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  2. ^ "1981". Britain's Favourite 80s Songs. Season 2. Episode 2. 5 March 2021. 6–9 minutes in. Channel 5.
  3. ^ Wright, Jade (10 October 2014). "Why 80s music group OMD are no museum pieces". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Waller, Johnny; Humphreys, Mike (1987). Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: Messages. Sidgwick & Jackson. pp. 61–70. ISBN 0-283-99234-4.
  5. ^ "OMD Discography: The Id". Archived from the original on 16 April 2005. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d Browne, Paul. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (2003 remaster). Sleeve notes. Virgin Records.
  7. ^ a b c Shand, Max (8 November 2019). "OMD at 40: Making Sense of a Synthpop Legacy". PopMatters. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  8. ^ Watkins, Jack (21 April 2013). "Mute Record". Record Collector. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  9. ^ a b c Nice, James (2011) [2010]. Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records (paperback ed.). London: Aurum Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-84513-634-5.
  10. ^ a b Bogdanov, Vladimir; Bush, John; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Woodstra, Chris (2001). All Music Guide to Electronica. Backbeat Books. p. 375. ISBN 978-0879306281.
  11. ^ Miller, Paul (21 February 1994). "Meanwhile in the North...". The Big Issue. p. 5 (of When Synthesisers Rocked the Earth).
  12. ^ Bell, Duncan (March 2003). "Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: OMD". Muzik. p. 69.
  13. ^ a b Plagenhoef, Scott (18 July 2003). "Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark / Organisation / Architecture & Morality". Pitchfork. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  14. ^ a b "À La Mode". Q. May 2020. p. 117.
  15. ^ a b Ludgate, Simon (1 March 1980). "Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: OMD". Record Mirror. p. 15.
  16. ^ Evans, Paul (2004). "Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 607. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  17. ^ a b Starr, Red (6–19 March 1980). "Albums". Smash Hits. Vol. 2, no. 5. pp. 30–31.
  18. ^ a b Moines, Des (1 March 1980). "Beyond the Lead Break". Sounds.
  19. ^ Hull, Tom. "Rock (1980s): Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark". Tom Hull – on the Web. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  20. ^ "Bitz". Smash Hits. Vol. 2, no. 20. 2–15 October 1980. p. 12.
  21. ^ Burke, David (25 October 2022). "The Lowdown – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark". Classic Pop. Retrieved 13 November 2023.
  22. ^ Morley, Paul (1 March 1980). "Orchestral Manoeuvres". NME. pp. 35–36.
  23. ^ Thrills, Adrian (June 1980). "Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark". The Face. No. 2. p. 58.
  24. ^ Teerds, John (11 December 1980). "Records". The Age. p. 49 (GG: 12).
  25. ^ West, Mike (1982). Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Omnibus Press. p. 18. ISBN 0-7119-0149-X.
  26. ^ "Top 100 Albums". Music Week. 27 December 1980. p. 21.
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  28. ^ Segal, Dave. "Barenaked Ladies, OMD, Howard Jones". The Stranger. Archived from the original on 13 July 2016. Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  29. ^ Meighan, Nicola (6 April 2013). "Electric Company". The Herald. Arts supplement. Retrieved 21 November 2023 – via Nicola Meighan. This interview originally ran as the cover feature of The Herald Arts supplement...
  30. ^ Burnett, Joseph (19 July 2013). "Thirty Years On: Japan's Oil on Canvas Revisited". The Quietus. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  31. ^ Multiple references:
  32. ^ Peel, Ian (December 2015 – January 2016). "Top 100 Albums of the 1980s". Classic Pop. No. 20. pp. 24–37.
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  34. ^ "893 Essential Debut Albums". 89.3 The Current. Archived from the original on 19 January 2023. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  35. ^ "Depeche Mode Talk Influences (1988)". MTV News. 2 August 2023. Archived from the original on 2 August 2023. Retrieved 2 August 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  36. ^ "Synth Britannia (Part Two: Construction Time Again)". Britannia. 16 October 2009. 4 minutes in. BBC Four. British Broadcasting Corporation. When I first started playing synthesizers it [my inspiration] would have been people like The Human League; Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, their very first album; I was a big fan of Daniel Miller's work, as the Silicon Teens and as The Normal; and also of Fad Gadget.
  37. ^ "Erasure". The O-Zone. 29 November 1995. 8 minutes in. BBC 2. British Broadcasting Corporation. 'Electricity'... sounded so different from anything I'd heard; that really made me want to make electronic music, 'cause it was so unique.
  38. ^ Murphy, James (22 May 2010). "LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening". NME. p. 13. Murphy guides you through his new New York dance-punk troupe's new album." ... [Murphy:] "I was constantly listening to the 'Sweet Dreams'-era Eurythmics stuff and Bronski Beat and the first couple of OMD records.
  39. ^ Houghton, Richard (2018). "Foreword". OMD: Pretending to See the Future. This Day in Music Books. ISBN 978-1999592721. [Brian Cox:] We loved the [Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark] album, formed a band and learnt to play 'Electricity' and 'Messages'.
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  44. ^ Jones, Dylan (2020). Sweet Dreams: From Club Culture to Style Culture, the Story of the New Romantics. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0571353439. Archived from the original on 12 May 2022. [Neil Tennant:] OMD's first album was great.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
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External links[edit]