Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 22]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Crush | 1985 – 2

[continued from this post]

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



About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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12 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 22]

  1. Echorich says:

    Crush certainly did that…crush any hope I had that OMD might find their way back. Hell, I wasn’t even referring to them using their name anymore, only their American friendly initials. So In Love is the most empty pop song of it’s time. You can see the graph paper it was plotted on in it’s sound. It lacks any real compositional truth.
    I feel like if you took away all the Hague-y-ness of Secret’s production, there is a skeleton of classic OMD song. Slow it down or not, remove some of the layers of sound, it could be heard as a sad unrequited song. As presented on Crush it ends up being lightweight and obviously what was determined to be the best option to sell singles. In contrast Souvenir is positively haunting. Listening to both 30+ years later, the Fairlight and Emulator sound is just way too unemotional. Those analog synths on Souvenir just warm your heart.


  2. Brian says:

    This will sound a little bit like my Let’s Dance argument, but I didn’t have the same dislike for Crush as you boys at the outset. Due to my age, my first album was Junk Culture. My excitement for Crush had me at the record store the day it came out. I didn’t have the first four albums and all of that history to have that “crushing” moment you had when this one was played for the first time. I didn’t know I should have been disappointed by the artwork. When I hear these songs now, it’s pure nostalgia. I think of literally running to my record player that day and thinking the lyrics to Women III were brilliant. I can feel that excitement even as I’m typing. I have all of the 12″ singles from this era… multiples versions of some songs in fact… the exception being Bloc Bloc Bloc.I didn’t even realize it was a single until I read your piece today. That was a big surprise. Having said all that, in time, I did eventually discover those first four albums. Crush and the singles, for the most part, were put away after that. I don’t consider this their worst album, but even I came to realize it’s a very distant sixth of the first six albums.

    I fear you have some very tough writing ahead of you until you get to about 2010.


    • Tim says:

      I didn’t hear the first couple of albums either before hearing the ”hit” phase. These guys are like Yazoo for me, I just don’t get their success – at any stage of their career. I’ve tried and the bug just doesn’t take.


      • postpunkmonk says:

        Tim – I know first hand that there are some highly resistant to the OMD virus. Even as I apple seeded OMD to most of my friends, Mr. Ware just never got them either, even as we both obsessed over almost the exact same bands otherwise.


        • Mr. Ware says:

          Lord knows I’ve tried. Really really tried.


          • postpunkmonk says:

            Mr. Ware – Sacre Bleu! A comment from Mr. Ware on a big fat OMD thread?! Who expected that?


            • Mr. Ware says:

              I’m reading and enjoying all of it. I’m not familiar with many of the deep cuts discussed, but I’m well acquainted with all the singles. I listened to all the samples you embedded I your posts when reviewing their last two albums. You can’t be the Post Punk Monk’s pal for over 30 years and not know your OMD.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Brian – All’s fair in music fandom. I’m certain that I appall most Suede fans with my unabashed love for their “Head Music” album that no real Suede fans could rate! Hey, like you, it was the first one I heard. As much as I love “Dog Man Star” and consider it a modern classic it still has to compete with “Head Music” in my mind… and fail! And “Bloc Bloc Bloc” was never a single. I don’t know where you picked that up. With my hasty writing, I could have been at fault, but I reviewed the post and I mentioned that it would have been a poor B-side but there is was on the album when it clearly would not have passed OMD quality control in the past.


  3. I can totally understand Brian’s point of view on OMD, as that has been my experience with a few bands — you find something you like from them, then explore their back catalog and either reject it as too different or embrace it and learn to hate the stuff you first picked up on. In Doctor Who fandom, we have a similar phenomenon called “your first Doctor syndrome,” where the first actor you saw as the Doctor is the standard-bearer, and everyone else either falls short (usually) or — occasionally — surpasses your entry-point to the show (rare, but it does happen).

    In my case, I listened to the first album and enjoyed it while casting my eyes perhaps a bit over-my-glasses at how blatantly they were borrowing from Kraftwerk, and stayed with them closely for the next two albums. I’m not sure why it took me quite some time to get Dazzle Ships, as I was aware of and enjoyed “Telegraph,” but it was probably poverty or dating or trying to date while being poor or some such. The band seemed to me to be ticking along satisfactorily so there wasn’t as much rush … maybe I was busy obsessing over some other musical love at the time …

    In any event, time passed and suddenly this terrible pop pablum became popular and I was shocked to hear it was OMD. I seem to remember thinking that they had “sold out to the man” like several other bands at the time and promptly replaced them with some other stuff I was more into at the moment. To me, it seemed obvious they were cashing in and writing specifically for radio play. I didn’t pick up on them again until Sugar Tax came out, but that’s a story I’ll continue when we get there. I did eventually get around to buying and loving Dazzle Ships, though.


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