Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 24]

“New Look” OMD for… Calvin Klein®

[continued from last post]

So after losing 90% of their UK audience following, “Dazzle Ships,” OMD had been concerned with “breaking in America.” The heat was on and the large and lucrative American market had been, until their singing with A+M Records, completely resistant to their cult with a lower case “c” sound. The “Junk Culture” campaign was not successful, but I can’t deny that it must have raised their profile to at least a degree or two. With “Locomotion” 12” and 7” singles so plentiful that imports were not necessary [except for early buyers like myself] and a unique US 12” of “Tesla Girls” out there, OMD on A+M felt a lot more successful than their three album period on Epic had been.

With “Crush,” the intent to crack the American market had obviously come to the forefront of things. Enlisting American producer Stephen Hague was a big step in this direction. For many years, I felt that he was perhaps the guiding hand behind the aesthetic moves that resulted in OMD’s most ordinary album ever, but today I’m not so sure. I came to that perhaps erroneous conclusion due to so many bands working with Hague in the mid-80s and producing pablum, but when I think about it in retrospect, today, the fact remained that prior to “Crush,” all of the records that Hague had previously produced or co-prodcuced were fine stuff. Now, I am of the opinion that Hague may be the kind of producer who amplifies and facilitates his artists’ vision rather than imposing his own; an admirable trait in a producer.

Rather, I think the blame for the crushing banality [you saw that coming, right?] of the 1985 OMD album can be laid at the feet of the band themselves, who were under real financial pressures to deliver no matter what the cost. In spite of healthy sales, they were still in debt to their Virgin due to the fairly typical contract they signed as teenagers. Remember that record labels always were fully legal loan-sharking operations. This ultimately saw the band writing some really bland songs that would have been inconceivable as OMD tracks two years prior. Tellingly, the “So In Love” single was among the last things written during the album’s recording. Like the previous album’s “Locomotion,” it was another case of the band sharing a co-writing credit with producer Hague [it was manager Gordian Troeller for “Locomotion”].

That the compromise was successful can be ascertained by looking at the UK/US charting for the single. “So In Love” reached number 27 in the UK charts [a poor UK single showing for the band] but it broke through to chart at exactly one spot higher on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts. So after five years, a line had been crossed in the sand and OMD gained some much desired [we’ll reserve judgement on whether it was needed or not] commercial traction in the biggest market where they had had no success previously. I got wind that something was up when the video for “So In Love” got into medium rotation on MTV; a shocking barometer of commercial acceptance, and certainly one I was not accustomed to seeing. Previously, I had relied on “Night Flight” profiles on OMD to get the scant copies of their video clips. I had gotten “Locomotion” by taping MTV in the dead of night. It felt strange, but I could now mention OMD and many Americans would have an inkling.

“Secret” still made the Hot 100, further down the charts with a peak of 63 while the UK showing was better at number 34. Still far from a day at at the beach for OMD. The best single from the album, “La Femme Accident,” was not released in the US as an A-side, but the UK charting showed a continued downward trend at number 42. In every case, the three singles fared better in Germany, their number two market. Usually by a factor of ten chart places or so. Still, the singles were underperforming compared to what OMD were used to in their core markets even as they were making comparatively huge strides in the heretofore untapped American market. Given that McCluskey and Humphries had both wed American ladies, met on their earlier tours here, one could imagine that this desire to prove themselves to their wives  might have also been a motivating factor in their concentration on the US market. For me, there were unexpected side benefits to all of this compromise.

Next: …OMD Live And In My Face

About postpunkmonk

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9 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 24]

  1. Dave Myrvold says:

    Just wanted to say your posts are always excellent. Only blog on the net I always follow. Thanks.

    Like

  2. Tim says:

    I always thought that OMD was picking up airplay on MTV at this point due to their association with soundtracks for John Hughes movies.

    Like

  3. Jordan says:

    After Junk Culture I gave up on OMD and never came back. But I did enjoy Secret as a sort of sequel to Souvenir. Paul has a weak voice but that’s part of its appeal. If you can find the demo of Souvenir his voice is truly off.

    I never heard of Hague before 84 but judging by his work with New Order. On True Faith and 1963 ( one of the best NO songs ever, as a B side ? ) I thought he was a stellar producer and co writer.

    What else has he done pre 84?

    I cannot hold it against OMD for trying and in a way succeeding in cracking the USA. They were in debt. They wanted to make money. They must have been acutely aware that bands such as The Cure, Simple Minds,Depeche Mode and New Order we’re kicking their ass. And with decent if not their best music.

    What was the missing link? It could not have been just trying to write bland music for the market. I think OMD ran out of ideas. It’s as simple as that.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Jordan – You make a number of extremely salient points. One of which I will address in the next post in some detail.

      Until then, Yes, Paul’s wimpy songs/singing held a special place for me in OMD’s dynamic. It was apparent after “Souvenir” that this was his forte within the band. And it was horribly weak, wet, singing…but perfect accompaniment to the more ethereal songs. “Souvenir” is still on eof my top OMD songs that I never tire of. Singing was never the strong point of OMD. I consider McCluskey to be the male equivalent to Clare Grogan; a throat warbler and an acquired taste. I like them both but I can see others deferring. Roland Gift is what I would call a deep throat warbler, and I cannot listen to him sing without discomfort. The same with Morrissey, and the latter loves to oversing to really twist the knife for me. When Moby “remixed” “Souvenir” in 1998 it was an inferior version of the song in terms of sound design [as usual the rhythm track was made much weaker as per the Moby ethos], but Humphreys re-recorded the vocal for it and it shows what years of practice had achieved.

      Here were the Stephen Hague productions I was already familiar with:

        Slow Children – Same [1981]
        Slow Children – Mad About Town [1982]
        Kilary – Kinetic [1983]
        Malcolm McLaren – Madame Butterfly [1984]

      They were all enjoyable records, though not quite up to OMD [at their best] caliber. Yeah, when given the brief to “break New Order in America” [as he had already proven himself with OMD by that time] Hague sure delivered top quality work!

      Re: “Ass kicking” I would shy away from stating that Simple Minds in 1985 were kicking anybody’s ass except their own. As weak as “Crush” was, I think it has more merit than “Once Upon A Time.” The poorest OMD album [and there is worse to come] is still something I’d rather listen to than the poorest Simple Minds album.

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      • Jordan says:

        Yes. I questioned as I wrote Simple Minds that you would come back to me for that one.

        Another band I left after 85 and never came back. Once Upon was truly bombastic but with a key difference in comparison to OMD.

        It allowed SM to go big. Worldwide.

        SM were playing large arenas and stadiums by then. Once Upon broke them big time in the USA and though they sold their souls and were at the creative abyss, they were huge with record sales to match.

        They both had in common the all important songs in a soundtrack to help in the Usa.

        OMD at their worst in those years were no where near that size. They were a support act for those bands and still were touring large theatres and maybe smaller arenas. I know since I saw them live in that era.

        As far as coming from a difficult or creative era such as DS to Junk to Crush and loosing the plot. You could use The Cure as an example. They also came from producing Faith or Pornography ( difficult and sullen albums) to create decent and massively popular music at the same time as OMD lost it.

        That is why I made the comment about OMD running out of ideas.

        U2 with Joshua Tree explicitly tried to break America and it worked. The album was not my style but it was a great one.

        If you run out of ideas but sell 15 million albums with a commercial producer. Well. You can say that you sold out but that big mansion your living in sure helps.

        I still followed OMD through the decade but outside of the occasional song I felt they had lost it and I moved on.

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  4. Echorich says:

    Oh “Ameri-scendance”… so many bands of the 80s lost the plot attempting this feat. Making it in America, really making it – Top 10 songs and albums – usually means exchanging your stripes for solid colors, removing any vestige of experimentation and embracing chorus and verse. It’s rare that making it big in America was ever the natural trajectory of any of the bands I loved in the 70s, 80s, or 90s for that matter.
    I did really like the limited 2×7” gatefold of So In Love. Maria Gallante is a sweet bit of naive Pop.

    Like

    • Gavin says:

      Echorich-like you,I really treasure my double 7″ of “So in Love”,especially “Concrete Hands” and “White Trash(live)”.I also have the 12″ pic disc which looks great.
      I must be in the minority here,as I am very fond of “So in Love” and quite a bit of the rest of “Crush” too.I don’t feel the same level of cringe when I hear “Hold You” as everyone else seems to.The video album that goes along with “Crush” is an interesting piece,still have my VHS but not watched it in years.
      I saw the band live in Liverpool,our home city,on the “Crush Tour” and still have the beautiful glossy tour book from the event,one of the best in my collection.

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