Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 52]

Onetwo – Instead | 2007 – 3

[continued from last post]

Following a startling Pink Floyd cover version, another big shock occurred at the end of “Have A Cigar,” when Bob Kraushaar was just starting to let rip on a “hot” guitar solo, when the song made a dramatically harsh EQ segue where the sound compressed down to AM transistor radio quality and transitioned to the next song. Just like the original did. Only this time the next song was another cover. Paul Humphreys sang his only lead on this album via a cover of Cat Power’s ballad, “I Don’t Blame You.” While I have heard the name, I have never actually heard Cat Power. It was an earnest, but melodic, sensitive ballad sung beautifully by Humphreys, but it sort of stuck out on the album like a sore thumb. I can’t say I dislike it, but it did not belong here.

The song “Cloud Nine,” from the “Item” EP as well as a single in and of itself, followed again. While the song has some nice lyrical touches and singing from Ms. Brücken, the 70s wah-wah guitar from co-writer Martin Gore, was the only instance of guitar on this album that did not add considerable scope to the track it appeared on.  Every time I hear this song, I become impatient for the next song to follow. Never moreso than on the “Cloud Nine” CD single [R], where the godlike “Kein Anschluß (SITD Mix)” appeared next!

Next came another high-profile collaboration. The aptly named “Anonymous.” This time between the band and Mr. Andy McCluskey. Yes, it’s OMD and Claudia Brücken writing a single track together. Unfortunately, it’s the weakest song here for these ears. The musicbox pacing paired with MOR sound design and that dreaded shuffle beat, conspired to make this one a real chore to sit through. That it sounded like Autotune® artifacts slathered all over La Brücken’s vocals was no further help. For a much, much finer pastoral excursion that sounded as natural as breathing as compared to the contrived exercise of “Anonymous” one could hardly do better than “Heaven” which was yet another co-write between Ms. Brücken and The Startled Insects. Yeah, I never heard of them either, but this song has the goods, complete with languid guitars from Charles Reeves and James Watson adding immeasurably to the vibe. Brücken’s near-whispered vocals found just the right level of intimacy for the delicate and beautiful number; as intimate as sweet nothings whispered in your ear.

“Kein Anschluβ” sported an arrangement that had chord progressions that evoked Depeche Mode ca. “Black Celebration”-“Music For The Masses.” It had much more of that Imperial Period Depeche Mode mojo than did “Could Nine.” It added a much needed energy level goose to the second half of the album just when it needed it. As good as it was, the SITD remix on the “Cloud Nine” CD-5 was a case of making a silk purse into a gold brocaded silk purse! The latter was so good the admittedly great album mix now paled in comparison. A Blank + Jones 12″ that was vinyl only also remained subordinate to the SITD remix.

The album returned to a pastoral theme to close out with “The Weakness In Me” and “A Vision In The Sky.” These last two songs were linked not only by a complementary reflective mood, but also by the languorous, zero gravity deep space guitar licks courtesy of session monster/co-writer Gary Lucas. His playing added a brilliant touch of weightlessness to the proceedings, and the stunningly gorgeous abstract glissandos on “The Weakness In Me” made a fantastic song just about perfect. You see, this proved that man did not live by synth alone. As I have maintained for years, it’s the intersection of conventional instrumentation and technology that yields the most fascinating results, though Lucas’ guitar was so heavily treated that it was practically a synth.

The closing “A Vision In The Sky” walked a fine line between melancholy and optimism, with the arrangement skirting the boundary between those two states like the coyest of suitors. At the 3/4 mark, the radiant guitar of Mr. Lucas finally pushed the song into a redemptive hopeful state after adhering to caution for much of its length.

This album was a big relief after the “Item” EP. Part of that disc’s failure came down to two versions of “Sister,” a song written by Humphreys about his recently deceased sister. It’s churlish of me to complain about a sincere tribute, but just watch me do it. The song did the band no favors by sounding exactly like a Listening Pool track! That was most assuredly what this project did not need. Coupled with the failed Propaganda demo of “Cloud Nine” and the two sole bright spots on that EP were the very Kraftwerkian version of “Signals” and “Element Of truth,” the clear winner on that EP.

When they convened for an album three years later, the material was pretty strong and diverse. If the Cat Power cover had me scratching my hear, at least I never felt like fast forwarding past it. Unlike “Anonymous.” The first half was pretty unimpeachable, but near the end, the second half finally got back on track. With the exception of “Cloud Nine,” I really enjoyed all of the guitar used sparingly on the album. If there had been more of a live band vibe here with Humphreys providing a machine-like sheen throughout it, they might have come up with a classic instead of a modest success.

There was chatter in the 2011-2012 period of a second Onetwo album being written, and Brücken’s curse of project discontinuity [Propaganda, Act, and Onetwo never had followups with her] being finally banished, but three factors contributed to its tabling. One supposes that any material may be recycled by Brücken in her solo career.

  1. The continued rise of OMD mk III that happened the very next year would be a constant drain on Humphreys resources going forward.
  2. The “This Happened” concert CD/DVD by Brücken was an important career retrospective that needed to happen.
  3. Finally, the abrupt professional and personal split between Brücken and Humphreys that happened five years ago closed the lid on Onetwo for good. Whatever happened, it happened quickly and with finality; leaving Humphreys fully immersed in the third coming of OMD, which we’ll be investigating next.

Next: …Never Say Never




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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 51]

Onetwo – Instead | 2007 – 3

[continued from last post]

The album opened with a Big Bang. “The Theory Of Everything Part 1” was a cinematic cauldron roiling with anxious dread and by far the most portentous track ever to grace an album with Claudia Brücken singing since the heady days of “Dr. Mabuse.” The effect here really set the listener up for the earthshaking sequel to “A Secret Wish” that we had given up all hope of hearing and the effect of it evaporating into “The Theory Of Everything Part 2” without so much as a dry cough from Ms. Brücken was disappointing. On the other hand, it did show that Paul Humphreys [along with co-writer Jon Russell] could approach that dark miasma of Propaganda quite effectively, if they put their minds to it. As it turned out, their minds were elsewhere.

“The Theory Of Everything Part 2” was a complete volte-face from the 90 second intro we had just heard. It was a delicate pop tune with the luscious Teutonic crooning of Ms. Brücken set over a clockwork modern technopop music bed. Of course, “modern” in this sense meant that Humphreys had fully transitioned to the current fashion of making electronic music; on a computer. Rhythms were loop based and while care was taken to add interest, there’s only so much that can be done to stimulate my ears when making music via software systems. The irony was that is decidedly sounded more “electronic” than the last three albums we had heard from Mr. Humphreys.

“Sequential” was more interesting. In another era, this would have been one of the singles from this album, back when the world was young. James Watson’s guitar integrated beautifully with the Eurosynth creating a hint of John Barry soundtrack vibe here. The methodical rhythm pattern came to the fore on the middle eight when all of the melody aspects dropped out. The dreamlike backing vocals were another big plus. If Billy MacKenzie were still around imagine what he could have done with a duet here!

Following this, one of the album’s big payloads was dropped with “Home [Tonight].” The heartbreaking cinematic intro sets the listener up for the chilly look at a breakup that was heavy on the heroin imagery as it honestly explored its fatalism. The accompaniment was light and minimal there so as not to overpower the emotional weight of the lyrics. Following this the mood lightened with a remix of “Signals,” a track from the “Item” EP given a new mix by future OMD mainman Chuck “Chicky” Reeves. Here, the notion of removing all of the Kraftwerk DNA from the enjoyable [albeit derivative] original mix was eschewed for a lighter technopop touch. I can’t say I enjoyed the chorus FX on Ms. Brücken’s vocals, but in all other aspects, it fit the album better in its new guise.

Then the album delivered another wallop with the first cover version included here; a stunning take of Pink Floyd’s cynical industry song “Have A Cigar.” The music bed substantially reflected co-producer Bob Kraushaar’s ZTT roots, with a song that could effortlessly be mashed up with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Welcome To The Pleasuredome!” In fact, once the song hits the three minute mark, there was no further singing and I’m here to tell you that you can easily sing the lyrics to that FGTH single along with the music here. Sure, it’s a throwback, but the attack reeks of vitality and it almost upstages the rest of the production here, for that matter. The album could have benefited for a little more of such boldness doled out throughout it.

Next: …A Cover No One Expected

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 50]

The long-awaited Claudia Brücken/Paul Humphreys album appeared [finally] in 2007

[continued from last post]

With OMD kaput as of 1998 with only catalog projects to fulfill their Virgin contract, there was also the prospect of the Claudia Brücken/Paul Humphreys project that perpetually flew under the radar for long years. It took years before the project even had a name. I haunted Ms. Brücken’s website for info and it was several years after anticipating something…anything, that the name finally was revealed in 2004, along with talk of an upcoming EP. The pair were then called Onetwo and they were the first band to get distribution from a strange eBay division called Übersonik, that distributed music on the eBay platform. Anything goes in the 21st century music business, I guess! It was probably common knowledge that Brücken and Humphreys were a couple from the late 90s through this period, but I’m so clueless, that this salient fact only registered with me years later.

The first fruits of their collaboration appeared in 2004 with an EP called “Item” which was surprisingly tepid. It was a little too mid-tempo for my tastes. It evidenced a polite reserve that gave it a whiff of The Listening Pool more than any previous Brücken project. The presumable big thing on offer here was the song “Cloud Nine” which DM mainman Martin Gore had written with Brücken for the ill-starred third Propaganda album announced in the very late 90s and subsequently abandoned [and for good reason, judging my what leaked out, that even I heard]. I can’t say it was anything I would have written home about. For what it was worth, Gore played guitar on this recording of the song. It would be another three years before any actual album appeared for sale, this time with no eBay involvement. As I recall, I did not immediately purchase a copy owing to the non-thrilling “Item” EP; the least interesting Claudia Brücken release in my Record Cell.

Next: …They took the time to get it right

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 49]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Navigation:  The OMD B-Sides | 2001 – 3.5

[continued from this post]

As the hand giveth with “Firegun,” it could also take away with “This Town.” Say what you will about OMD’s cover of “Waiting For The Man” on the “Messages” single. I’ll let you decide whether it was a success or not, but it was most definitely an audacious move. The next OMD B-side compiled here was neither.

“This Town” was the evidence that the creative gasoline was running on fumes by this point in the band’s existence. It was the first OMD B-side that was unequivocally weak sauce. It made the airy A-side seem even more artistically towering in comparison. It was an OMD blues song with lazy horns and slide guitar [!] courtesy of Kamil Rustam, who producer Stephen Hague roped into the sessions. It just doesn’t work. What’s even more telling about this track was that it was intended for the album, but when the band were recording the B-side for the “[Forever] Live + Die”  A-dise, the B-side they came up with was the excellent “Flame of Hope” track, thus bumping “This Town” to B-side status. That made sense, but it did result in the first OMD B-side that was very missable. Prior to this, their B-side were usually good to fantastic.

The next B-side here was the extra B-side on the 1988 single “Dreaming.” The 7″ single had a good non-LP B-side in “Satellite,” but the CD5 and 12″ also contained “Gravity Never Failed,” a 1981 track from the “Architecture + Morality” period that had been mothballed, rediscovered, and reconsidered for usage seven years later. When this appeared, seemingly out of  out of nowhere, I always wondered if this had grown out of the song that they had pre-named “Experiments In Vertical Takeoff” but had claimed they never wrote. It was a cheerful tune with none of the trademark choral Mellotron usage that typifies this period, though the bells were a nice touch. The heavy irony of McCluskey’s delivery and the buoyant cheer of the melody seems to point to “Genetic Engineering;” a bit further down the road at that point.

The next B-side jumped right into the “Andy Alone” period of the band. “Sailing On The Seven Seas” was of the era where tracks would be split across two CD singles for better chart manipulation. I bought the first one, but the second one, which folded out to accept two later singles in a triple gatefold case, took me a year or two to find a copy of. I was repaid with an exclusive B-side, also here, called “Burning.” It was a upbeat, dance-oriented number a bit more interesting than all of mid-tempo ballads of 4:20 length that made up the stultifying “Sugar Tax” album. Buzzy synth loops and chugging rhythms set off the vocal samples that added the current seasoning to this 1991 track. Not timeless, OMD, but worth a listen. And for this period, that was something of an accomplishment.

The next B-side here was also from the “Sailing On The Seven Seas” CD5, but the first version of the single. The one that I bought upon is release easily enough. “Sugar Tax” was the title track that wasn’t for the album of the same name. It’s no great shakes as an OMD song and its inclusion here was probably down to it being the title track that few heard to album that sold exceptionally well. The song does traffic with the gospel sounds, that for reasons best known by McCluskey alone, he seemed to be drawn to for the last 25 years like a moth to the flame. Every time he tried something like this, he got his wings burnt. Except for the last time, in which I think the gambit finally paid off, but we’ll get to that later.

Finally, to cap this compilation, they pulled out something that had been too long hidden in the OMD tape closet for the digital era. “(The Angels Keep Turning) The Wheels Of The Universe” was a bonus 7″ included only in the first UK LP pressing of “Junk Culture” but its origins were obviously in the experimental path they were investigating around the time of “Dazzle Ships” and subsequently abandoned when that album failed in the marketplace. This was a ponderous instrumental of lurching menace and sampled choral voices that sounded like a malevolent machine where the tracks eventually dropped out to reveal a serpentine rhythm box abetted with militaristic snare fills. At its conclusion, it ran out of fuel as the track ground down to a painful halt. I was most gratified to see this included here, since in all truth, it should have been a bonus track on the “Junk Culture” CD upon its release. The compilers showed great attention to detail in putting it as the final track.

“Navigation: The OMD B-Sides” was a mostly fantastic selection of some of what this band did best in creating memorable B-sides that are among their finest work. As such, I had to re-assess my 3.0 rating and take it up to 3.5 when all was said and done. After all, five or six tracks here would be mandatory when compiling this bands finest ever work, and if the achievement flags at the 3/4 mark, it does nothing to dispel the majesty of tracks from ’80-’83 which play like an alternate universe greatest hits album from this band who were never better than when they were juxtaposing complex arrangements and ambiguous sentiments as on “Annex” or “Navigation.” With DLX RMS of OMD’s albums still in the unimaginable future, the appearance of the B-Side material here, with deference given to cuts which were vinyl-only, was exactly the sort of thing that I was driven to do myself as a hobby. If I would have made it a complete 2xCD version, I can’t fault what Virgin was able to accomplish with only a single disc to work with.

Next: …Buckle My Shoe

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Pet Shop Boys Ballet Misses Opening Night… Shades of ‘Performance’ Opening Night In 1991

The bete noir of mechanical failure stalls PSB Ballet American premiere

Shades of 1991! I was looking into reviews of the opening night of “The Most Amazing Thing” and discovered that the opening night premiere last night as well as today’s matinee were cancelled due to mechanical failure. The exact same thing happened in 1991, when the first Pet Shop Boys world tour for “Performance” had to be cancelled on opening night in Miami, causing my friends and I to stay another night in Miami to see the show, which went off without a hitch the next night. The more things change…

– 30 –

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Pet Shop Ballet “The Most Incredible Thing” Now On American Stage

“The Most Incredible Thing” premiered in 2011 in England…seven years later, and America’s ready

It pays to pay attention to your blog’s comments! just yesterday, DJ Shelf asked me if I was going to Charlotte in the next ten days to see the American debut of the Pet Shop Boys ballet “The Most Incredible Thing” and not only did I not know it was playing two hours away, I had no idea that PSB had ever written a ballet score! Sure, sure. I knew about their “Battleship Potempkin” score, but this happened in 2011, and was an adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story. The artistic director of Sadler’s Wells had approached the band and asked them about writing a ballet for the company, and the band thought that this story would be an evocative basis for the collaboration. It premiered in Spring of 2011 and was eventually brought back for more shows in the 2012 season at Sadler’s Wells, but until tonight, it has never played elsewhere.

Choreographer Javier de Frutos © Richard Hubert Smith

After writing the score and book, a choreographer was needed to bring it to life. Enter Javier de Frutos.  His CV included controversial works such as “Eternal Damnation of Sancho and Sanchez,” which the BBC declined to air as planned, to more centrist work such as his award-winning revival of “Cabaret” for which he won an Olivier award. He is in Charlotte now, having pushed the Charlotte Ballet through a series of frames necessary for them to perform the work as he envisioned it. Elements of modern dance have been injected into the formerly staid ballet company and I can’t wait to see the results. Though I wax eloquent [hopefully] about the music here, I also have a fondness for the terpsichorean arts that is exceeded by my ballet-loving wife.

Staging from the original Sadler’s Wells production © Hugo Glendinning

When I mentioned this to her last night before a film, she took about three seconds to ask if I wanted to go. Charlotte is only a two hour drive from Asheville, and even with two trips scheduled for April [OMD/Atlanta, a personal trip to PA], it made sense to see a matinee of this since the show has fantastic potential. A phone call later and our friends Elisa + Tom are in for the trip since they also live two hours from Charlotte.

This looks like staging from “Performance,” the first Pet Shop Boys world tour, but it’s from the first staging of “The Most Important Thing”  © Hugo Glendinning

The photos on the Pet Shop Boys website in the ‘Theatre + Film” section of site certainly piqued my interest since the staging suggests some phantasmagorical blend of “Metropolis,” “Brazil,” and more traditional ballet theater. Sadler’s Wells had a 60 piece orchestra playing, but here in Charlotte, the original Pet Shop Boys electronic score will be used instead, understandably. The budget would have shot through the roof, and as this is an elaborately staged show, I accept that decision.

What is fascinating about their score, is that the orchestral version is the common version. Until tonight, the only way to hear the Pet Shop Boys version of the ballet score was to buy the [exorbitantly priced, as usual] Vinyl Factory 3xLP bespoke folio edition [see: right] that will currently set you back $500-1000.  Ouch. So we in The States get to hear it for a fraction of that cost with the show itself as an added bonus! Interested in attending? Tickets can be found here.

Charlotte Ballet: The Most Incredible Thing | US Premiere | 2018

March 9 | Friday | 7:30 PM
March 10 | Saturday | 2 PM
March 10 | Saturday | 7 PM
March 11 | Sunday | 2 PM
March 15 | Thursday | 7:30 PM
March 16 | Friday | 7:30 PM
March 17 | Saturday | 2 PM
March 17 | Saturday | 7 PM
March 18 | Sunday | 2 PM

– 30 –

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 48]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Navigation:  The OMD B-Sides | 2001 – 3.5

[continued from previous post]

The next OMD single appeared just a year after “Dazzle Ships” hit the bins to confusion and a massive drop in sales. OMD were now reacting to that failure, so their music would undergo a sea change; losing it’s willful obscurity and crepuscular shading to become far more pop oriented.

“Locomotion” was OMD having an upbeat soca party [?] in the Caribbean, and the 12″ single had two great non-LP B-Sides to atone for that decision. “Her Body In My Soul” was the best face of the “new OMD sound.” This number was bright, upbeat and danceable, but if we examined it closely, the lyrical content was based on the aftermath of a failed love affair. Little did we know how many of this variety of song OMD would dish out in the ensuing years now that they were getting all emotional with their subject matter in an effort to court appeal. It was here that Andy first mentioned “a black rose in my pocket,” which he maintains is his favored metaphor for a now dead love. [see also: “Stay (The Black Rose And The Universal Wheel)”] The actual production is more squarely dancefloor aimed than previously from this band. It seemed like they were shooting for a vaguely New Order imperial period type of sound, though their artistic DNA definitely colored the proceedings. A sped up harp run sample as evidenced here, is nothing that would make it to a New Order 12″ of the time, but it was keeping with OMD’s penchant for looking backward to history, even when making a sample-based dance track.

Both B-sides on the 12″ of “Locomotion” were included here. This spoke well for the vitality they still had to unleash on their B-sides. “The Avenue” is their final classic B-side from their middle period. The slow, mournful chord sequence that drove this was one of my all time favorites. I love every song that used it. The samples of what sounded like the field recordings made at Stanlow refinery for “Stanlow” were put to one last use here, as the band were aiming for the melancholic “Organisation” vibe that they had not touched for a while… and would scarcely ever touch again. The doom-laden whistling [that can’t be too easy] that McCluskey ended the song with perfectly fit its funereal air. I also loved the squelchy, dubbed out construction sounds that might have been left over from the title cut of “Architecture + Morality.” They would scarcely make anything this good going forward.

Their next single, “Tesla Girls” was another bright and upbeat dance number, but it had the essential OMD geekiness of  the subject matter to coast on considerably. It’s B-Side was the song “Garden City.” Like the A-side, it’s a sample-based pop song with more atmosphere than now common for this band. I especially loved the twangy, Duane Eddy-influenced synth lead. The rhythmic complexity was a treat and we all gasped as McCluskey dropped his first F-bomb here. His split octave vocals were even more exaggerated and pronounced as he was moving at least three octaves here with an exaggerated basso profundo [trying to, any way] that was teamed with a high tenor on the chorus for almost comedic effect. The sampled violin coda over the beatbox breakdown was a cleaner and brighter OMD than the norm, but this new approach quickly superseded the old OMD ways to become the status quo. At least here, I couldn’t argue too hard with the end results.

OMD’s other two singles from “Junk Culture” retained new versions of familiar songs [All Wrapped Up,” “Julia’s Song”], so they did not figure in this collection, probably for space reasons. instead, we jumped ahead from the third “Junk Culture” single to the first “Crush” single. “So In Love” had two non-LP B-sides: “Concrete Hands” and “Maria Gallante.” Neither was world class OMD, but the former perhaps had an edge, and it appeared on this collection. It’s another sample-goosed dance number with a constantly shifting arrangement that’s probably it’s best foot forward. It’s decidedly in the more danceable spirit of the “Junk Culture” tracks, and I would not be surprised if it was written [and maybe even recorded] around that time instead of the 1985 milieu of “Crush.”

“La Femme Accident” was released on a 2×12″ single and I was excited to see this, but when I rushed out and bought a copy, the extra 12″ was just a live version of “Locomotion [live]” b/w “Enola Gay.” I fell for a hype! Fortunately, the non-LP B-Side was no slouch! “Firegun” was yes, another sample-based dance number [are you sensing a pattern here?] but it was a dark example of such. The sense of dynamics employed here suggested “Apollo” from “Junk Culture,” albeit with more interesting lyrics. Plopped down in the relative boredom of the “Crush” album period, this one was a real highlight. Coupled with the delightful A-side, this was the single to buy for two of the best songs of the campaign period in a tasty package.

Next: …The Hasty Wrap Up

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