Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 21]

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

[continued from previous post]

Fortunately, that misstep was followed with my favorite song on the album. “White Trash” was OMD pushing the emotional envelope further than they had previously dared on this album with a vicious takedown of a femme fatale who obviouly did him wrong. The OMD website discography page for this album curtly states that “White Trash is about an ex-friend of Andy’s.” Rowr!

Here was another reggae beat programmed to sound like a chugging train, complete with sampled train whistles, but the vibe here was unsettling, with foreboding chorus samples amid chittering animal noises [sounding like Humphreys’ JP8] in the mix competing with the rhythmic samples of McCluskey repeating “trash…trash…trash…trash…trash…trash…trash…trash…trash.” The intro used one of the few examples of synth bass on the album; moving serpentine through the intro, only to seamlessly transition to bass guitar once the song got past its tumultuous intro and locked into its skanking groove. The vibe there was more than a little redolent of Talking Heads “Drugs” from “Fear Of Music.” Both cuts were dub-influenced and I’d bet that it was part of the inspiration for this song’s sound. This song was an example of OMD stepping far outside their comfort zone and coming up aces.

The album’s second single was closing out the album. “Talking Loud + Clear” charted well following “Locomotion” and making number 11 in the UK charts and 18 in the [West] German charts. The lovely, musicbox-like track was the first tune the band composed on the Fairlight CMI [here was an album with Fairlights and Emulators] and it sounds like they were learning “Page R” mode while developing this song. The heavily distorted samples int he intro and outro sound like they might be wind chimes before the effects were added. It’s possible the only “real” instrument here was the gorgeous soprano sax Martin Cooper [who co-wrote the song with Paul + Andy] played here; my favorite of his many solos on this album.

The was a love song to contrast with all of the “hate songs” on side two of the album. Moreover, it was more smartly realized than the somewhat frivolous songs about women [I can’t call them love songs, really] on side one. It was a delicate evocation of the tender, first flowering of a love affair, and I can’t listen to it now without remembering a similar circumstance in my life when I had first met my wife and a quiet morning together laid the foundation of our relationship. I certainly hope that anyone reading this can listen to it and recall a similar moment in their own lives.  This is the sort of archetypal power that the band were trafficking in here. It was straightforward, powerful closure to a lively, eclectic album that had seen the band transitioning from their former hardline stance to something perceived as more conciliatory following the poor sales of the previous album.


When I bought this album in 1984, I got the initial UK pressing on LP, the first 5000 of which contained a bonus 7″ single. Entitled “[The Angels Keep Turning] The Wheels Of The Universe,” it was a portentous instrumental that could have been easily included on “Dazzle Ships,” from the sound of it. Thunderous snare drums and sampled massed choral vocals over a foreboding cinematic vibe that felt like some leviathan rising out of the sea to lay waste to civilization. An excellent instrumental B-side from the band’s earlier era, but clearly not part and parcel of their “new trend.” Its inclusion for the faithful [for who else bought an OMD album soon enough to get the first pressing of 5000 copies] acted as reassurance even as the pre-release single sent out troubling waves that this band was still the old OMD that was known and loved among their fans. And it goosed first week sales enough to have “Junk Culture” enter the charts at a healthy number nine position, so… mission accomplished.


This album veers all over the place while mapping out new emotional territory for this most reserved and abstract of bands. There were love songs included for the first time, but none too sappy; at least for now. There were at least as many if not more songs of confusion, conflict, and truculence. The latter, especially “White Trash,” was a bracing and surprising addition to their artistic salvo. That the band were accessing their human feelings, which they had previously quarantined off limits, I viewed at the time and even now, as surprising and positive growth. Only the songs with live horns [hmmm…] failed to convince, but those horns were very impactful on the next few years for this band. When taking to the road to promote his, the thought occurred that they would need a horn section, and thus Graeme + Neil Weir were rolled into the OMD band for several years; influencing future albums to come.

I was smitten fairly hard with “Junk Culture.” There were years to come where it often vied with “Organisation” as my second favorite OMD album. It rambles all over the place on side one, while offering enough OMD DNA mixed with new experiments to earn my endorsement. Side two, I like even more, as it forms a dark brooding glimpse at the flipside of love from the least likely source at the time. And when OMD turn brutish, as on the seething “White Trash,” I can’t help but be impressed that they let that one out into the world.

So OMD had had their wings clipped the prior year and decided to do some triangulation with “the marketplace.” On the basis of this album, I’d call it successful work, in that there’s enough of the old magic jostling cheek-by-jowel with startling new developments to  engage my interest. I was out of the loop culturally on the frantic changes the band were making to regain their sales and audience that they were used to. It’s important to state at the time that I was a fan in the Southeast United States. OMD’s chart fortunes in the UK and Europe were at best academic to me. To me, they were yet another New Wave cult band I cherished to the sound of crickets on the US charts, which barely intersected with my tastes in music even at the best of times. But that would be changing

Next: …The Hague Years

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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2 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 21]

  1. Echorich says:

    Junk Culture has positives and negatives. I have warmed to it more over the last couple of decades…those two AM led OMD albums will do that to you. I am not fully convinced that OMD and the Fairlight CMI were ever really meant to be brought together. Having said that they have become adept manipulators of “soft synths” in the New Millennium.
    But we are about to embark on “The Devil’s Contract” years, and I certainly have opinions on that.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – While being initially excited about sampling, I ultimately did not like it because it was typically used as a crutch that was quickly degenerated into biting hooks from earlier, better records. The quality of its sound was also much less powerful than the rich analog synthesizers they typically replaced.

      Like

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