Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 30]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – The Pacific Age | 1986 – 2.5

[continued from last post]

How appropriate that on the day following Martin Luther King Day that we turn our attention to “Southern.” This was another scarce OMD instrumental; or would have been had it not had excerpts from Martin Luther King’s final speech in Memphis on behalf of the striking sanitation workers in April of 1968. I can’t shake the feeling that Paul Hardcastle’s “19” set the stage for this track, though King’s speech was thankfully not scratched to the beat. The best thing about this track were the heraldic horns from the Weir Brothers. They had some of the heft that one could find in John Cale’s “Helen Of Troy.” I’d go as far as saying that they were the height of OMD dalliance with a horn section.

It was surprising to hear this track placed first on side two; normally the place for a hit single. This was nothing of the sort, and truth be told. It had the feel of a B-side rather than an LP deep cut. It really didn’t feel at home on the album to these ears. Of course, OMD being OMD, there was second, questioning narrative voice included on the end of the track as an announcer spoke words wondering if the history of black America was so awful, that casual prejudice instead of overt strife and despair was as good as it would ever be.

The next song actually was intended as B-side material, but in the recording of the demo, the band quickly realized that “Flame Of Hope” was too good to be lost to a B-side. I concur, and commenter Richard Anvil had yesterday mentioned that “This Town” was originally slated for the album with “Flame Of Hope” earmarked as the B-side for “[Forever] Live + Die.” Fortunately, saner heads prevailed and the more interesting and typical “Flame Of Hope” found it way on the album.

The track began with a revisit of the Japanese ad samples looped to make an abstract rhythm pattern while the sampled strings added dignity along with the sampled leads. The latter evoking those from the Gizmotron® used by Godley + Creme on 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love.” One of my all-time favorite sounds. “Flame Of Hope” was a brief but compelling song with some of the best McCluskey vocal leads on the whole album. His work there was right “in the zone” so the sometimes strident tone he’d adopt was unheard this time.

Then came a big uptick of energy with “Goddess Of Love,” the song originally written for “Pretty In Pink” before the re-write put the kibosh on that. This song was not without its weaknesses, but put next to “If You Leave” in the PPM comparator, it revealed a robust pop song miles better than what eventually became their calling card in America. Only the intro rubbed me the wrong way with the overly jaunty arrangement perhaps contributing to McCluskey’s decision to oversing in the intro [surfeit with emphatic reverb] like a Muppet version of himself. His overly boisterous mien being clearly fraudulent to anyone with a passing familiarity with Andy McCluskey.

Other than the clumsy intro, the tune did pop like a great single with the many repeats of the title reverberating in the choruses like a hall of mirrors. Though I had known that this was the original song intended for “Pretty In Pink,” I only discovered last week that OMD had still re-wrote the song for inclusion on “The Pacific Age.” The horns were used as a melodic counterpoint here instead of the full melody, which helped a lot. Made things less facile. It was disturbing to see this song used as the B-side of the third single, “Shame.” Not only should it have been the A-side to that particular single, but its usage suggested that OMD were very thin on ideas to have only one non-LP B-side for a campaign of three singles.

The second and final single from the album followed on from “Goddess Of Love” and like “Shame,” it also lacked a B-side. “We Love You” was also another recycled, unused soundtrack song. This time, it was a track that had been written for the film “Playing For Keeps.” This propulsive, slightly Moroderesque track too the energy level from “Goddess Of Love” and kept it up without respite. It’s hardly a definitive OMD song, but it sounds every inch a single. The charts did not agree, however. Following the success of “[Forever] Live + Die,” the best that the second single from “The Pacific Age” could go was number 54 in the UK. Two places lower than the third single would muster. Ouch. This one deserved a better fate than that.

The album wrapped up with “Watch Us Fall,” an insouciant ballad that reflected more of the sound of another Liverpudlian band; that of China Crisis. The smooth, measured delivery from McCluskey coupled with the lovely alto sax solos of Martin Cooper really hit those China Crisis marks. This one really had a lovely vibe to it but it hardly seemed redolent of the OMD sound.


Would you buy a Swatch from these men?

