Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 38]

The Listening Pool – Still Life | 1994 – 1

[continued from last post]

In spite of having Paul Humphreys back in the driver’s seat, “Promised The World” offered yet more bland sophistipop. His presence didn’t make a lot of difference. The lyrical steal from Nick Lowe’s “Cruel To Be Kind” only served to make me angry at the huge gulf in quality between Lowe and The Listening Pool.

Then, out of nowhere, came another track that managed to distinguish itself from the whitebread pop proffered here. “Blue Africa” was a near instrumental number with a soft reggae beat; the first time since “Junk Culture” that Malcolm Holmes got to play in that sandbox. Humphreys’ lyrics here were as scant as haiku, but that made for a better song. The only overt OMD touch were the female choral samples but that’s fine. At this point, I just want a song that invited me to listen and care. Unlike the title track that followed. It’s only distinguishing characteristic was the “driving in your car” hook in the coda stolen from some other pop hit I can’t exactly remember.

Things got a little better with “Where Do We Go From Here,” which had the suggestion of a dance beat and the fastest BPM on offer here. The same choral samples from “Blue Africa” showed up again, to my astonishment, but overall, the slightly funky rhythm guitar from Rob Fennah and the houselike beat almost served to put this firmly into Blow Monkeys territory. Which could only help.

Then the story became grim for the album’s nadir. “Wild Strawberries” featured Thomas Lang on lead vocals and the killing blows were struck by both the dreaded Fender Rhodes electric piano patch from Hell® and the melodica used here. OMD had used melodica for an Augustus Pablo-like effect on “The Lights Are Going Out.” All well and good. The melodica here sounded like someone could not afford to actually have Stevie Wonder kill this song off with one of his nauseating 80s harmonica solos, so they opted for the next, worst, thing. The closing instrumental “Hand Me That Universe” completely failed to live up to the drama inherent in such a title. Instead, it was the most timid, tuneless instrumental possible. Slinking off after just over two minutes.


Johnny Hates Jazz

Curiosity Killed The Cat

As Echorich pointed out yesterday, this music was most redolent of the mid-80s vogue for “sophistipop” but not the good kind. No Everything But the Girl or Black comparisons would ever be made about this sap. No, this was kindred to the horrifying likes of Breathe, Johnny Hates Jazz, or Curiosity Killed The Cat. Music so faceless that, in all honesty, listening to it on the drive to work yesterday did me no good at all. I could only remember the three songs of any distinction here sitting at my computer and looking at the cover of the album I had just heard four hours earlier. I had to pop it in the computer and skip through it, taking notes. Not my usual m.o. by a long shot! It’s telling that I recognized the Breathe-factor here while a cursory glance at Breathe’s Discogs page reveals singles that I have no memory of at all – and I recall seeing them played in heavy rotation on VH-1 back in the late 80s.

As for Thomas Lang, I came across his “Fingers And Thumbs” US LP at a Cleveland record store in the mid 90s and sizing up the cover, was hoping that it would be at least a little bit in the vein of The Blue Nile. Hardly! He was another bland white man making boring music for adults. The appearance on this album of vocal ringers like Lang or Paul Roberts from The Stranglers spoke volumes about how adrift Humphreys must have been. Humphreys may have had weak material, but he at least has his own winsome self to add an iota of character to the largely colorless proceedings. He must have had confidence issues to surrender the mic here to two other singers.

In the end, Humphreys, Cooper, and Holmes’ little adventure lasted three years before their label went belly up. No one bought any Listening Pool records. Except for me. I got this album and the wonderful “Acoustically Yours” album by China Crisis who on that disc alone, justified all the effort. Apparently there were some songs recorded for a mooted second Listening Pool album, but thankfully, they remain in tape cases. If you have never heard this album, you are missing nothing. Only the realization that 3/4 of OMD could come up with an album [all writing credits are shared among Humphreys, Cooper, and Holmes] just as unlistenable as anything that Andy McCluskey was doing on his own albeit in a vastly different style.

Next: …Hand Me That Universal


About postpunkmonk

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11 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 38]

  1. JT says:

    I have never before heard the Listening Pool, but had to listen to the title track just now to see if it was as bad as you say it is (it is), and to see if I could pick out where the line about being in a car was plucked from. Not getting much from it, but maybe it’s reminding you of a similar line in “Almost” by OMD?


    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – Miracle of miracles… your comment was accepted and didn’t get tossed into the spam folder! Re: The Listening Pool. I’m sorry you have me to blame for this. No kidding. Put this right next to Breathe and Johnny Hates Jazz. No one would bat an eyelash. No, the “driving in your car” hook is a steal [quote] from some 80s pop hit. I can’t remember which one. Maybe the Pointer Sisters cover of Springsteen’s “Fire” but not certain… NOTHING about this music reminds me of “Almost” by OMD!!!!


