OMD’s glistening run of top-flight singles and chart domination came to a temporary but dramatic halt with Dazzle Ships, the point where the band’s pushing of boundaries reached their furthest limit. McCluskey, Humphreys, and company couldn’t take many listeners with them, though, and it’s little surprise why — a couple of moments aside, Dazzle Ships is pop of the most fragmented kind, a concept album released in an era that had nothing to do with such conceits. On its own merits, though, it is dazzling indeed, a Kid A of its time that never received a comparative level of contemporary attention and appreciation. Indeed, Radiohead’s own plunge into abstract electronics and meditations on biological and technological advances seems to be echoing the themes and construction of Dazzle Ships. What else can be said when hearing the album’s lead single, the soaring “Genetic Engineering,” with its Speak & Spell toy vocals and an opening sequence that also sounds like the inspiration for “Fitter, Happier,” for instance? Why it wasn’t a hit remains a mystery, but it and the equally enjoyable, energetic “Telegraph” and “Radio Waves” are definitely the poppiest moments on the album. Conceived around visions of cryptic Cold War tension, the rise of computers in everyday life, and European and global reference points — time zone recordings and snippets of shortwave broadcasts — Dazzle Ships beats Kraftwerk at their own game, science and the future turned into surprisingly warm, evocative songs or sudden stop-start instrumental fragments. “Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III, and VII)” itself captures the alien feeling of the album best, with its distanced, echoing noises and curious rhythms, sliding into the lovely “The Romance of the Telescope.” “This Is Helena” works in everything from what sounds like heavily treated and flanged string arrangements to radio announcer samples, while “Silent Running” becomes another in the line of emotional, breathtaking OMD ballads, McCluskey’s voice the gripping centerpiece.
-Ned Raggett, allmusic.com
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark-DAZZLE SHIPS (1983)