This was where OMD found themselves in 1986. Dealing with a conundrum not unlike that of David Bowie concurrently.  Struggling with the question of who their audience was and what they wanted. Their sales were down from a few years earlier with the band shifting their emphasis to try to triangulate to the whims of the capricious [and alien] US marketplace. They were on an endless treadmill of write/record/tour and had exhausted their infamous well of inspiration. The fact that only a single non-LP B-side [and not one of their proudest moments in that regard either] graced just one of the three singles released from “The Pacific Age” spoke large volumes on the writing difficulties that beset this particular album.

It was a unprecedented decision to once again work with Stephen Hague for the second album in a row. OMD had always moved from producer to producer no matter what their level of success each time out. It seemed that with Hague’s help in making tough inroads into the American market with some success that they were loath to jump ship. At this time, Hague was cementing his hitmaking reputation with a run of singles from Pet Shop Boys that would make their name and largely pick up from where OMD was leaving off.

The incipient professionalism of this album was a bit of a drag. The female vocals were an even bigger sign of capitulation than the horn section had been. The other big outlier of conventionality was bringing in session guitarist Kamil Rustam for the sort of slick guitar sounds that were alien to this band. It had been jarring when the in-your-face rhythm guitar was up front in the mix of “New Stone Age,” but the band were reflecting Brian Eno’s influence honestly even as they actually played said instrument themselves.

Fortunately, I found the overall caliber of the material to be a slight improvement to what greeted my ears on “Crush.” At least in hindsight. I recall that contemporaneously, I found this album even more watered down than the “Crush” album. I never had much enthusiasm for it and I had listened to it far less than I had with “Crush.” At least the former had been my first new OMD album on CD, which probably accounted for the higher level of playback for it at the time. Even so, OMD were obviously skating on this ice. The Mid-80s Malaise® had obviously struck them hard, as it had with most bands I had collected from the late 70s/early 80s.

Next: …Just A Temporary Stopgap Measure

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 29]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – The Pacific Age | 1986 – 2.5

[continued from last post]

The next OMD album, came in fast on the heels of their earlier Hughes Film top five smash, but as with Hughes’ earlier dalliance with Simple Minds, the big hit single was saved for the all-important soundtrack album. It would not be on the artists’ next original album of material. In a turn of events that showed how OMD’s status had changed in America, the new album was purchased on domestic CD. To date, every OMD CD in my collection for the albums prior to this, had been purchased as costly imports. “The Pacific Age” was an album of theirs where I can’t say I’ve ever seen an import pressing of any kind.

The album opened with the overly busy and fussy would-be single “Stay [The Black Rose + The Universal Wheel].” OMD were convinced that this one was single material but Virgin had other, more dangerous ideas. The frantic, busy arrangement sounded like a case of “too many cooks” syndrome. Worse, the song itself was no great shakes, and the end result smacked of the sort of desperation that was OMD’s stock-in-trade during their frantic “break America” phase. McCluskey has said that the first ten song written were the album. End of discussion. There was no time for any careful and considered writing phase. They were grinding it out like sausage by this point, as if the now slick female backing vocals added to the end result said anything less.

Fortunately, the next song was one of the best on offer here.            “[Forever] Live + Die” had been the lead-off pre-release single and echoing “Souvenir,” it was a Paul Humphreys lead vocal. Humphreys had co-written the track with the Weir brothers and it contained enough of the shimmery evanescence that had made “Souvenir” such a beguiling proposition. It’s not quite as otherworldly or sumptuous, but it’s trying, and next to OMD’s recent efforts, succeeding reasonably. The downside here were the horn charts in the middle eight [which sounded like samplers]. They were a little rote but not enough to seriously damage the fine song. The market also thought so with the single doing brisk top ten to top twenty business all over the world; including a number 19 placement in America, making it their second best selling single here.

After that high point, the levels of accomplishment stayed high with the title track to “The Pacific Age.” The stately, portentous arrangement of sampled strings walked through the door that “The Native Daughters Of The Golden West” had opened and made it truly something that reflected OMD. Only these guys would have written a song about the balance of world financial power shifting to Asia. There’s a strong Ennio Morricone vibe to it all which feels right with the band.