  2. Gavin says:

    To this day I have never heard one second of anything by this band and to be honest I’m pretty sure I never would, except that this post has tickled my fancy,as they say,so maybe I will go and track down the full horror for myself on some internet site.
    It’s amazing really,since I own every other album by the band,grew up on Wirral,had the same music teacher on the same college course as Andy(a few years later) and have followed them all my adult life.How this slipped through the net I don’t know,never seen a copy even.In the pre-Internet days one could be forgiven for missing stuff,but I was a huge fan-I suppose I just wasn’t bothered at that point in their career.


    • Gavin says:

      Of course I mean I own everything by OMD,not TLP!


      • postpunkmonk says:

        Gavin – Just looked on iTunes USA. Holy moly, everything is there. Even the hyper rare singles. Don’t know about iTunes UK but since the band own everything, I don’t see why not. There was a track on the UK edition [“Photograph Of You” – probably not the Vince Clark/Depeche Mode song] missing from my Japanese edition [scandalous!] but present on the iTunes DL. Caveat emptor.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – Well, this was exceptionally difficult to scare up a copy of. I found it easier to get the Japanese import! That should say everything. Methinks Humphreys + co were just not up to the task of running their own label. Or band. There… I said it. Only seek it out if you have a strong stomach.


  3. Jordan says:

    I have the CD. I’m not even sure I ever listened to it. I think I purchased it at the time because Paul was involved. I had already lost interest in the Andy OMD.

    Let’s not criticize too much CC. I know most on this forum enjoy them. I find the Eddie songs too twee but that’s me.

    I think what makes Andy’s OMD and Paul’s Listening Pool an interesting case study is how OMD ran out of ideas when they were a writing team after Junk Culture ( more or less ) Then separately they both still had no ideas. Which to me confirms what I said earlier in this thread. That OMD ground to a halt. Had they lost their creativity? Was it writing for America ? Was it film soundtracks ? Was it money ? I would like to hear your theories Monk.

    I sort of bring up acts such as Depeche Mode or The Cure or even U2 ( forget that they were arena acts ) who were writing some of their best material then. IMO. Talking Black Celebration or Disintegration or maybe even Achtung Baby.


  4. Richard Anvil says:

    It would be very interesting to ask Paul Humphreys why he, Martin and Malcolm decided to make an easy listening album, heavy on ‘real’ instruments and low on synths (which were deemed old hat by this stage. To clarify Depeche Mode we’re releasing Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion at this time so even they were moving away from synths if only partially). It has always surprised me that after Paul’s comments on not agreeing with the direction Andy was taking the music that The Listening Pool took it even further into AOR land. Paul’s next project, released many years later, OneTwo did return to the synth sound so maybe it was a band decision, with Martin being a saxophonist and Malcolm playing live drums, I really don’t know but this was album was disappointing. It is interesting that all the synth band who turned to a ‘live’ sound (under pressure from music journalists, music executives and accountants) disbanded or never recorded again (eg Ultravox, Heaven 17, Visage, Soft Cell, etc.) while those who stuck to the synths during this time are still recording now (e.g Depeche Mode, Erasure). The upshot is never listen to an accountant when it comes to creativity.


  5. Tim says:

    You should buy the deluxe Good Humor that was re-released last year if it is one of your favorites, it collects all the b-sides and has the Fairfax High disc that was originally a US bonus cd on release, as well as a book that details the history of the album.
    A huge drawback is once you buy that you’re going to be so walloped with the overall quality that you’re going to want to buy the rest of these.
    Good Humor is to me where they ended their career arc of making solidly good albums and things grew patchier and patchier from there.The last 2-3 albums do next to nothing for me.

    Funny how every now and then you find a huge LD haul. A few years back I was in a resale shop in the Twin Cities and right as you walked in the place was this huge booth that had probably more laser discs than what we stocked at the video store that I worked at that rented them. On top of that was a motherlode of old Starlogs, Famous Monsters, Creepy, Eerie and then buried in that was comic book sleeves with all sorts of odd old stuff, instructions for building old Kenner Star Wars toys, toy catalogs from companies that are by and large now defunct….
    ….and then there was the vinyl. Did some uber-nerd with really good taste die and this was his estate sale?

    To top it off, in the basement area of same store, was the best used vinyl booth I’ve ever seen in an antique/re-sale shop, and the prices were reasonable. I was awfully tempted with an old Julie London lp that had this gorgeous embossed cover (‘Round Midnight) but I was already financially tapped out by this place by the time I found that.


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