Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 19]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Junk Culture | 1984 – 3.5

[continued from previous post]

“Junk Culture” opened with something missing since album one; an instrumental. The title track was also their second dalliance with dub reggae [following the “Messages” dub, “Taking Sides Again” on the 10″ single of that title] but at least this time, one could assume that they had been influenced by the band’s recording in Monserrat. This time, they were not recording in England and it was 1984; why not get some of that Duran Duran sun + sand action? New producer Brian Tench [Belle Stars, Bow Wow Wow, and Buck’s Fizz] was in the driver’s seat but for a band that had just had their career momentum wiped clean with the sales of their previous album, opening with an instrumental was a gutsy move showing that there was still some recalcitrance left in the band.

Due to the reliance on the sampling Emulator keyboards, the end result resembled Art Of Noise gone reggae with typical OMD touches. I liked the actual bass guitar that Andy McCluskey had returned to following mostly synth bass the last time out. The band’s penchant for choral patches were moved from the Mellotron to the Emulator; giving their use the thinner digital sheen prevalent at the time. With digital tools coming into vogue, the band would never sound as sonically rich as the second and third albums had. At the time I was enthusiastic about sampling, but that got beaten out of me, eventually, and I can look back at the decision to rely on them as a sea change for the worse. This band would never sound as rich as “Architecture + Morality” or “Organisation” going forward and I’d just have to deal with it. At least the drumming here relied on both programming and live kit as played by Malcolm Holmes for some aural interest. On this album he would be diving into radically new percussive textures for OMD.

The third single released from the album was a real bright spot on side one. “Tesla Girls” showed that OMD could write an upbeat, slightly trendy, dancepop number while imbuing it with touches that only they could provide. First of all, no other band would have such a geeky lyrical conceit. Only OMD would invoke Nikola Tesla in a song about how they were helplessly in thrall to women! The use of stuttering sampler hooks was au courant without sounding like pandering. So on this single, OMD were rushing headfirst into lighter, more typical lyrical subject matter. They even broke the ice with the “L-word” [love] here, but they made any artistic compromises strictly on their own terms. By invoking Tesla and even putting his name in the title, they scored a huge win with this song and managed to create what I would call an OMD classic that still almost made it into the UK top 20. A great showing for the third single pulled form the album.

I can’t be so enthusiastic about their choice of a pre-release single from  this album. “Locomotion” took a sidestep from reggae into soca territory with a live horn section added to the mix, as arranged by Tony Visconti. Malcolm Holmes really went wild on percussion in radical ways here, but the overall song is nothing to write home about. It’s a listenable but ultimately banal pop song about how the singer can’t stay away from a particular woman. There is scant OMD DNA in this one, unlike the preceding tune. But in defiance of my lack of enthusiasm, it did what it was supposed to.  It went to number five un the UK charts, breaking the “Dazzle Ships Curse” and did strong top 20 placings throughout Europe as well. Here in America, it was the first single the band released after moving from Epic [who didn’t have a clue about this band] to A+M Records and it duly got a 7″ and 12″ release as A+M were interested in selling records, though it was still a “low rotation” MTV track which hardly troubled the US charts.

After two singles in a row it was time for a deep cut. “Apollo” was another track that was, on the face of it, another song about being smitten by a female. Similar to “Tesla Girls” albeit lacking in the witty if obscure point of view they invested that song with. The middle eight here, was particularly pedestrian; featuring jangly rhythm guitar and conga percussion. Why then, do I love this song in spite of these damning traits? First and foremost, the song has an incredible dynamic range in its arrangement. The sampled voices chanting “Apollo” in the intro were a better usage of sampling than average for the album. The overripe portamento on the lead synth contrasts nicely with the whipcrack synth percussion and the thunderous, stuttering drum programming. And the jangly rhythm guitar hook sat on it all like a red cherry on top of the whipped cream and ground peanuts topping the ice cream cone that it was. The final brilliant touch I appreciated as well was McCluskey’s split octave double tracked lead vocals. That was an old Bowie trick well played here. Except for the middle eight, I love this track from start to its dazzling cold finish. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I do!

The eclectic side one closed out with the sublime fourth single pulled from the album. “Never Turn Away” managed to really deliver in a gorgeous way, the sort of heart wrenching melody that Paul Humphreys had previously brought to the table with “Souvenir.” Back when “Architecture + Morality” was released, the “youth section” of my local newspaper carried a syndicated story on the band where the writer; perhaps grasping for straws, likened them to “The Beach Boys in outer space.” Having already been a fan I failed to see this metaphor at that time, but the harmonies here that acted as a counterpoint to Humphrey’s breathy lead vocals did have a decidedly Wilsonesque hint to them.