I was shocked upon hearing “The Dead Girls” in 1986. It was the first time that OMD had deliberately made a self-pastiche and in 1986, that smacked of desperation. It was nothing more than the whole of “Architecture + Morality” thrown into a blender and re-constructed with samplers. It hits its marks and ticks all of the boxes. Chorus samples, Catholicism, military drums. Check. Check. Check. I do like the medieval quality to some of the synth lines that sound like something out of the 16th century. Not the worst OMD song I’d heard lately, but it all seemed too facile in the face of it. Had the band been in a healthy place, this would never have passed muster as an album track.

But I did not know how good I had it, because the next track was by far the worst OMD single released at that point. Virgin had balked at “Stay” as single material; preferring one of the worst, most MOR tracks OMD had cut. “Shame” [an apt title] was right down there with “Hold You” for being the biggest sell-out material the band had ever committed to wax. One thing I can’t understand was how the third single from the album somehow never got a release in America. It sounded tailor made for the Adult Contemporary charts. I imagine that A+M maybe had better A+R taste than Virgin at that point in time. Which shown really, how far Virgin had fallen by 1986 in my esteem. I can point to before and after Culture Club being points of artistic inflection for the label!

What really staggered the mind was that Virgin paid to have Rhett Davis [who produced “Dazzle Ships”] re-record the song specifically for the single with the band, and it still missed the UK top 50. All that time and money squandered on a song that I would have never allowed the band to record if I had been their A+R person.

Next: …More of the same

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 28]

OMD | If You Leave

[continued from last post]

In 1985, OMD had honestly scraped their way into the US top 30 with “So In Love,” a mushy piece of pop that was among the last song’s written during the “Crush” period that was scheduled to be dropped from the running… until Martin Cooper persuaded Andy + Paul to demo it first. It eventually became their calling card in The States… at least for a while. Moving from the 198 position with your new single on the Top 200 to number 26 is quite a feat. The same year, the band found that director John Hughes had wanted to use their [appropriate] “Tesla Girls” in his film “Weird Science.” The next year, both threads for the band came to their logical conclusion.

After all, the template had been locked down the previous year when Simple Minds, another cult New Wave band on Virgin Records in the UK but signed to A+M Records in The States found themselves recording the lead single to the soundtrack of a John Hughes film, “The Breakfast Club.” These previous nobodies grabbed the brass ring and shot to the top on a teenfilm hype second to none. By the next year, John Hughes was a bigger brand than the studios that released his films. Junior high school students across America eagerly awaited his next dive into the bucket of suburban Chicago teen angst that was his métier. This time he came a-knocking on OMD’s door.

Would they be so kind as to write a hit single for his new film, “Pretty In Pink?” Though inspired by the title of the Psychedelic Furs “hit” from 1981, Hughes obviously thought that OMD was a better standard bearer to carry the mandatory crossover hit up the charts. Sorry, Mr. Butler. The film was about a teenaged girl in a love triangle with a quirky New Waver and a snobby preppie. In the end, she decided to drop the prep and walk on the wild side with Jon Cryer. OMD wrote the song “Goddess Of Love” to commemorate the story and after it was committed to tape, Hughes called once again on the band. Bad news awaited.

Hughes had made his film and test marketed it in a bunker full of teenaged girls with electrodes attached to their foreheads who in no uncertain terms let Mr. Hughes know that …omigod… like… of course Molly Ringwald would drop Mr. Spazmo for that dreamboat with all that cash!! He gave the band 24 hours in a studio to write, record and mix a new song that would be appropriate to the now very different movie. They began their tour two days later.

Bruised and batters, and probably with a coke bill the likes of which they had never seen before, the band emerged from their studio bunker with “If You Leave.” A song which went to number four in the US charts. The compressed drums were of the period, but the single was a fairly weird mashup of disparate elements that failed to gel with me. Andy McCluskey’s breathy, sensitive emoting now carries the bittersweet sentiment of the song a bit too forcefully. He’s still doubling his vocals, which he tended to do a lot in this period to fatten his sound.

The only aspect of the song which has any currency with my ears was the sampled, swelling string section which added a 60s kitsch element to the otherwise bland song. Speaking of bland, Martin Cooper’s sax solo was soporific to the max with a dissolute tone that suggested that he got none of the stimulants the other two were gobbling up. It was all very missable. In fact, this one made “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” sound even better in comparison. On the other hand, at least OMD saw some decent money for this song that they at least wrote and could collect royalties on. Unlike Simple Minds.

