Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 41]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Universal | 1996 – 3

[continued from previous post]

Andy McCluskey undoubtedly heard a compilation of African American gospel recordings released in 1994 by Smithsonian Folkways entitled “Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions Vol. I-IV.” There was a song called “Early My God Without Delay” by The Richard Allen Singers that McCluskey was obviously smitten with enough to write “The Gospel Of St. Jude,” which took this a cappella gospel recording which could have been recorded at any time in the 20th century, and had Andy sing lead over it with lyrics of his devising. The choir was obviously pumped up with reverb in the studio from the original recording and McCluskey chose the title to reflect the patron saint of lost causes, for a song that was about the futility of attaining happiness, according to the notes at the official OMD discography.

Words…cannot express …the complete wrongness of this song. It was a hugely fraudulent exercise that I am shocked that the Smithsonian gave permission to use their recording for. It was the last thing I ever wanted to hear OMD attempting. Literally last, because I would have put “Andy does hair metal” several positions ahead on a list that ended with “Andy leads an African American gospel choir” on the list of “catastrophic OMD ideas.” Thankfully, it was under 2:30 in length, but the damage it inflicted was substantial to an album side that had begun on such a stunning pinnacle.

Next was yet another 4:29 worth of self-flagellating cauldron of embitterment from the normally buoyant and chipper McCluskey. Having tried it first on “Sugar Tax” with “Was It Something I Said,” I daresay he perfected the approach here with “That Was Then.” The track smolders for its first two minutes with a solid methodical beat underpinning this angst until at the two minute mark, the dive-bombing guitars enter the mix [helpfully without pick scrapes] and McCluskey catches fire on this, yes, rock tune, before burning out for the coda which saw him singing like a completely spent force, mirroring the theme of disillusionment and decay inherent in the lyrics. He may do this sort of thing too often for my tastes, but I can certainly get behind the veracity of the sentiment as his delivery is completely believable.

But “believable” is not a word I’d ascribe to “Too Late” which followed. It was another McCluskey “end of the affair” number, which given the highly raw and personal emotional tenor of the surrounding material here, stuck out like a sore thumb.  Worse, the arrangement to this one seemed to be completely lifted from “Every Breath You Take,” the tiresome übersmash by The Police; and this time without the creamy modal guitar line by Andy Summers, which at least was a saving grace for that song. The whole affair had a whiff of the “Crush” era at its worst. Think “Hold You.”

Thankfully, McCluskey came to his own rescue with “The Boy From The Chemist Is Here To See You.” This unabashed technopop number began with a blatant quote from the rhythm track from the “third movement”of “Autobahn” with the familiar warm throbbing beefed up with some synthetic percussion as McCluskey related the tale of the people he’d disappointed coming back to haunt him. A typical, piece of McCluskey melancholic introspection, but this time mated with deliciously incongruous ebullient technopop of Buggles caliber. When the string patches enter the song near the end, they add just the sort of heart-tugging, quintessential OMD melody normally squandered in a song like “Dreaming” finally placed in a much better setting. This one was mooted as a possible single, but the failure on the marketplace of second single “Universal” put an end to that notion. It was also one of two tracks on the album [the other being “Too Late” which was produced and mixed solely by McCluskey.

“if You’re Still In Love With Me” was an old song written with Paul Humphries following the “Pacific Age” era and it’s hard to believe that this one began its life as another OMD go reggae number, but the arrangement here was vastly different, and a rare case of “OMD Unplugged” as the sole accompaniment was the 12-piece string section as arranged by Anne Dudley. The sound here was surprisingly vibrant; showing the difference between actual breathing strings [arranged by a real pro] and the sampled ones they usually relied upon [see “La Femme Accident” et. al]. Sampled strings resemble a string section, but they are not a string section.

“New Head” was another, deeper dip into the pool of psychedelia that, being a Scallie, was probably aways latent in McCluskey’s makeup. This one really went places with a vector of the saffron-scented psychedelic approach as favored by Siouxsie + The Banshees on “Kiss Them For Me.” The same shuffle beat was used here finally makes me realize that I have no problems with the beat, within an Indian/dance context. The droning mantras of the song layer repeatedly, forming a ziggurat of psychedelia that is capped by the violently incongruous appearance of a yodeling chorus on  song’s refrain. Yes! This was certainly thrilling stuff this late in the game for McCluskey.