The cascading synth hook acted as the chorus here; making this song a throwback to the band’s now discarded early style. It’s all breathtakingly beautiful even if I can’t begin to tell you what the lyrics are on about. This one was a real slow-burner, with it coming to the forefront of my admiration over the last 20 years. Sadly, this one could only muster number 70 in the UK charts at the time. Then again, it was the fourth single from “Junk Culture.” This in itself was another sign of the band’s capitulation towards “playing the game.” When Virgin had wanted to pull a fourth single [“She’s Leaving”] from “Architecture + Morality,” the band balked and put their feet down, though it did sneak out in Germany, their number two market. By this time, the band would not be so headstrong.

Next: …New Feelings

About postpunkmonk

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17 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 19]

  1. Brian says:

    As singles go, Never Turn Away is head and shoulders above the rest from this era, and I never make an OMD mix without including it. I usually pull out the 12″ for that exercise. My best to you this holiday season, Monk.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Brian – Not only is “Never Turn Away” a totally class act from the band, but I find it criminally underplayed, to the point that it is always welcome to hear it, particularly in its superior extended format. I always loved that OMD were likely to add extra verses to a 12” mix; my kind of luxury! May you have a better 2018 yourself, Brian. It has to be better, right?

      Like

  2. Echorich says:

    I will give you Tesla Girls is a classic OMD song…it’s ebullient execution widened their sound but there was still enough of their “outer edges of pop” sensibility about the song to make it feel/sound right to me. I can imagine, having know actual knowledge here, that it may be a song that had some earlier OMD DNA, but it may also just show that OMD was still going to control their move to the center of Pop at this point…something that they would find it hard to do later on.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Very true. Only OMD could have produced that song in 1984… though I maintain that Human League MK I might have been able to pull off the conceit of it, thought I can’t imagine it that sunny in their hands. Oooooh. Now I want to hear it.

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  3. Richard Anvil says:

    I think it’s interesting to note the order that the songs were written in. My personal favourite is Tesla Girls, which was written before they made the decision to become more commercial, hence its theme harks back to their experimental years. It’s a kind of follow up to Telegraph in style. The other tracks written and recorded before the change were (The Angels Keep Turning) The Wheels Of The Universe, which was included as a free one sided 7” with initial copies of Junk Culture, and The Avenue, a song very much in the style of Romance Of The Telescope, which was relegated to becoming a b side on the 12” of Locomotion after the sea change in style. I totally agree with how using a Fairlight and samples really changed their sound. They actually used it first on Dazzle Ships, at least the newly recorded tracks.
    Never Turn Away I think is one of their weakest singles and Paul Humphreys worst ever vocal track, bit too slow and undynamic, but I personally love the 12” version which is a much stronger version. I only found out recently that the 7” picture disc has a completely different mix which is 4.34 long. It’s not included on the recent album reissue, no-one has ripped and posted it on YouTube and original copies are almost impossible to come by so I’ve no idea if it is a longer album version or an edited 12” version or something completely different. I think the band themselves have forgotten it exists.
    Locomotion was ok, built around a tune idea by Gordian Troeller (the band’s manager), so it’s easy to see why it doesn’t fit the usual OMD sound. Not my favourite either. Tesla Girls is my favourite single because it’s closer to OMD in theme and sound and rather fun. Didn’t it gain some interest in the US? There are also more versions of this song than any other in the OMD catalogue;
    original Junk Culture album version (1984) – 3:51
    7″ edit (1984) – 3.26
    12″ version (1984) – 4.25
    12″ ‘extra remix’ (1984) – 3.37
    12″ (US only) ‘specially remixed version’ (1984) 5.03 – also includes an instrumental version (4.43) and a ‘video version’ (3.26)
    compilation album version – 3.34 (used on compilation albums such as The Best of OMD and The OMD Singles)
    ‘extended mix’ – 4.44, as featured on the So80s OMD remix compilation album (2011)
    Junk Culture Deluxe re-issue version (2015) – 3.36 (replacing the original album track)
    Highland Studios Demo (1983) – 4.01, bonus track featured on Junk Culture deluxe re-issue (2015)

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Richard Anvil – Now that’s a comment! You’d just written a post that I would have called “ A Young Person’s Guide To ‘Tesla Girls’ had you not beaten me to the punch! You make a persuasive argument about the timeline of the writing being very significant to the devolution f the resulting songs. Once you know that “Locomotion” was written last, it all makes a sad kind of sense. Back to the 12” singles of “Tesla Girls,” though!

      I first bought the UK first 12” with what I thought was a very modest remix. I had expected something pretty audacious given the scratch mix dance format of the song at its core. I was surprised to see the US 12” single a few months later, but the “instrumental version” and “video version” made me pick it up and when I played it at home I was shocked to hear the radical new version that came out of my speakers. It was at this time that we we starting to get twelve inch singles which were actually re-recordings by the band instead of mere remixes; as a precursor to the DJ era of mixing, where the DJ would in effect cover the song and maybe use just one element [usually vocal] from the original recording. At first I thought this was exciting and picked my favorite 12” mixes from 1984 as being Spandau Ballet’s “ I’ll Fly For You [glide mix]” and the US “Tesla Girls” 12” mix. But the bloom soon faded from this particular rose! In the 90s I pretty much despised all of the 12” mixes that crossed my path.

      It was not until the 21st century and the appearance of Discogs when I even found out about the second UK 12” of “Tesla Girls” but I had not bothered to secure a copy since I suspect d that it may just have been the US 12” mix. It’s fascinating to confirm that it most definitely isn’t, so now I need to buy one!

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  4. Richard Anvil says:

    I should have mentioned that the ‘extra remix’ and ‘specially remixed version’ are the same version just one is edited shorter. It is in reality a totally rerecorded version rather than remixed with McClusky even redoing his vocals to fit the new tempo.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Richard Anvil – Being a completist, I still need one. And thanks for mentioning the Blank + Jones project as well. I assume that these things will be cut and dried, but it’s never that easy.

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  5. JT says:

    Monk, I am surprised that you didn’t mention that the instrumental Junk Culture is almost completely plagiarized from a diagetic cut on the Blade Runner soundtrack. It isn’t on any of the released soundtrack versions, but listen carefully to the scene where Deckard is in the nightclub looking for Taffy and the replicant Zhora and you will hear it. It is also heard loud and clear during the menus on one of the bonus discs for the 2007 blu-ray of Blade Runner. Absolutely unmistakable. I always wondered what the story behind this was, and if OMD ever got in trouble for it.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – Phew! I Finally caught one of your comments in the spam filter! I swear I look there daily [specifically to find your comments] and haven’t seen one in ages. As I neither have the OST for “Blade Runner” or the film on anything but a laserdisc [not seen in decades] I did not make the connection, but it’s not sampled from the film or its soundtrack. Notes in the discography of OMD’s current website reveal that it’s from the Emulator’s sample library given freely to all purchasers of the device. Obviously including Vangelis… or should I say “Xangelix!” [insert stinger]

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      • JT says:

        Oohh, I looked at the link and am calling bullshit on this (on their part, not yours). Seems like OMD said that to ret-con their gaffe and save face. I’ve owned half-a-dozen E-Mu products in my life (including an Emulator III) and there’s nothing this complex in the sample library. It isn’t just the rhythm bed that OMD used, it’s the entire trumpet melody. Sometimes there are demo sequences included with samplers, but to use a demo sequence ona release is the ultimate in cheap laziness. Artists as high-profile as OMD and Vangelis wouldn’t just use a preset demo sequence from the E-mu library on a major release. That sort of thing was like a code of honor in those days; thou shalt make thy own tracks. Thou shalt not lazily use preset demo sequences from thy sample library. I mean, if that was the case, everyone who had an EII would know that riff back and forward and anyone who used it on a record would be a laughing stock. Lemme see if I can rip the track from Blade Runner and I’ll send it to you.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          JT – What th’ hell…!!! Your comment didn’t get caught in the spam filter! This is the first time that’s not happened for what… 18 months? I dunno about OMD being that into sound design at any point past “Dazzle Ships.” Early on maybe, but don’t forget; even their first keyboard was a Korg Preset [and they still used it on this album].Those guys are super pragmatic. They throw everything on a Roland Phantom in concert now since who has time for anything else? I have to say that in the mid-80s I heard a TON of presets and library samples. Not just on their records. Everyone used them. Usually to their detriment, but I think that most artists given a technological crutch, like an expensive sampling keyboard, will hit that sample library the very first thing! Then we got, the very next year, the ultimate expression of this laziness; Giorgio Moroder using the most overused synth cliche of the 80s – the dreaded 8-bit orchestra hit – on the Moroder/Oakey album 238 times… on just one song! Keep us posted on this thread.