At the end of the day, the whole “under the gun” aspect of the song’s creation suggested that they at least came out of this ordeal with some serious sales and the highest profile they would ever have… in America. Abroad, the single barely scraped into the UK top 50; continuing their downward trend. It did well in OZ/NZ. As usual, the single sleeve left no doubt as to who was actually being promoted with the song, but at least OMD had managed to really consolidate the success that they had achieved the previous year; albeit with the leverage of a serious cross-platform Hollywood promotional campaign. Bully for them, but these John Hughes soundtracks were already overstaying their welcome with me. As usual, the most important thing to me as a fan was the age old question: where would they go from here?

Next: …Back To The Hague

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 27]

Round Two – January 1986

The Central Florida ticket

[continued from last post]

Of course, with another OMD concert, this time just 50 miles away instead of 450 or so we had to attend again! This time with a closer posse of friends. I wasted no time in letting Richard and Tom know about this and at the time their roommate was Brendan, whom I also knew. Richard and Tom were close friends from high school whom I’d spread the OMD virus to. I’ve seen more OMD shows with Tom than any other human! Three, to date… but soon to be four. We bought our tickets and prepped for the show at the semi-legendary Lakeland Civic Center to happen in the new year.

Lakeland was two thirds the way to Tampa from Orlando, and they got a heck of a lot of concerts in the 70s and 80s

Let me explain the Lakeland Civic Center phenomenon. Tampa was a large city. Orlando was a medium sized city with a lot of tourism. Orlando had a large transient population. It had relatively little infrastructure for concerts in the 70s and 80s. There was the Bob Carr Auditorium, a nice 3000 seater for Symphony shows and the occasional rock concert. Apart from the Tangerine Bowl [70,000 capacity] there was a vast gulf for large, popular rock/pop shows. The 18,000 seat Orlando Arena would not exist until the late 80s.

Lakeland, Florida was a small, sleepy citrus town a fraction of the size of Orlando, but the city fathers cannily positioned themselves for soaking up a lot of entertainment dollars that Orlando, in its small-minded ignorance, chose to forego. The Lakeland Civic Center fit 8-10,000 people into a big shed and growing up in the late 70s’early 80s, they got all of the large rock concerts that bothered to pass through Central Florida. This would be the one and only time I finally saw a show there.

Of course, I had already seen this tour and told them what they would be in for, namely a program of OMD fan pleasers. We hopped in Brendan’s car [as I recall] and trucked down to Lakeland. In the pre-internet era, who knows how we found the place, but we got there in plenty of time. It was a general admission show, so they were probably set for a larger crowd of 10,000. Thompson Twins had a pocketful of hits by then so I don’t recall it being sparsely attended.

OMD burst out and gave it their all for basically the exact same set I had seen the month prior. One can never hear “Souvenir” too many times, and though the company was different, the net effect was the same: OMD fan rapture. Richard, Tom and I had waited five years for this and we were simply not used to seeing our favorite bands; they never came around Central Florida. The set list was well chosen and though none would have balked at “Stanlow,” and “So In Love” was weak sauce, the overall vibe was superb. Also like the previous show, we stuck through intermission but decided 3-4 songs into Thompson Twins set that we could go home now. So we left the arena and trundled home on Interstate 4 on a happy, OMD buzz.

I was very happy that I finally had two [two!] chances to see one of my all time favorite bands perform their songs. To put this in perspective, the next time I would see a band twice on the same tour would be in 2001 with Roxy Music. By this time, I had seen maybe 20 rock concerts in the three year period from ’83-’85 and OMD was the only band of these that really meant a lot to me. My friends were also of a geeky nature, so naturally, the OMD vibe spoke to us eloquently. OMD were the primary band who used technology to explore somewhat abstract intellectual and historical thematic issues that most other bands would not touch with a ten foot pole. I have to admit that the bonds I forged with OMD were among the strongest with any band simply down to the notion that we felt like these two people making this music were cut from the same cloth as us. We felt like we understood OMD and had a simpatico with them in excess of any other bands out there.

Next: …Going Forward or Treading Water?