The album concluded with the brief piano ballad, “Victory Waltz” wherein McCluskey indulges in a final bittersweet twist of the lyrical knife as he brought an ending to OMD with what would be the final song from the band for the foreseeable future. McCluskey noted that the lyrics referred to a relationship that was very nearly over as lyrics like:

“Come take me down to your victory waltz, and I will break your heart.
Gaze once again at the promise we made, that I have torn all apart.

And hold me now close to you.
As though we’re still pretending.
Hold me now close again.
This dream is almost ending.” – “Victory Waltz”


But these also feel like a metaphoric ending to OMD itself. Having begun the band with the best of intentions only to surprisingly succeed and thereafter descend into compromise and acrimony before continuing alone could not have felt good for him. The piano here was accompanied by the only OMD touch here; a choir patch. The OMD story did indeed end here since faced with an indifferent if not actually hostile promotional infrastructure, he chose to end the band after two albums of diminishing returns. Fortunately, this last stab corrected many of the ills of the preceding four albums even as it rarely stayed within the “OMD outlines.”  Barring the singsong “Walking On The Milky Way,” the horrifying “The Gospel Of St. Jude,” and the facile “Too Late,” I felt at the time that this was a huge improvement in the band’s fortunes and an adequate high note for them to bow out… once again, on.

The title track astounded as one of the best ever OMD songs, which weighted the final rating of this up almost a half point by sheer dint of its brilliance. But even the sprawling tributaries of this record, even at their worst, reveal an artist intent on trying to write songs of a higher caliber than he had for many years, and succeeding at it. I may not specifically enjoy the Beatleish styling of “The Moon And The Sun” but as a song it is miles above “Stand Above Me” not to mention “Dollar Girl.” I have to admit that it still got stuck in my cranium, which counts for something.

Next: …The Aftermath

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 40]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Universal | 1996 – 3

[continued from previous post]

The next track had been the initial, pre-release single, but that meant nothing to me. It still took me almost two years to finally hear “Walking On The Milky Way.”

Beginning an OMD single with a sermonette-like church organ solo was not the most auspicious of intros possible. Then, the sombre organ line billowed into florid life as the swelling “strings” and medium tempo erupted into the sort of tune that got crowds doing “the wave” in unison at events you’d rather not be attending. The music was embarrassing, but the lyric content showed McCluskey writing a pointed and poignant look back [on the shy side of 40, no less]  on his life as a pop star. It may have meant more to him, generally, but was infinitely preferable to the sorts of trite pop clichés OMD made their stock-in-trade during the first two albums of OMD’s “second coming” era.

The single charted in England at #17; the first top 20 for OMD since “Pandora’s Box” five years earlier. But McCluskey took it like a body blow. He thought it was the best song he could write [okay, so the lyrics were good, but I can’t rate the overblown, music-to-wave-lighters-by] and he was quite petulant about what he saw as its failure in the marketplace. Ironically, he would never again attain such single chart highs, but he was correct in assuming that his commercial day in the sun was ebbing. Actually, it had ebbed by 1992. As a final gesture, the title track would be the last OMD single released from this period, and as was common with OMD’s non-charting singles, it peaked at #50 in the UK charts.

I was excited to see the McCluskey/Bartos writing relationship begun on “Esperanto” and continued here with “The Moon And The Sun,” but I would have never guessed that the overly Beatlesque song would ever come from the pen of known Beatle hater Andy. The deliberately Harrison-esque slide guitar was particularly galling and with all of the string patches in evidence, the specter of ELO was knocking at the door of this number! As with the previous song, I thought the lyrics were pretty good and deserved better accompaniment, but apparently Karl Bartos was wanting to indulge in some Beatleism. This was the second song in a row written with a middle-aged P.O.V. reflecting on the changes wrought with the passage to time from youth to [gasp!] 37 years of age. Nothing earth shattering, but I point to a huge improvement from the first two Andy’s OMD albums, which were content to traffic in nursery rhymes like “Sailing On The Seven Seas.”

“The Black Sea” was a typically self-flagellating Andy song with [sampled] orchestral accompaniment, solely by Matthew Vaughan, suggesting a somber, all-acoustic environment for this former electropopper. McCluskey’s vocals were shaded with effects to further pull him from the spotlight on this pensive number. I had to admit, that the overall vitality of the writing reflected McCluskey getting more real and ditching the embarrassing chartpop leanings of his songs that began in earnest with “Crush” and became terminal by “Sugar Tax.” That said, the environments of these new songs were remarkably eclectic, with almost no sonic continuity present form one song to the next. As compared to the almost monomaniacally focused “Sugar Tax” which ran the gamut from A to B, or even the slightly more stylistically expansive “Liberator,” “Universal” was certainly the most varied OMD album yet.

More new ground was broken with “Very Close To Far Away,” a song Paul Humphreys had written with Andy, indicating their post-split bad feelings had by then been abandoned. But it was most certainly not business as usual for those two. The longish song was more than touched by a thread of techno-psychedelia with sliiiightly phased lead vocals and subtle backward effects. It made me vividly recall the instance of hearing the 1982 single of “Endlessly” by John Foxx, who first went down this road. Fifteen years later and not too many had bothered investigating synthetic psychedelia in the interim, but I somehow think Foxx heard this and was impressed. The soulful backing vocals, courtesy of Carol Kenyon of “Temptation” fame, were surprisingly at home here among this swirling, blurry sound. It also helped that she shied away from the shrill register that I associated with “Temptation.” The song ended with Kenyon soloing free in the 5:45 song’s coda. When the next song began on the heels of that, I was unsure that there had been a transition at first, but as the massed vocals of a gospel choir manifested, it was clear that we were not in Liverpool any more… we were in Kansas!


Next: …Hostile To Gospel


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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 39]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Universal | 1996 – 3

[continued from this post]

It was a three year gap between the release of “Liberator” and the next OMD album, “Universal.” I remember having a very difficult time finding a copy. In 1997, it was not just possible to buy CDs on the internet.  Especially from other nations. Until PayPal came onto the scene, that was a very dicey proposition. I believe it was some time in 1997-8 that by then I had joined the Associates mailing list in the wake of Billy MacKenzie’s suicide and came across someone in Europe who wanted something I could provide, and I got them to swap me a CD of “Universal” for it. The CD finally arrived after several years of not seeing a copy for sale in any way, shape, or form. By this time the Sound City 2000 catalogs I had relied upon for the first half of the 90s had dried up. Goldmine was still there, but had been useless for several years by that point.

I noted the striking cover of water molecules was a huge improvement over the last cover and I noted that Peter Saville was credited with the concept that Area [their third OMD cover in a row] executed. When I finally popped it into the ÇD player, I was rewarded with the incredible title track to the album, right up front. With a slight wind chime loop in the deep background, the monolithic industrial throb of the long intro began. Then the anguished lead synth chimed in; a variant [and not the first] of the patch used on Karl Bartos’ “Kissing The Machine.”  Choral patches added mystery to the already powerful dip back into the “Organisation” sound that was clearly being referenced here. In all honesty, the song was shaping up to be a darker sequel to “Stanlow.” Yes, that great! As my quickening pulse would attest, after a decade of indifference, OMD were back.

Then, about two minutes into the track, an echo of the drumbeat faded up and the track segued from the shadowy intro to the blinding light of the “pop” portion of the song. This had an expansive, rock like feel coming on the heels of the atmospheric intro. McCluskey’s personnel for this album were radically different from the first two OMD albums he’d helmed. Phil [Toyah] Spalding played bass with drums by session man Chuck Sabo. The robust female backing vocals [the best that OMD had by this point] were from Breda Dunne; a huge step forward from the trite BVs the last three albums had included. Synths and guitars were courtesy of Matthew Vaughan, but this track had no guitars. Better, it had synths taking the place of guitars! This actual band behind McCluskey gave the song a presence closer to that of Ultravox than typical OMD. Vaughan’s muscular pitch-bended solo in the middle eight was cut directly from the cloth of the Billy Currie Holy Vestments. Did I love this? Oh yeah, but I saved the best part for last!

