[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.
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