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 26]

The Crush UK tour book – which I bought in the early 90s mail order

[continued from last post]

I was just ready to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree in December of 1985. One of my friends I’d met in college who was also in the Graphic Design program was an interesting guy named Jim Ivy. He worked at the time in a Musicland in the Fashion Square Mall and was also involved in music as a sideline. I saw him a lot at college and shared a class with his girlfriend at the time. We weren’t close friends but he had great taste in music. He was the reason I got hipped to The Blue Nile very early on. I can’t remember exactly how I found out about the Thompson Twins date at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta early in December, but this was fairly intoxicating to me, even in 1985 because of all of the dozens of bands I obsessed over the most, I had seen none of them by this time. Any bands I had seen by 1985 [to be counted on with one’s fingers, sadly] were not exactly any of my Core Collection. It was a case of settling for a Berlin or Joe Jackson because it was either that or Ted Nugent.

Bands I actually collected never came within striking distance of Central Florida. They occasionally came to the Gulf/Space Coast but generally passed by Boreblando. It was Hotlanta or nothing for anything of interest. The New York of the South had great clubs like Masquerade and 688 that actively booked those weird British bands I tended to favor. I put this down now to the old school talent bookers like Fat Harry Productions who could not be bothered by anything that wouldn’t put 3000 people in the Lakeland Civic Center or 70K on the Orange bowl.

Round One – December 1985

So when I found out that on December 8th that The Thompson Twins with OMD opening were at The Fox, I called Jim Ivy up and when he said he was going, I boldly invited myself along. I look back now and shake my head at my temerity, but these were desperate times! I was not getting a steady diet of Ultravox or Simple Minds shows pitched in my direction. If I could drive ten hours and see OMD, who were already fat in my Record Cell, then all bets were off! Fortunately, Jim acquiesced and on the Sunday morning of December 8, 1985, Jim’s work buddy, who was driving, came by and picked me up.

It was four New Wave guys in a car heading to Atlanta for kicks. We all made mix tapes, of course, and had fun exposing the others to maybe a band or two that we have not had a chance to check out. I know I first heard Tones On Tail that trip, and a stately 26 years later, I finally bought their entire recorded output while [are you ready?] trekking again to Atlanta to see OMD… this time headlining in 2011. The drive to Atlanta takes a while from Orlando. About ten hours, and when we got there, of course, the first thing we did was try to go to Wax N’ Facts! Unfortunately, back then they were closed on Sundays! Arrrrgh! This meant that we had to stay overnight and hit the store on Monday morning, but we were down with that.

For some reason, we went to a Turtles [record] store that was open but uninspiring. I had about $120 on me to pay for gas/food/lodging as well as records at Wax N’ Facts, so this had to be spread thinly. We needed to crash in Atlanta and the only person I knew there at the time was matriculating at Georgia Tech. She lived in the dorms so no crashing there, leaving us to our own devices. I don’t remember eating, strangely enough. Around seven we headed for the venue and The Fox had been touted by chasinvictoria as quite the palace since he lived in nearby Mableton [City Of Tomorrow®] for a year or two after high school and went there for shows during that time.

We filed into the gorgeous theatre and were in high anticipation. I looked at the merch but there was no tour program, only tee-shirts. And if you can believe it, I did not wear tee-shirts from roughly 1981-1991. No, I dressed like OMD in white dress shirts and slacks! The band were touring in their six man formation with the Weir Brothers on horns and guitar augmenting the classic OMD lineup. They came out and performed a fantastic opening set. I was not taking notes, but this set list from Chicago’s Metro from earlier in September [as headliners] feels about right.

Set List Suggestion

  • Messages
  • Tesla Girls
  • Secret
  • Motion and Heart
  • Maid of Orleans
  • Souvenir
  • So in Love
  • Telegraph
  • Locomotion
  • Enola Gay
  • Women III
  • Electricity

The Metro 9/2/85 set list above did not contain “Electricity,” but I recall that as being in the set. We got a smattering of “Crush” tracks and as many OMD classic singles as they could pack into the remainder. Since OMD were only starting their fall from grace, we were pretty ecstatic at the results! The four of us were very much on an OMD buzz as we decided to leave the venue about three songs into the Thompson Twins tepid set. We were all ex-Thompson Twins fans by that point in 1985 and the thrill was long gone. What I would have given to have seen the “Side Kicks” tour but that never happened. Though Jim and one of his friends did in Daytona Beach during Spring Break of 1983 when all sorts of New Wave acts were hitting the scene, I think. I recall finding out about it from Jim ex post facto in an art class afterward.

