Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 32]

OMD asunder in the hellish world of late 80s UK pop

In 1989, by the time that OMD had thrown in the towel, I had come to a crossroads in the road regarding my affinity for British pop. By the mid-80s all of the band I cherished had either broken up or, if they were still shambling onward, were releasing music that I did not care for one bit. That was bad enough. The ’85-’90 period had brought terrible albums by: The Human League, Ultravox, Bowie, Heaven 17, Simple Minds, Shriekback, and even Cabaret Voltaire! Not to mention our subjects, OMD. On the other hand, house music had become the New Disco Hegemony®.  I lost track of how many single by bands I collected who had bolted on de-riguer house beats to their now boring [to me, anyway] remixes that I was not enjoying very much. When some of my very favorite bands called it a day [Ultravox, Shriekback, OMD] I was almost relieved by the news.


During the late 80s, I was delving into the movement of British bands fronted by bleached blonde women. Not my favorite thing, but the music worked. Darling Buds. The Primitives. Transvision Vamp [don’t laugh… I think their debut’s a work of genius]. Another thread was second tier synthpop  like Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys, that almost was it for my British listening. Oh yeah, I finally “got” Erasure after hearing “Wild!” in-store and got on their bus for a few years. The few other bright spots were harder sounds than I generally gravitated to: Nitzer Ebb. Killing Joke. Wire had managed to be the first band to reform and continue forward with what was the second phase in their honorable career.

By then the thread of Post-Punk that had begun pre-punk and weaved an ever more slender path through the UK music environment had almost disappeared completely. Only the last three bands [and maybe Depeche Mode] really had a sense of continuity with the brand of art music I had responded to most strongly. Instead I was listening more heavily to bands that I now dub the NWOPJP [New Wave Of British Jazz Pop]. Purchases by Swing Out Sister, Basia, Matt Bianco, Carmel, Black, Everything But The Girl, and Danny Wilson were absolutely dominant in my listening during this time as the old guard had crumbled away.

I had quickly moved out of graphic design and into user interface design at exactly the right time by 1990. It’s hard to believe, but my friend Jayne and I started a music fanzine because we were bred and wanted to have something fun and creative to do. I had access to Macintosh computers to tote home from work and make what we called “R Magazine.” I think there were four issues we’d photocopy [and pay for!] to leave in our favorite record stores. It boggles my mind now to think that we made a fanzine at exactly the worst time in the music marketplace to have such an undertaking. I guess that was why there were only four issues! It would have helped to have had a greater passion for the music of the time, but it was all we had to work with. I remember in one 1991 issue that I had a story reviewing the latest singles from what I called The [Virgin] Class of 1981. Bands that had peaked in that magical year on that label when it could do no wrong.

That issue, new singles by Raintree Crow [ex-Japan], Simple Minds, and a now resurgent  [if not truly  reformed] OMD were issued as I assessed their value in the now diminished marketplace of music ideas that 1991 held for my now backward glancing interest. All of those releases, as compared to the game-changing chance of finally hearing The Associates when the “Popera” CD was issued had made it abundantly clear that the future of music for me at that point was behind me. The seeds had been sown for the Post-Punk Monk. Yes, OMD was back unexpectedly in a new McCluskey only variant that had the rights to the name. It would remain to be heard how much of the musical DNA he had also absconded with.

Next: …Hits, but at What Cost?

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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29 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 32]

  1. Tim says:

    Love love LOVE the Rain Tree Crow album. Mr Sylvian left a rather wordy/my side of the story/defense of his behavior post on Facebook last year. I am thinking it has something to do with his relationship with his brother, anyone who could decode what that was all about would be appreciated. I don’t think that said piece is there anymore,if my memory is right he posted that he was going to unpost that one after a day or two.

    I recently cleaned up my Erasure files on the hard drive and agree that Wild is about where their formula really comes together I wasn’t much a fan of Chorus but found that it had ages well (er better than I thought it would) when I was culling files.

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    • Echorich says:

      What a remarkably complex relationship the Batt brothers have. Steven must be a people pleaser on the Brigg Myers typing…He managed to remain working with all of his bandmates after Japan split at it’s core. His work with Richard Barbieri allowed them both to stretch their own musical ideas. Working with Mick Karn on his debut single and as a basically second chair in the production and performance of the second album, the beautiful Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters, had to have been a strain with his relationship with David, but at the same time he may have been the conduit to Karn and Sylvian working together on Buoy and When Love Walks In , which in my mind are more like what I imagine Japan may have sounded like 5 years after their break up.
      He ended up taking sides with Karn and Barbieri after the post production and rerecording debacle Sylvian and Steve Nye perpetrated upon the others prior to releasing Rain Tree Crow. They had to have felt used. But the brotherly bond of the Batts has seemed to always won out. They have recorded together as recently as 2013, so unless David is still feeling the need to atone for his ‘sins”, I’m not sure where his continued defense of the RTC issues comes from.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I should give “Chorus” another listen. I was never convinced. Then “I Say, I Say, I Say” [always reminded me for Foghorn Leghorn] really failed to convince. There endeth the tale until I happened to pick up “Cowboy” and love it.

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      • Tim says:

        Wild is a pretty solid album and on the b-sides I think that they explored the sounds that they went to in a lot of Chorus. The weird thing is that in the context of Wild it works pretty well whereas in Chorus it’s the bleepy bloopy techno-ey tracks that are what drag down the album.
        I am in agreement about I Say (cubed) and from that point out I think they turn into more of a singles band, there’s tracks like Run to the Sun (which, like the PSB’s I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Sort of Thing has a different 7” mix that was done by the Beatmasters) and Cold Summers Day, really good pop tracks that are lost in poor albums.

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  2. Echorich says:

    I traveled down much the same path Monk, although I think Heaven 17 was still releasing good music, which I know goes against the grain of almost everyone.
    I did still have bands like The Cure, The Banshees, Sisters Of Mercy and others that maintained a level of quality, but I was very heavily listening to EBTG, Swing Out Sister and other NWOPJP artists as well as a MASSIVE amount of House music and the earliest iteration of Acid Jazz/Jazz Funk.
    OMD completely fell off my radar when they returned without Paul Humphreys. I really don’t have anything I can contribute to the three albums that would come out of that period of OMD, except that there would be some Karl Bartos involvement at some point.
    The musical movements that would come from the US and UK over the first half of the 90’s would make me dig even deeper into House Music and away from Rock + Roll .

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I still can’t wrap my head around “How Men Are.” It was H17’s “disappear down the Fairlight CMI® well” album for my ears. Not unlike our pals OMD who didn’t negotiate sampling all that well, ether. But “How Men Are” was genius next to “Pleasure One.” I thought they bounced back well enough on “Teddybear, Duke + Psycho,” which probably makes me a party of one, there. I have got to say, it’s going to get pretty lonely in the comments without your commentary for the next phase of albums!

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      • Echorich says:

        Monk – I have no issue with any of the three H17 albums.
        How Men Are is one of the best examples of the use of Fairlight CMI in my mind. The other two being Scritti Politti’s – Cupid And Psyche 85 and ABC’s – How To Be a Zillionaire. The use of horns, the redoubtable Phenix Horns of Earth, Wind and Fire legend, was inspired. Ware and Craig Marsh’s use of Roland System 100 and the Fairlight CMI was so confident and bold. While there are certainly political themes throughout the album, there’s also a futurism in the music of How Men Are that give hope and always gives me pleasure.
        Pleasure One – hmmm, think I’ll keep that unintended segue – is, in my mind, the misunderstood H17 album. I think it has a great deal in common with the ideas and sound produced on The Luxury Gap. It is a very cosmopolitan album – the fact it grew out of the offer to score a French film has much to do with that. But there are themes of excess and inner demons that expose the members as this was certainly a time when they would have come upon many.
        Teddybear, Duke + Psycho is Glenn Gregory’s tour de force. HIs voice is just magnificent. His transformation into a crooner is in full effect. The synths take on a supporting roll on TD+P in favor of a funky, jazzy groove that features amazing guitar from Randy Hope-Taylor and Tim Cansfield. I will go as far as to say that this is H17’s Young Americans – that’s not a comparison, well not really, but it was a well executed shift in their sound.

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      • I remain a big fan of TB,D&P so there’s at least three of us at that party — because the Party Fears Two! BWAHAHAHAHA

        But all kidding aside, “Train of Love in Motion” is one of my favourite of their songs.

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  3. Taffy says:

    I know this is still an entry in your OMD GPA, but since you discuss your listening habits of the late 80s, I’ll chime in here with mine. I couldn’t disagree more about the Pet Shop Boys being classified as second tier anything, but they are special heroes of mine. If I may relate personally, as a gay guy I was particularly heartened to have the Pets, Erasure, Marc Almond, and the Communards producing stellar music at this specific time. I neither demand nor need lyrics to spring from a gay perspective to appreciate them, but in the dark days of Reagan/Bushpartone/AIDS it was most uplifting and welcome. And happily I truly enjoyed albums by those artists mentioned.
    Additionally, I hung on Morrissey’s every word and consoled myself with the Smiths breakup by devouring every solo single he spit out (and those initial songs were perfection).
    Finally, this Blondie kookoo also gravitated to those “blonde bands,” with the Primitives being my absolute fave of the era (with Voice of the Beehive just behind them).
    I can’t wait to read your assessment of Sugar Tax!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – Hey! All’s fair in the PPM comments. It’s yours to play with how you see fit. Your wildly enthusiastic endorsement of PSB makes me clarify my stance on them a bit. I am primarily a music first/lyrics second listener. Maybe it’s because good lyrics are mighty thin on the ground to my eye, but if I only listened to songs with superb lyrics, I would not have a Record Cell. I’d be lucky to have a Record Crate! But that crate would be stuffed with PSB records!

      I find their music to be less interesting than the lyrics. This I put down to their sound design/programming. Chris usually relegated to actual programming of the songs to some “boffin.” I find it inferior to the actual songs. It was for that reason why I rate PSB as “second tier.” Now, if Chris and Neil had formed a band with Billy Currie, Derek Forbes, and Warren Cann [or Brian McGee] then all bets would be off! Any music that unites rock and disco values with Neil’s lyrics in the ultimate expression of hybrid vigor would be simply immense to me. Any takers?

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    • Echorich says:

      Well stated Taffy! No one messes with PSB! And Marc Almond is one of the most significant artists I can think of in my musical collection. He belongs on a level in my ranking of music artists that includes Messrs. Bowie and Ferry – no one can “out Brel” or “out Brecht-Weill” Marc Almond.

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    • I agree with Taffy — those artists all got me through that horrible period, particularly PSB (while they had some weaker and some stronger albums across the decades, I never tire of their wit). I even agree about Morrissey’s early solo stuff, though he has turned out to be such a of late I won’t be surprised when he inevitably runs for public office — as a Tory!

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      • KeithC says:

        +1 for me on the PSB with the sole exception of Elysium which I like but isn’t anywhere near the top when I reach into the large pile of their discs; Yes and Super are up there with their earlier efforts but Elysium in the car or on the headphones relaxing late at night (or anywhere in between) doesn’t pull me in musically or lyrically. Hard to decipher if it’s because it’s not a ‘more of the familiar’ from them for me or what?

        As for the PSB ‘what?’ above vs Marc Almond, his releases over his career are all over the place musically from the Brit new wave / synth genre that I tend to favour. Having nearly all his full length releases means my mood dictates what I specifically want to grab to listen to rather than just plucking a random CD from his shelf space. Exponentially more thought involved but definitely more satisfying although admittedly I do tend to finish any MA listen with something upbeat from his catalogue.

        As for H17, Bigger Than America is the tour de force IMHO after the first two release. It was stunning the first time I listened to it and is still played substantially more than any other release. Wish I could express why in a PPM/Echorich/Chas like narrative but not one of my strengths. Certainly enjoying all the comments in this thread and really enjoying this OMD GPA; like PPM I was a fan from the beginning.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Keith C – Ah yes! “Bigger Than America!” Still the gold standard of H17 albums! The modern afterthought to the first two! After that one I was so disappointed in “Before/After” I can’t begin to tell you! I mean, in the middle of Bush/Blair they had the audacity to release THAT album!

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  4. Echorich says:

    The direction of these comments says volumes about the subject matter of this post.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Hah! Too true, pally! SOMEthing has to hold our interest! Speaking of which, I forgot that in the late 80s-early 90s I was soaking up almost all of Marc Almond’s supafine incursions into Scott Walker territory during his magnificent EMI phase. I was yet to become a Scott Walker fan at that time, but Almond’s take on deeply melodramatic adult dark cabaret pop truly resonated with me. The name Scott Walker barely registered at the time. I was aware of the Cope compilation upon its release… with a loaded title like that, how could you now notice it? But I had not as yet heard the first note. Over the next few years the Scott Walker Event Horizon® would conspire to make me a big fan as I realized that every artist I loved who did not evolve from Lou Reed and maybe Bryan Ferry, had taken a lot from Walker.

      As far as Almond, I sat out the early part of his solo career [truth be told, I have not heard “This Last Night In Sodom” to this day…] all because of …chasinvictoria! He bought the Almond issue of Flexipop and sent me Almond’s turgid cover of “Discipline” and quite frankly, I was not ready for Marc + the Mambas if that was the standard bearer. I ignored Almond for about five years. Easy if you’re American, but when I heard “Tears Run Rings” when the viddy hit the 120 Minutes ghetto, I was convinced. Fortunately, the album was largely waaaay better than even that standard.

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  5. Tim says:

    I didn’t say anything about the second tier comment but while everyone is piling on, uh, yeah. In the mid-late 80’s everything they did was eclipsing the majority of what was being done. They didn’t trip it up until Release, did some nice recovery following that and then we got “Winner” and (Not) “Super.” But the 80′? They were in oasis in an increasingly arid musical landscape.

    If it makes you feel better someone I went to school with as a kid is now an anthropology professor in Brazil and they played Rock in Rio this year…he made a similar comment on Facebook when the concert was aired on TV there – the ensuing pile on was much worse.

