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The next OMD album appeared right on time, as if dispensed by a musical conveyor belt of some kind. It was the summer of 1985 when I spotted the new OMD single in the import bins at Murmur Records. The 12″ single was the first ever not to sport a Peter Saville cover. This time, the band had been given their public face by design house XL, fresh from all of the ZTT design that had burned its way into our consciousness the previous year. I didn’t think much of this at the time, but now knowing more about Saville personally, suggests that he walked away from the OMD account. I would imagine that Saville did not want to be associated with his old friends losing the plot.
Although “Junk Culture” had been the first OMD album released on CD format, in 1984 I was still vinyl only. I bought that album on CD later. “Crush” was the first one I’d hear only on CD. In doing so, that kept with the Mid-80s Malaise® trend that saw all sorts of acts I liked come off of a run of strong vinyl albums with watered down, compromised CDs, once I had a CD player by 1985. It was pretty common. This album would carry the tradition of a new producer behind the desk; they had never worked with one twice. This time it was Stephen Hague; known to me for his production of four records in my Record Cell: “Madame Butterfly” by Malcolm McLaren, both of the Slow Children albums, and the Hilary “Kinetic” EP. All of these were fine records, but this album began to make me see Hague through different colored glasses.
The lead off single was “So In Love.” For a band that had resisted using the word “love” for many years, it seemed like they wasted no time in working it into the very title of their next single. The tune began with what sounded like another stab at using the wind chime sample that was used in the intro to “Talking Loud + Clear,” but the end result has none of the charm of that song. This was a slick, smooth, fibre-free capsule of song. Designed to move quickly through your system and be eliminated after failing to provide any nutrients in the bargain. Musical junk food. Capped off with an incredibly MOR sax solo which would be at home on a Culture Club record. The synths were bland washes of sound with toothless crooning from McCluskey. His falsetto harmony backing vocals were salt in my wounds.
The next track was only slightly better. “Secret” was a Paul Humphreys ballad, but while “Souvenir” had been immense and even “Never Turn Away” at least gorgeous and haunting, this was facile pop music. It had a slightly more interesting arrangement, but at the end of the day it was still chaff of a kind I had never heard before from OMD. I didn’t care for “Dancing” from the debut album, but there’s no way it could have been mistaken for the sappy songs of the kind which had been picked to open up the album.
“You heard a message and the message was clear
And all the time you wipe away that tear
All want it to hold your hand
To see the sun and walk the sand
You make me sad and you make me glad
And now you see all my secret is this love
Is love, is love,
All my secret is this love” – Secret
Ouch! That makes Paul McCartney look like a genius!
Unfortunately, “Secret” was followed by an even worse song. Doggerel like “Bloc Bloc Bloc” was clearly OMD’s worst song ever [at least by this point of the disc]. Nonsense couplets carelessly sung over a tremolo guitar riff and a dead-on-arrival bass synth patch were shocking coming from this band who used to take great care of what they bothered to record. It’s strictly B-side material. And this would be poor B-side material from this band!
Things began to pick up a bit by track four. “Women III” was the closest thing to an interesting song yet from this band thus far. The verses were sing-songy, but at least the lyrics were an intriguing character study that seemed like some thought had been put into the writing. The loping, propulsive beat would get revisited in several years with one of OMD’s biggest hits, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, at least “Women III” had a synth hook powerful enough, that even executing it on a Fairlight didn’t harm it too much.
It remained until the last song on “side one” until OMD offered something that seemed like growth of the positive kind. The title track was a dreary mood piece with McCluskey sounding so depressed it seemed like he was going to expire any second. The rhythms for the song were based on a sample loop excerpted from Japanese ads that the band had recorded earlier on a visit there. The band’s new horn section earned their keep on this one with bleary trumpets that fit the numbly dissolute song like a glove. It sounded like dub reggae played at 16 2/3 speed [only really old folks know about this record speed]. In a year when Morrissey and The Smiths were lauded for defining new vistas in depression set to music, OMD calmly made them look like beginners while no one was paying any attention. Kudos to McCluskey for dropping the F-bomb [OMD’s second following B-side “Garden City”] so exhaustedly slurred in the lyrics, few would have noticed it.
Next: …Get The Led Out