I was simply not used to seeing a band that I loved that much and in a beautiful venue to boot. We found a hotel that looked like we could afford it and split the room four ways. We crashed and awoke the next day starving, so we broke the fast at an IHOP. I do remember that much. We got to Little Five Points and waited long minutes for Wax N’ Facts to open. It was the best visit to Wax N’ Facts I have ever had. Not only was it the first time, but the 7″ action was at its peak with tons of original New Wave material from ’78-’84 still fat in the bins. I got some wonderful records that I have never seen anywhere else in the ensuing decades. We all spent as much as we could there. It’s what record geeks do. We shopped then hit the road for the long trek back.

It was apparent that the friend of Jim’s who had the afternoon shift at Musicland on Monday evening was going to be a bit late, so we made a pit stop to call in for him. While they were on the phone with work, others there told them that The Thompson Twins and OMD were now having a date in Central Florida at the Lakeland Ciciv Center in early January. So the trip to Atlanta was not as necessary now as it had been a few weeks earlier. But I beg to differ. That trip was one of the biggest events for me in the 80s as I first went to Atlanta, which would become second nature to me by the next decade. And more importantly, it marked the first time I saw a band that meant as much to me as OMD did. This was a very big thing for a music geek like me who lived in the cultural backwaters of America where the bands I loved the most rarely ventured.

Next: …One More Time

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 25]

OMD spell out one of their big problems in black and white from the Crush UK tour book

[continued from last post]

Commenter Jordan in the previous post made a supremely cogent comment about OMD’s creative conundrum by 1985:

“What was the missing link? It could not have been just trying to write bland music for the market. I think OMD ran out of ideas. It’s as simple as that.” – Jordan

In recent years Andy McCluskey has been very frank about the vicious treadmill of commerce keeping the band in a tight pattern of write/record/tour to the point where there was insufficient time for pausing and reflecting on exactly what you might want to write about. After five years they had worked through the themes that they had nursed growing up. Let’s not forget that it was writer’s block desperation for new material in the aftermath of the massive “Architecture + Morality” campaign that inadvertently led to the “Dazzle Ships” album that had increased the pressure the band was working under. That their audience shrank dramatically in its wake, coupled with the desire to “crack America” would be a double edged sword slicing away at the band.

The first signs of the pressures the band was under surfaced publicly as early as the 1985 UK Crush tour program. Andy McCluskey was very frank [as is his nature] about the difficulty that the wheel of commerce caused the group specifically in the writing part of the equation. Notice that he hoped that the touring itself would serve to spark the kindling of song ideas. But the opening up of the American market [to the extent that it did] served to cause its own issues, which further impacted the band’s writing.

Crush North American Tour Begins

The planned OMD world tour for “Crush” didn’t follow this early plan very closely

OMD’s plan for their world tour in support of the “Crush” album was printed in the UK tour program, as seen above. Because of the ignition of “So In Love” on the US charts in the Summer of 1985, the band found themselves touring heavily in The States in July-August of that year, with a run of 22 dates opening up for The Power Station.

The Robert Palmer-shaped hole in The Power Station tour

Maybe some of you remember The Power Station? The Duran Duran/Robert Palmer/Chic supergroup who netted exactly two hit singles in 1985? They got “Some Like It Hot” and a turgid cover of “Get It On [Bang A Gong]” into the US top ten probably on the value of John Taylor’s cheekbones and DD’s less discriminating fan following. Singer Robert Palmer bowed out of the tour, citing priority for his own album he was recording during that time. This left the band scrambling for a replacement since this tour was cocaine to be inhaled money to be printed. They eventually settled for glam-come-lately singer Michael [“Silverhead”] DesBarres to sing for the tour. They were playing mostly medium to large arenas seating 2-20,000 screaming fans. They picked OMD for the July-August two month leg of it. OMD were also headlining some peripheral dates of their own, with venues at about a tenth of the capacity of those that The Power Station were pulling. Thanks to the magic power of The Taylors and two top ten singles. That must have hurt.