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          • JT says:

            Ah, you misunderstand. Yes, a lot of people used preset *sounds* in their music. That was very common, then and today. But sometimes when a sample library disk was bought for a sampler that had an on-board sequencer, the sound designers who made the sample library disk would use the sequencer create a little song or two to show off how useful the particular sounds on that particular disk could be. In the posting you linked to above, OMD appears to be claiming that the composition in question was one of these factory-sequenced songs. My point was that neither they, nor Vangelis, nor anyone else with half an atom of creativity in their pinky would use one of these demo songs on a release, even if they did gleefully and frequently use the component sounds. And of course, using the component sounds is why they bought the disks in the first place, but using the demo sequence/song designed to spotlight these sounds is unthinkable.

            So, OMD did not just use a present *sound* in this case, but a whole rhythm bed, melody, and counterpoint! *A whole section of the song*. For those of you following along at home, if you have the 2007 5-disc Bly-Ray of Blade Runner, listen to the first 30 seconds of the featurette about costume design on disc 4 and you’ll hear Junk Culture, loud and clear, two years before the OMD album was released.

            Compare it to Junk Culture, especially where the trumpet begins, behind Ridley speaking (starting at about 12 seconds in). Seems to me that the bew-bew-bew-bew synth rhythm thing *might* have been part of an Emulator sound library, but it’s more of a synth-type sound than something that would be sampled; I’d guess it’s origins to be more Moog/Roland/ARP than E-mu. Meanwhile, the trumpet that starts at about 0:12 is *nearly* the same riff as on JC, but not identical, meaning that it is not part of an E-mu demo sequence. If I were giving a deposition, I’m afraid OMD would be in a bit of trouble.

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            • postpunkmonk says:

              JT – Whipping out the 1st “dir. cut” LD now. Yeah, it’s the exact Syndrum loop. I concur that it’s not part of a “sample library” as no one would have wanted to sample Syndrums that early in the game. They had been cast out of fashion by 1980 as a signifier of the disco era. But the horn riff , while similar, differs.

              Here’s my take on it. OMD were geeks. Probably science fiction geeks. Heck, it’s possible that exposure to the 1982 film may have sparked the writing of “Genetic Engineering.” Then there’s Gary Numan, who plowed his Blade Runner furrow for at least three-four years there himself. Far more boldly than OMD might have. He went so far as to hire Dick Morrissey to play sax on his albums for a while and flat out sampled the film for a few numbers. I can see OMD hearing that cue as a jumping off point for “Junk Culture.” The Japanese samples [they sound Japanese to me] also give it a whiff of Blade Runner DNA if you think about it. They fleshed it out melodically a bit more than the rather spartan cue itself. The sampler countermelody and choral blasts [a by then tried and true OMD production gambit] took it a lot further down the road. It’s derivative, but I’d kick it out of Copyright Court®. It’s no “My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine!”

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  6. Gavin says:

    The single choices were rather odd for this album I think.
    I have always LOATHED the song Locomotion and never play it.
    Tesla Girls I like a lot,though much prefer the b-sides to the 12″ single releases,Garden City being a fave.
    Never Turn Away 12″ is great.I am sure I have the picture disc too,will check.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – Well, it seems a lot of OMD fans dislike “Locomotion.” Their manager co-wrote it with them so he can shoulder some of the blame. But you’re right. The B-sides here were far better than the A-side. I also bought the CD-3 version of the 12″ single when Virgin reissued some of their 12″ singles on CD format back in the late 80s. Sigh. I thought that would never end. And “Garden City” was long a favorite of mine from day one! It was shocking hearing Andy drop the F-bomb in that one, back in the day. So you have the PD of “Never Turn Away?” I only found out about the extended edit to that when the kerfuffle arose regarding the track listings for the DLX RM of “Junk Culture” a few years back! Please report back on what it’s like as it goes for a small fortune and no one seems to have it! I have some OMD PDs but not that one [I think]. I generally never bought PDs on release but years later did bother for bands like OMD, Visage, Toyah, and Ultravox when I ran across them in catalogs. You know… core collections.

      Like

      • JT says:

        Is there a question about Never Turn Away on the Junk Culture reissue? I have that. I guess I am no one. haha. I’m unfamiliar with the deep minutiae of OMD mixes from this era, but I can report that the track labeled 12″ Version on disc 2 is 6:29 in length, if that helps. Is there an easy way to ID this mix sonically (i.e. a certain musical change or other sonic event that happens at a certain time)?

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