Battle Of The Mid-80s Horn Sections: OMD – Junk Culture

post-punk monk theme week - battle of the mid 80s horn sections
In 1983, OMD released their fourth album, a left-field political cut-up “Dazzle Ships.” The band who had sold 3M copies of their of their previous [in all fairness] equally uncompromising album “Architecture + Morality,” were undoubtedly blindsided by the failure of “Dazzle Ships” to propel a tenth of that amount. When you lose 90% of your audience the next time out, you break into flop sweats. Anything that defined OMD was on the table and going forward they would stop dressing like bank clerks, write songs with conventional song structures, and use the word “love” in songs. And one more thing… they added a horn section.

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark : Junk Culture [1984]

omd junk culture cover art

Virgin ‎| UK | CD | 1984 | CDV2310

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark: Junk Culture – UK –  CD [1984]

  1. Junk Culture
  2. Tesla Girls
  3. Locomotion
  4. Apollo
  5. Never Turn Away
  6. Love + Violence
  7. Hard Day
  8. All Wrapped Up
  9. White Trash
  10. Talking Loud + Clear

The album began with a strange, dub-influenced instrumental in the title track. It was not  so unprecedented, because “Architecture + Morality” also had an instrumental title track, though that one was indebted to musique concrete. Speaking of which, the Emulator and Fairlight sampling here keyboards were one of the sonic hallmarks of this album. This track had horn sounds but they revealed sampler roots. Every sound on this track was down to a keyboard sample. The next track, the pixilated “Tesla Girls” touched on scratching and had horn-like sampling keyboard stabs. But the live horns were not used here.

But by the third track, the soca-lite hit single “Locomotion” had a full-fledged horn section on it. That had been down to the band, having been at work for a while, thought to get master producer Tony Visconti involved as they hedged their high-stakes bet on their new direction. Visconti thought the album was mostly sewn up by then, but saw room for some brass arrangements and this was one of the songs where he saw an opening. “Locomotion” was initially accepted my these ears on release,  but in recent years, has joined the company of OMD songs I can happily go without hearing. Indeed, it’s an outlier for the decline in quality that would affect the future OMD albums as they courted compromise for sales. It had a singsong, nursery-rhyme aspect that just grates on my now. The integration of horns on the track did not annoy me, per se, as they were part of the overall  vibe, which I disliked.

omd with horns

The horn section hold OMD at bay in this photo

There was another track that Visconti arranged brass for and it was even lower in my esteem. The forced jocularity of “All Wrapped Up” was a full-bore carnival sound [complete with “steel drums”] that reflected the influence of the Montserrat locales where the album was recorded. This musical tourism conspired to sunder the first cracks in OMD’s musical armor. As a whole, I enjoy the album. It’s relative novelty in sound and content painted it in a strong light in its time. There have been times that It’s danced around the pick of favorite OMD album for me. Now, it bears the burden of being their first, hardly fatal, step towards artistic compromise.

The fallout from this album was that with two songs [including their biggest hit from it] featuring brass, the band optioned to have the Weir Brothers join the band for touring, and from 1984 until the band split in 1988, OMD was a six piece with a horn section. None of this seemed strange as it happened but looking back, it was curious. I liked the horns used on later OMD albums more than on this one, and when I saw the band for the first time in 1985 I enjoyed the six-piece version of OMD.


THE BOTTOM LINE: Let me further say that the one track where the horns really took things places was on the new version of “Julia’s Song”  the band re-recorded for the B-side of the “Talking Loud + Clear” single. That was actually a stunning arrangement that is my favorite version of the venerable OMD song. The use of horns on this first attempt was tentative, but would color the rest of OMD’s path moving forward. Any problems I had with the tracks that used the horns were there before they brought Tony Visconti in to do any musical spackling. Overall, the album is still a reasonably strong OMD effort, but that was mostly down to the emotion tenor of the material, which still captivates me today.

GRADE – B

NEXT: Stick It In Your Ear

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16 Responses to Battle Of The Mid-80s Horn Sections: OMD – Junk Culture

  1. jordan says:

    When I first heard Junk Culture and the title track I was intrigued. I could enjoy this ( and still do) then every song after that it went downhill.

    I fully agree with Monk about the horns on Julia’s Song. Brilliant. My favourite version.

    Symptom of the 80s. Horns. Mullets. Sampling. Bright clothes. Simmons drums. And so on.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      jordan – You nailed the symptoms of the Mid-80s-Malaise® down to a “T.” What were the causes? The basics. Greed. Fear. But I will cut Simmons drums a little slack. I can’t imagine songs like “Chant No. 1” without them. For me the real buzzkill was the Linn drum! Quantized sampled, sterile drums! At least with Simmons you still had the possibility of swing as the timing was down to the drummer.

      Like

  2. negative1ne says:

    Hi Mr. Monk,

    I’m an OMD singles fan only, I don’t have any albums from them, except compilations,
    remix albums, and greatest hits.

    Its interesting to hear that they went down the road at this point with the horn sections.
    From what I heard and sampled, they sound like they tried to do what Haircut 100 did,
    and might have even succeded to some degree.

    Anyways, it was The Pacific Age hit, ‘(Forever) live and die’, that had a great horn
    break in it, that sold me on that song. It’s tied as my favorite from them, along
    with ‘dreaming’, although that song is just pure synths.

    I might have to go back and check out these albums, and listen to somemore
    tracks from them now.

    later
    -1

    Like

    • Andy B says:

      I have to say that this album really disappointed me on release. I was shocked when I first heard ‘Locomotion’. Such a departure from everything they had done before. The use of digital synths from this point on didn’t help with their overall sound. Too clean cut. The addition of brass was definitely a problem for me. It’s not an album I reach for very often.

      I did buy the 2 disc reissue just because I’m a completist. I did enjoy some of the tracks that they had recorded prior to recording the album proper. No brass in sight at that point.

      Like

      • postpunkmonk says:

        Andy B – I have to say that I took the album in stride, primarily because it was a very different sound from a band that had changed their sound from album to album. I wasn’t phased by “Locomotion” at the time but it really grates on me now. And was a definite outlier to how they would degenerate quickly going forward. But for this album, I’m still largely fond of it. The songs with horns are the ones here that I can do without now. But the album did stand out from the OMD pack and I find it closer to what came before than what came afterward.

        Otherwise, songs on side two, like “Love + Violence” and “White Trash” still pack a visceral punch with their flaunting of dark, negative emotions by a band that had once sang about inanimate objects is still astonishing to me. Yes, the digital synths sound emaciated. It was not until the early 90s that I realized how much we lost in the move to digital synthesis, but with OMD that ship has sailed. How I wish they would record their albums with at least a mixture of analog and digital synths. It would add so much to the depth of the sound. I don’t care if they run soft synths live. I understand the convenience and reliability in that setting and would not begrudge them that much. But analog synths would make their good modern albums that much better.

        Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      negative1ne – Wow! OMD singles only? That would have worked for me through the fourth album, but anything after that wouldn’t have reached critical mass for fandom with me. I often think that I can stick with bands through weak patches and they sometimes pull out of it; at least to a degree. But if “So In Love” were the first OMD song I’d heard, instead of “Electricity,” I would not be devoting so many electrons to OMD in the here and now. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even be an OMD fan at all.

      Like

      • negative1ne says:

        Hi Mr. Monk,
        I had seen a lot of OMD singles and albums in the stores prior to ‘So in Love’,
        but never bit.

        I did know about ‘enola gay’, and ‘tesla girls’, but it was ‘so in love’, that
        got to me buy that as my first US 12 inch from them. Looking into it,
        I had no idea there were a few other 12 inch mixes of that.

        They kept me interested with ‘if you leave’, ‘secret’ – another favorite of mine,
        ‘dreaming’ also. i have a whole bunch of singles from ‘sugar tax’, but don’t
        remember them.

        Goes off to discogs to buy missing versions of ‘so in love’ now…..

        later
        -1

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          negative1ne – I had the UK 1st 12″, the remixed 2nd UK 12″ and guessed (correctly) that the US 12″ had a unique remix to the UK. As was often the case.

          Liked by 1 person

          • negative1ne says:

            Hi Mr. Monk,
            I previewed all the versions, and unfortunately, they all sound alike. Just different
            edits of the same mix. I was hoping there were some different ones. I would have
            enjoyed a mix that didn’t have that ‘clunky’ intro, that they all do. I would have
            liked a standard ‘extended’ mix, and maybe one that changed the order of the
            verses or instrumental breaks around. oh well.

            later
            -1

            Like

  3. slur says:

    With this album OMD left the range of band I was willing to follow immediately. After their initial electronic romantic & experimental approach the downfall was just to hard. Even the design was plain boring so all I got was ‘Tesla Girls’ (at least with ‘Telegraph’ live on the b side) and ‘Talking Loud And Clear’ on 7″ which is still today the best song of the whole album. I bought the LP years later cheap in a 2nd hand outlet partly curious to check if my initial verdict was too harsh, but this direction though a typical mid-80’s post new wave funky pop middle of the road mix was still to embarrassing, especially for a band I highly cherished before…

    Like

  4. I became aware of OMD through the more popular singles in the early-ish 80s but only started paying attention (well, REAL attention) when they showed up on the Pretty In Pink soundtrack. Then I went back a little further, but not much, got that greatest hits album, and let it be with some sporadic interest in the band over the ensuing decades.About a month ago I went on a tear and listened to the whole OMD catalog in about 2 days and I have some major whiplash. That band went through some major shifts in sound and focus. Thing is, I kind of like all of it, even their crap stuff. I said I like it, not that it was good. Oh, their experimental Kraftwerk inspired stuff is arguably their best, and when they wrote songs about unrequited love they were damn good. They could be the happiest forlorn people on the charts. When OMD writes songs specifically to be hits, they were hits but they just weren’t as good as when they just went for it and did weird shit. I mean, Dazzle Ships *MIGHT* be my favorite album of theirs. I like their new stuff too, it seems to have found a balance. Back to this though, I think the problem really isn’t OMD, it’s Tony Visconti, a decent enough man behind the boards for some, just not OMD.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      postpostmoderndad – You have something there with your Visconti theorem, I believe. Love, love, love TV’s work. I’d pay good money for him to produce some of my favorite acts. But was he a good match with OMD? Possibly, no. And I also see where you are going with liking “bad OMD.” I don’t get quite the bile rise from even a poor album like “Crush” [it has its moments] anywhere near close to what happens when I hear “Street Fighting Years” by Simple Minds or “Brilliant” by Ultravox. Those albums prompt Nicholson Shining Response from me.

      Like

      • You and I have some differences in opinion with regards to taste and preferences, certainly becoming apparent while perusing some of your Rock G.P.A. stuff (I happen to rather like “Synchronicity”) however, we definitely seem to be similar enough AND certainly have an ear for quality. It would be interesting to go through track by track with you and dissect an album, such as perhaps “Crush” which is a lower point in the band’s oeuvre but as you say, has its moments, to see just what it is we both find appealing.

        Like

  5. Echorich says:

    In retrospect and time, I can appreciate Junk Culture. It is far from their best work, but they weren’t that far away from losing the plot completely. Tesla Girls is certainly the highpoint of the album. Most of my reservations have always come from being that dyed-in-the-wool Dazzle Ships fan. In the last decade I have been rewarded for that long held appreciation of their fourth album.

    Like

  6. negative1ne says:

    Hi Mr. Monk,

    File this under random TV shows. So I was watching Hunters (2016), a syfy
    show based on the books alien hunters:
    https://www.inverse.com/article/14833-syfy-s-hunters-is-obsessed-with-the-band-orchestral-manoeuvres-in-the-dark

    There are 13 episodes, all named after OMD song titles:
    1 “The Beginning & the End”
    2 “Messages”
    3 “Maid of Orleans”
    4 “Love and Violence”
    5 “Her Body in My Soul”
    6 “Bunker Soldier”
    7 “Kissing the Machine”
    8 “The More I See You”
    9 “Promise”
    10 “Our System”
    11 “Telegraph”
    12 “Pretending to See the Future”
    13 “New Holy Ground”

    “The one thing that keeps popping up throughout the early season is the 1982 song, “Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc),” by semi-obscure Liverpudlian New Wave band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark”

    Anyways, they do play the song during the show, so I found it interesting
    that it came up, with this discussion.

    later
    -1

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      negative1ne – Fascinating, Captain. Of this I had utterly no idea. I have ignored TV for almost half of my life. Except for “The More I See You” [the weak cut on “Organisation”] that’s a pretty unimpeachable selection.

      Like

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