[continued from last post]
The next OMD album, came in fast on the heels of their earlier Hughes Film top five smash, but as with Hughes’ earlier dalliance with Simple Minds, the big hit single was saved for the all-important soundtrack album. It would not be on the artists’ next original album of material. In a turn of events that showed how OMD’s status had changed in America, the new album was purchased on domestic CD. To date, every OMD CD in my collection for the albums prior to this, had been purchased as costly imports. “The Pacific Age” was an album of theirs where I can’t say I’ve ever seen an import pressing of any kind.
The album opened with the overly busy and fussy would-be single “Stay [The Black Rose + The Universal Wheel].” OMD were convinced that this one was single material but Virgin had other, more dangerous ideas. The frantic, busy arrangement sounded like a case of “too many cooks” syndrome. Worse, the song itself was no great shakes, and the end result smacked of the sort of desperation that was OMD’s stock-in-trade during their frantic “break America” phase. McCluskey has said that the first ten song written were the album. End of discussion. There was no time for any careful and considered writing phase. They were grinding it out like sausage by this point, as if the now slick female backing vocals added to the end result said anything less.
Fortunately, the next song was one of the best on offer here. “[Forever] Live + Die” had been the lead-off pre-release single and echoing “Souvenir,” it was a Paul Humphreys lead vocal. Humphreys had co-written the track with the Weir brothers and it contained enough of the shimmery evanescence that had made “Souvenir” such a beguiling proposition. It’s not quite as otherworldly or sumptuous, but it’s trying, and next to OMD’s recent efforts, succeeding reasonably. The downside here were the horn charts in the middle eight [which sounded like samplers]. They were a little rote but not enough to seriously damage the fine song. The market also thought so with the single doing brisk top ten to top twenty business all over the world; including a number 19 placement in America, making it their second best selling single here.
After that high point, the levels of accomplishment stayed high with the title track to “The Pacific Age.” The stately, portentous arrangement of sampled strings walked through the door that “The Native Daughters Of The Golden West” had opened and made it truly something that reflected OMD. Only these guys would have written a song about the balance of world financial power shifting to Asia. There’s a strong Ennio Morricone vibe to it all which feels right with the band.
I was shocked upon hearing “The Dead Girls” in 1986. It was the first time that OMD had deliberately made a self-pastiche and in 1986, that smacked of desperation. It was nothing more than the whole of “Architecture + Morality” thrown into a blender and re-constructed with samplers. It hits its marks and ticks all of the boxes. Chorus samples, Catholicism, military drums. Check. Check. Check. I do like the medieval quality to some of the synth lines that sound like something out of the 16th century. Not the worst OMD song I’d heard lately, but it all seemed too facile in the face of it. Had the band been in a healthy place, this would never have passed muster as an album track.
But I did not know how good I had it, because the next track was by far the worst OMD single released at that point. Virgin had balked at “Stay” as single material; preferring one of the worst, most MOR tracks OMD had cut. “Shame” [an apt title] was right down there with “Hold You” for being the biggest sell-out material the band had ever committed to wax. One thing I can’t understand was how the third single from the album somehow never got a release in America. It sounded tailor made for the Adult Contemporary charts. I imagine that A+M maybe had better A+R taste than Virgin at that point in time. Which shown really, how far Virgin had fallen by 1986 in my esteem. I can point to before and after Culture Club being points of artistic inflection for the label!
What really staggered the mind was that Virgin paid to have Rhett Davis [who produced “Dazzle Ships”] re-record the song specifically for the single with the band, and it still missed the UK top 50. All that time and money squandered on a song that I would have never allowed the band to record if I had been their A+R person.
Next: …More of the same