What made this song even more exceptional were its lyrics. “Universal” was the sort of bold, atheist anthem that had been bubbling around the edges for about a decade [nice tries, XTC, Depeche Mode] but refined and concentrated into the kind of fearless, detached sentiment that makes me frankly get a little misty-eyed with its beauty.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white
Or the God that you choose to pray to
It doesn’t matter about the clothes you wear
Or which creator made you

We all bleed the same blood
We all need the same love
And when we die there’s no heaven above
It’s universal, it’s universal

It doesn’t matter who you think you are
You’re living and you know you feel it
It’s not important as to why we’re here
You know there is no reason” – “Universal”

After hearing this song, I came to the conclusion that this was one of the finest songs OMD had ever recorded. That it came ten years into a stretch of highly variable mediocrity by the band was all the more impressive.

Next: …Wild Mood Swings

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Record Shopping Roadtrip: Greenville, South Carolina 2018

A few weeks ago, I found myself in Greenville, South Carolina. It’s a much bigger city than I live in and my wife had wanted to see the last weekend of a Katherine Hepburn costume exhibit at a museum there. I scoped out a Cuban cafe for lunch and they had maps of the city and my wife noticed a Mr.K’s as one of the featured businesses. After seeing the exhibit, we tooled around the downtown area, checking it out [and finding it wanting – due to the chains everywhere] then headed for Mr. K’s. The store was part of a regional chain of used book/DVD/CD/Record stores that we frequent. The one in our town is very close by, so we go there about every 6-8 weeks and usually one or two visits a year have us spending $80-100 on the goods…while all the rest see us leave empty handed. As with all used media stores, the quality of input stream means everything. The stores are big, so the churn rate there is probably very high.

The facade of the 2nd + Charles in Greenville, SC

2nd + Charles

So we were navigating via the map to where Mr. K’s was, when all of a sudden, I spotted a 2nd + Charles along the way and quickly turned into the shopping center housing it. 2nd + Charles is the national chain [run by Books-A-Million] with a business model exactly like that of Mr. K’s. In other words, they are the national chain that will devour your local used book/record store. Eventually. I first ran into the store while visiting Charlotte in 2015 and I had to admit, the quality of stock and price was pretty good. Enough to make an impulse turn into a shopping center in passing. We arrived at about 4:30 so there was at least 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon to shop both locales by 6:00 p.m.

We entered and my wife and I split up on the CD stock as we always do. I had to say that this ship was run nowhere as neatly as the Charlotte store. Stock was all over the place and the bins were in a state of chaos. I was not feeling the love but slogged through the stock, as messed up as it was. I was getting nothing for my efforts, but my wife struck gold with 1996’s “Black Diamond,” one of the Stan Ridgeway solo albums that are always welcome in the Record Cell [and that are thin on the ground, out in the wilds]. After far too long plugging through the stock, I eventually found a few items of interest. Used CD bins in America often have Goldfrapp’s “Supernature”  CD but others are scarce, so I was happy to see “Tales Of Us” and a Saint Etienne single from my cherished “Good Humour” period. At the very end of my search, I was rewarded with a Wire album I’d yet to hear: “The Drill.” Their 1989 album with nine versions of “Drill” from the “Snakedrill” EP. How I wish that they had recorded one more so that they could have called it “Ten Drills” instead.

Wrong “Flea”

We seemed to have much better luck in the used vinyl. I immediately glommed on to the US “Visage” album as I had bought the 1st CD pressing of this classic in 1987, when I had the stupid, practical policy of trading in any LPs I re-bought on CD, no matter how much I “collected” the artist! Good shape for the $2.00 asking price! Yes! My wife found some Steve Harley records that she had always wanted since the late 70s. She also picked up a 12″ by Flea, wondering if it was a rare [and early] solo turn by Anthony Balzary; beloved by millions. [Note: it wasn’t]

She also found an Ian Hunter album that had missed a berth in the Record Cell for too long. I saw what I thought was an early Pretty Poison 12″ from their indie period. It sort of wasn’t. It was the 1988 Virgin Records reissue [complete with Shep Pettibone remix]. I was fooled because of the 1984 copyright info I saw on it after a quick glance. It turns out that the other three tracks on this single were the original indie 12″ tracks from 1984, so it’s still good. I was never impressed with Pretty Poison once they hit the majors, but I had read intriguing reviews of their indie releases from the early 80s that probably never filtered down to Florida. My wife used to have the Hipsway cassette and now she had the album. What did we take home?

  1. Flea: Hard Rock (It’s The Beat Of The Street) – Atlantic ‎– DMD 783 – USP – 12″ – 2nd + Charles/$4.00
  2. Hipsway: Hipsway –  Columbia ‎– C 40522 – US – LP – 2nd + Charles/$2.00
  3. Pretty Poison: Nighttime – Virgin ‎– 0-96710 – US – 12″ – 2nd + Charles/$5.00
  4. Visage: Visage – Polydor ‎– PD-1-6304  – USP – LP – 2nd + Charles/$2.00
  5. Ian Hunter – All Of The Good Ones Were Taken –  Columbia ‎– FC 38628 – US – LP – 2nd + Charles/$5.00
  6. Steve Harley + Cockney Rebel: Face To Face –  EMI ‎– SKBB-11661 – US – 2xLP – 2nd + Charles/$4.00
  7. Steve Harley: Hobo With A Grin – Capitol Records ‎– SW-11770 – US – LP – 2nd + Charles/$4.00
  8. Stan Ridgeway: Black Diamond – Birdcage Records ‎– SRDI 11007 – US – CD – 2nd + Charles/$5.97
  9. Goldfrapp: Tales Of Us – Mute ‎– 9573-2 – US – CD – 2nd + Charles/$6.00
  10. Saint Etienne: Sylvia CD#1 – Creation Records ‎– CRESCD 279 – UK – CD5 – 2nd + Charles/$4.00
  11. Wire: The Drill – Mute ‎– 9 61103-2  – US – CD – 2nd + Charles/$4.00

Not bad, but the shabby condition of the stock made browsing difficult. Things weren’t just out of alphabetical order; they were in completely wrong genre areas and the like. By the time we finally got out of that mess and back on the road where Mr. K’s was just down the street, there was only about 25 minutes until 6:00 p.m.

Another fine Mr. K’s in Greenville, SC this time

Mr. K’s

As it turned out, Mr. K’s was just a quarter of a mile down the road at another shopping center. We entered with about 20 minutes to shop, but the difference in the cleanliness of the stock was light night and day! This was like shopping at our local store. Effortless, so I guess that Mr. K’s have better management policies than a corporation traded on the NYSE.  We split up and hit the CD bins first as per our modus operandi. I quickly saw a welcome sight in the “B” section: Blow Monkeys. Nothing I needed – yet another compilation, but it was encouraging. I moved through the alphabet quickly.

I soon struck gold with what looked like this album [see left] in the Brian Eno section. Yes, Brian Eno had a bin title card here, which should tell you a lot about the differences between Mr.K’s and 2nd  Charles. The album was something that I did not recognize. It was credited to Eno/Mobius/Roedelius/Plank and called “Begegnungen II.” It looked like a compilation of these artists together and apart, but look at that pedigree! You just buy an album like this, even if its a compilation. I dug up one of the remaining Marianne Faithfull albums we didn’t have and and a Lou Reed opus [“Coney Island Baby”] that scarcely fills the used bins [or new ones, for that matter].

I saw an OOP Mott The Hoople album [“Brain Capers”] I had never heard. I really like Ian Hunter/Mott The Hoople, so I sprang for it, even though it was going for $15. I took a gamble that I was not getting rooked on the price. I felt as though this was a good time to buy [when had I ever seen this CD], so I did. I checked the going rate at Amazon and Discogs later; a very stable $40-45 price, so my instincts are still working. My wife found gold with the third, elusive Television CD from 1992. Yes! We had heard amazing music from this one when we saw Television live in Athens in 2013 so that was a real score. She also picked up a Steppenwolf greatest its I could not say “no” to since the first songs I can remember loving as a young lad were “Born To Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride.” It was the organ playing. I grew up with a 45 of each always in my possession and that’s been missing for decades. Time to revisit my roots!

I next moved to the cheapie bins that every Mr. K’s has and was quickly rewarded with a Future Bible Heroes album we needed and a Mark E. Smith duo album with Ed Blaney that caught my eye. I never see Fall or related stuff for sale used, so this was a surprise. I next made my way to the vinyl but the hour was getting perilously close to closing; they had already announced “last call” by that time. