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As the hand giveth with “Firegun,” it could also take away with “This Town.” Say what you will about OMD’s cover of “Waiting For The Man” on the “Messages” single. I’ll let you decide whether it was a success or not, but it was most definitely an audacious move. The next OMD B-side compiled here was neither.
“This Town” was the evidence that the creative gasoline was running on fumes by this point in the band’s existence. It was the first OMD B-side that was unequivocally weak sauce. It made the airy A-side seem even more artistically towering in comparison. It was an OMD blues song with lazy horns and slide guitar [!] courtesy of Kamil Rustam, who producer Stephen Hague roped into the sessions. It just doesn’t work. What’s even more telling about this track was that it was intended for the album, but when the band were recording the B-side for the “[Forever] Live + Die” A-dise, the B-side they came up with was the excellent “Flame of Hope” track, thus bumping “This Town” to B-side status. That made sense, but it did result in the first OMD B-side that was very missable. Prior to this, their B-side were usually good to fantastic.
The next B-side here was the extra B-side on the 1988 single “Dreaming.” The 7″ single had a good non-LP B-side in “Satellite,” but the CD5 and 12″ also contained “Gravity Never Failed,” a 1981 track from the “Architecture + Morality” period that had been mothballed, rediscovered, and reconsidered for usage seven years later. When this appeared, seemingly out of out of nowhere, I always wondered if this had grown out of the song that they had pre-named “Experiments In Vertical Takeoff” but had claimed they never wrote. It was a cheerful tune with none of the trademark choral Mellotron usage that typifies this period, though the bells were a nice touch. The heavy irony of McCluskey’s delivery and the buoyant cheer of the melody seems to point to “Genetic Engineering;” a bit further down the road at that point.
The next B-side jumped right into the “Andy Alone” period of the band. “Sailing On The Seven Seas” was of the era where tracks would be split across two CD singles for better chart manipulation. I bought the first one, but the second one, which folded out to accept two later singles in a triple gatefold case, took me a year or two to find a copy of. I was repaid with an exclusive B-side, also here, called “Burning.” It was a upbeat, dance-oriented number a bit more interesting than all of mid-tempo ballads of 4:20 length that made up the stultifying “Sugar Tax” album. Buzzy synth loops and chugging rhythms set off the vocal samples that added the current seasoning to this 1991 track. Not timeless, OMD, but worth a listen. And for this period, that was something of an accomplishment.
The next B-side here was also from the “Sailing On The Seven Seas” CD5, but the first version of the single. The one that I bought upon is release easily enough. “Sugar Tax” was the title track that wasn’t for the album of the same name. It’s no great shakes as an OMD song and its inclusion here was probably down to it being the title track that few heard to album that sold exceptionally well. The song does traffic with the gospel sounds, that for reasons best known by McCluskey alone, he seemed to be drawn to for the last 25 years like a moth to the flame. Every time he tried something like this, he got his wings burnt. Except for the last time, in which I think the gambit finally paid off, but we’ll get to that later.
Finally, to cap this compilation, they pulled out something that had been too long hidden in the OMD tape closet for the digital era. “(The Angels Keep Turning) The Wheels Of The Universe” was a bonus 7″ included only in the first UK LP pressing of “Junk Culture” but its origins were obviously in the experimental path they were investigating around the time of “Dazzle Ships” and subsequently abandoned when that album failed in the marketplace. This was a ponderous instrumental of lurching menace and sampled choral voices that sounded like a malevolent machine where the tracks eventually dropped out to reveal a serpentine rhythm box abetted with militaristic snare fills. At its conclusion, it ran out of fuel as the track ground down to a painful halt. I was most gratified to see this included here, since in all truth, it should have been a bonus track on the “Junk Culture” CD upon its release. The compilers showed great attention to detail in putting it as the final track.
“Navigation: The OMD B-Sides” was a mostly fantastic selection of some of what this band did best in creating memorable B-sides that are among their finest work. As such, I had to re-assess my 3.0 rating and take it up to 3.5 when all was said and done. After all, five or six tracks here would be mandatory when compiling this bands finest ever work, and if the achievement flags at the 3/4 mark, it does nothing to dispel the majesty of tracks from ’80-’83 which play like an alternate universe greatest hits album from this band who were never better than when they were juxtaposing complex arrangements and ambiguous sentiments as on “Annex” or “Navigation.” With DLX RMS of OMD’s albums still in the unimaginable future, the appearance of the B-Side material here, with deference given to cuts which were vinyl-only, was exactly the sort of thing that I was driven to do myself as a hobby. If I would have made it a complete 2xCD version, I can’t fault what Virgin was able to accomplish with only a single disc to work with.
Next: …Buckle My Shoe