[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