So when the second legs of their UK/European tour [during the all-important Christmas concert season] were supposed to have happened, OMD found themselves trucking all across America again, this time opening up for the Thompson Twins. The latter band were milking their 15 minutes in the commercial sun for all it was worth; which wasn’t much to me by then. I had been an early convert to The Thompson Twins with their “In The Name Of Love” album [a.k.a. “Set”] being a 1982 favorite but subsequently got off of their bus after the tepid MOR of “Into The Gap” showed me how it was going to be for them after the divisive MOR of “Hold Me Now” made them huge American stars. And this time the Thompson Twins were coming within striking distance of where I lived. No matter how lax the “Crush ” album had been, I could hardly believe that I might finally get the chance to see one of my favorite groups for the last five years. I had to make it happen.

Next: …Atlanta Bound

 

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 24]

“New Look” OMD for… Calvin Klein®

[continued from last post]

So after losing 90% of their UK audience following, “Dazzle Ships,” OMD had been concerned with “breaking in America.” The heat was on and the large and lucrative American market had been, until their singing with A+M Records, completely resistant to their cult with a lower case “c” sound. The “Junk Culture” campaign was not successful, but I can’t deny that it must have raised their profile to at least a degree or two. With “Locomotion” 12” and 7” singles so plentiful that imports were not necessary [except for early buyers like myself] and a unique US 12” of “Tesla Girls” out there, OMD on A+M felt a lot more successful than their three album period on Epic had been.

With “Crush,” the intent to crack the American market had obviously come to the forefront of things. Enlisting American producer Stephen Hague was a big step in this direction. For many years, I felt that he was perhaps the guiding hand behind the aesthetic moves that resulted in OMD’s most ordinary album ever, but today I’m not so sure. I came to that perhaps erroneous conclusion due to so many bands working with Hague in the mid-80s and producing pablum, but when I think about it in retrospect, today, the fact remained that prior to “Crush,” all of the records that Hague had previously produced or co-prodcuced were fine stuff. Now, I am of the opinion that Hague may be the kind of producer who amplifies and facilitates his artists’ vision rather than imposing his own; an admirable trait in a producer.

Rather, I think the blame for the crushing banality [you saw that coming, right?] of the 1985 OMD album can be laid at the feet of the band themselves, who were under real financial pressures to deliver no matter what the cost. In spite of healthy sales, they were still in debt to their Virgin due to the fairly typical contract they signed as teenagers. Remember that record labels always were fully legal loan-sharking operations. This ultimately saw the band writing some really bland songs that would have been inconceivable as OMD tracks two years prior. Tellingly, the “So In Love” single was among the last things written during the album’s recording. Like the previous album’s “Locomotion,” it was another case of the band sharing a co-writing credit with producer Hague [it was manager Gordian Troeller for “Locomotion”].

That the compromise was successful can be ascertained by looking at the UK/US charting for the single. “So In Love” reached number 27 in the UK charts [a poor UK single showing for the band] but it broke through to chart at exactly one spot higher on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts. So after five years, a line had been crossed in the sand and OMD gained some much desired [we’ll reserve judgement on whether it was needed or not] commercial traction in the biggest market where they had had no success previously. I got wind that something was up when the video for “So In Love” got into medium rotation on MTV; a shocking barometer of commercial acceptance, and certainly one I was not accustomed to seeing. Previously, I had relied on “Night Flight” profiles on OMD to get the scant copies of their video clips. I had gotten “Locomotion” by taping MTV in the dead of night. It felt strange, but I could now mention OMD and many Americans would have an inkling.

“Secret” still made the Hot 100, further down the charts with a peak of 63 while the UK showing was better at number 34. Still far from a day at at the beach for OMD. The best single from the album, “La Femme Accident,” was not released in the US as an A-side, but the UK charting showed a continued downward trend at number 42. In every case, the three singles fared better in Germany, their number two market. Usually by a factor of ten chart places or so. Still, the singles were underperforming compared to what OMD were used to in their core markets even as they were making comparatively huge strides in the heretofore untapped American market. Given that McCluskey and Humphries had both wed American ladies, met on their earlier tours here, one could imagine that this desire to prove themselves to their wives  might have also been a motivating factor in their concentration on the US market. For me, there were unexpected side benefits to all of this compromise.

Next: …OMD Live And In My Face

Posted in Core Collection, Mid-80s Malaise, Rock GPA | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments