Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 37]

The Listening Pool – Still Life | 1994 – 1

I remember hearing somewhere along the way that Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes threw their lot in with Paul Humphreys to reunite as a new band once Paul left OMD and the others soon followed. So on one hand, we had Andy owning the OMD name and having released a pair of tepid releases that managed to make the last two OMD albums sound strong in comparison. With 3/4 of the classic OMD lineup in a new formation, interest was high from these quarters, to put it mildly.

The gents formed their own label, Telegraph Records since Paul had learned that he wanted to own his songs going forward. The band was eventually revealed as The Listening pool and I was having a hard time obtaining the CD. Eventually, I saw a catalog [SoundCity 2000?] where the Japanese CD was for sale, so I ordered one. At this point in time, Japanese CDs were about $33-35 each. Not inexpensive. That they usually came with bonus tracks not elsewhere was a small sop. Here, it netted me the extended version of the first single A-side, “Oil For The Lamps Of China.” Thank goodness my earning capacity was at its height during this period, so I could order with impunity.

The first track was not what I was expecting from this band. After all, Paul had walked away from OMD due to the compromised sound of trying to make it in the American market. This made me think that he was going to move in a more uncompromising, technological direction. Perhaps a return to the more electronic emphasis of OMD prior to the Stephen Hague years, which saw them behaving more like  rock band. That shows how wrong I was. “Meant To Be” sounded like modern China Crisis! Real drumming as opposed to the drum machines of Andy’s OMD, of course, but nothing motorik in the slightest. A pretty wimpy tune but at least it had some hooks. Yeah, I could hear China Crisis doing something like this. One of the Eddie Lundon tracks, at least.

They obviously put a lot of effort into the pre-release single, “Oil For The Lamps Of China.” A further ten names appeared in the credits for this one! Everyone from Prince protege Jill Jones [BVs] to Tom Lord-Alge [who mixed this] threw their hats in on this one. That said, the song was not as memorable as the previous one. The extremely soulful backing vocals made this sound cliché. This was radically not what I was expecting, and quickly degenerating from the modest levels of success that at least the first track had evidenced.

Tracks like “Follow Wherever You Go” and “Breathless” were full of cloying adult contemporary synth patches and full of Kenny G sax manoœuvres. Disgraceful! “Breathless” was so MOR that at any moment I was expecting Mark Knopfler to show up as the guitar of Tony Smith kept threatening to go full pedal steel at any moment. At least OMD never threatened to make country music. As Andy had hooked up with local b-list Liverpudlian dance music producers for his opus, Paul had also picked from the local talent pool. The difference was that he was looking at the MOR spectrum and pulled Thomas Lang into backing vocal duties there.

When Hugh Cornwell had left The Stranglers a few years earlier for solo pastures, I bought the first Stranglers single without him and ended my probe then and there. Instead of letting J.J. Burnel carry the load, they opted to enlist one Paul Roberts [not the Bad Company singer] and lost me right then and there as the crooning Roberts was completely ill-suited for the truculence that The Stranglers demanded. When Roberts showed up as guest vocalist on “Somebody Somewhere,” his tepid crooning may have fit the toothless music somewhat better, but that didn’t mean that I wanted to listen to him here, either. Listening to this was like eating the whitest bread possible. Bread so lacking in fiber [and nutrients] that it could cause diarrhea.

Next: …Where Do We Go From Here?

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12 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 37]

  1. Echorich says:

    I’m not sure if I should take offense at the somewhat backhanded critique of my man Eddie Lundon in your lines… A pretty wimpy tune but at least it had some hooks. Yeah, I could hear China Crisis doing something like this. One of the Eddie Lundon tracks, at least.” We had this discussion when reviewing CC’s Autumn In The Neighborhood, but I am definitely team Eddie, and always enjoy his vocal styling as a counterpoint to Gary Daly.
    But it’s not a real issue. The real issue is what an ignorable album Still Life was. It’s an album of songs that would have fit on late 80s albums by Breathe, or Johnny Hates Jazz, Go West or even Paul Young. Big Fail…


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Damn your eyes! You scooped my conclusion! [re: Breathe, JHJ] I like Eddie. “Wishful Thinking” is my favorite China Crisis song, after all, but a diet of only Eddie Lundon would probably disappoint me. For what’s it worth, “Meant To Be” was my favorite track on the album, rating a 2/4. The actual G.P.A. for the album was .75 so I had to round up for the rating.


      • Echorich says:

        No harm done Monk, I would never lessen the import of Gary Daly either, I think I always side with the member of a band with the lesser focus. Having said that Gary sings my favorite China Crisis song, Bigger The Punch I’m Feeling.
        I call it the John Oates Effect®. My favorite Hall & Oates song growing up was their stab at Philly/Glam Funk, Back Together Again, and the mid-tempo Crazy Eyes from Bigger Than Both Of Us because John had a such a full bodied lead. His was a voice with real range. They also counterpointed Daryl Halls often adenoidal vocals.


  2. Tim says:

    Sorry, the Breathe album is what Spandau Ballet should have followed up “True” with.
    I’m right with you on the rest.


  3. Tim says:

    So I am, and I recognize that many are not. The Faux Ballet album easily may be slotted as a followup to either “True” or “Parade”, it’s a great Spandau Ballet covers album and if Hadley and Co had released it people woulda said well it’s no Diamond, Part II, clearly the True/Parade/All That Jazz trilogy shows the direction that they are cemented in,

    Instead we got “Through The Barricades.” Now there’s a howler for you.


    • Echorich says:

      Tim – I completely agree with you on Through The Barricades – I have NO idea who they made that album for…It had no “let’s make a record for the US market” about it. It had no “let’s please our steady fan base” about it either. Instead it is an attempt for a band that once bravely changed their direction, lost some steam, but came back unapologetically with the formula for chart topping hits, to try and capture that magic a second time. Thing was it was so blatant and such a half hearted attempt, it was seen for what it was.
      As for Breathe, I may have come off more harshly than I meant using Breathe in my comparison – only because I don’t have any issue with All That Jazz. I hear what you hear as fare as the Spandau Ballet comparison is concerned and at the time I enjoyed the album. My purpose was to chide Paul Humphreys + Co for having the chance to give us something that would have been a real challenge to OMD and instead they fell in line with the prevailing musical wind stream.


  4. I remember liking “Oil for the Lamps of China” because I thought it was a lovely title. This type of music was always on a line with me: some of it (like China Crisis, Meet Danny Wilson, Carmel, et al) I liked, especially if it was catchy; much of it I did not. This single fell on the positive side of the line. There’s enough of hint of (at the time) recent OMD for me to know better than that it was China Crisis, and as I say in situ I thought it pleasant, but it certainly didn’t make me want to go buy the album. Too many bands were making music like this from the late-80s to this point in time, but thankfully college radio was doing other things (not all of them good, mind you!).


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