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 
Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark: Junk Culture – UK – CD 
- Junk Culture
- Tesla Girls
- Never Turn Away
- Love + Violence
- Hard Day
- All Wrapped Up
- White Trash
- 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.
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