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    • Echorich says:

      I agree that Release is just about as disappointing as PSB albums get.
      I really like Super, it returns to many of the places I enjoy finding PSB, musically. My only problem with the album is the Bachata influenced Twenty Something. But that is more about the fact that I spent much of the 90s and early 00s listening to Bachata in clubs around NYC and it just does nothing for me. But the Disco influenced tracks on the album are just wonderful. PSB aren’t afraid of current EDM trends, but always seem to manage to make those influences work for them. I think Pop Kids is just a brilliant song, Groovy is just pure Disco abandon and Into Thin Air is heady Pop.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Echorich – I still badly need to catch up with PSB. I stopped after “Very/Relentless” due to remix fatigue. I chanced to buy “Fundamental” a few years back and thought it was one of their best which had me curious about their later work. Then, seeing them again in 2014 primed me to buy “Electric” beforehand. Only I could not just waltz into a record store and pluck the new album off the racks. By then PSB were a non-event in my local stores.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Echorich – True story. I have never heard of Bachata until right now!

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      • Taffy says:

        I generally agree with the accepted point of view regarding Release, but it does contain a few gems (Home and Dry is lovely, The Samurai in Autumn is an odd delight) and I’m more than OK with Johnny Marr joining the boys for some guitar work. Elysium is mostly a big fat snooze (mellow is fine, but they really forgot to write tunes with any distinction here). However, I think the boys are on a roll again with the last two albums (Electric, and Super…which I think is rather super indeed!).

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Taffy – I thought it would be easy to buy “Super!” It was the album where they rediscovered their synth mojo, apparently. Buzz was hot. I had tickets to Moogfest and they were headlining one night. I should have been able to waltz into Harvest Records who have a rack of releases [new and old!] by artists booked into town, but no PSB and certainly no “Electric.” To this day I’ve never seen a copy anywhere in my travels.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Maybe I tend to discount PSB [ keeping in mind that I purchased in real time from 1986 -1993 every single/mix I could find by this band] because the bar they easily walked over was set impossibly low.

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  6. Tim says:

    My friend that I mentioned who lives in Rio now, he was back in the states for a while when Actually was out and having not listened to a lot of anything by them he had kind of an idea of who they were and what they wanted to say. He took a shine to it after Shopping and Rent. There was certainly in the punk scene a pushback to the 80’s excesses but in a lot of mainstream commercial music I think that you were expected to join the party and they were explicitly critical of what was going on.

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  7. Shelf says:

    Perhaps the Monk would care to scan and share those four issues of R magazine for the benefit of his followers?

    To inject another subjective perspective, I’d characterize music from the mid-to-late 80s as an embarrassment of riches (although there were also plenty of straight up embarrassments, for sure). As several others have commented, many quality albums and singles were issued during that period to compensate for the dross. I am quite partial to the output from 1987-1988: Marc Almond, Cab Volt, The Cure, Dead Can Dance, Depeche Mode, Echo, Erasure, Bryan Ferry, Front 242, JAMC, New Order, Nitzer Ebb, Peter Murphy, PSB, PiL, Sisters of Mercy, David Sylvian.

    However, there’s no denying that sophisticated British pop was on the ropes by the end of the decade, and then Grunge and Rap hammered in the final coffin nails as the 90s started. There were occasional glimmers of hope from the old guard, but the decline of musical civilization accelerated as the last millennium came to a close.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Shelf – Alas, I need the time to dig deep into the big box o’ ephemera to find those zines, but I was going to scan that article at the very least. Yeah, I was collecting exactly the same artists as you listed in that time period [save for Dead Can Dance], but it’s important to recall, I am somewhat older. At the time, to me, it did not feel like an embarrassment of riches. To nearly 30 year old me, it felt like a drought. ’78-’81? Now THAT’S an embarrassment of riches. Hell, just give me 1981 and leave the rest. For me, the single finest year in pop music. Ever. Compared to the mid-90s, though, I see where you are coming from!

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      • Shelf says:

        I hear ya loud and clear, Monk. And I’ll not argue that 1978-1981 was a watershed period for music. If I recall correctly, 1981 is the year when you graduated from high school and started college. For me, that was 1987. I can’t help but think that there’s some correlation between educational transition and unrivaled affinity for music of that calendar year.

        I’ll never forget this theory postulated by my eighth grade music teacher, Marvin Weber: “The music you listen to in college is the music that you’ll listen to for the rest of your life.” Doubt that Marv had any data or research to back that up, but I’ve always thought it profound (unfortunately, Mr. Weber’s favorite artist was Billy Joel, so his credibility as a music teacher was always questionable).

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  8. SimonH says:

    You managed twice as many fanzine issues than I did…mine was created on a typewriter…funny to imagine now!
    A confession: I love H17 but have never bought anything after How Men Are…
    Re PSB the recent further listening sets are well worth exploring, although some may raise eye brows at a 3 cd version of Release.

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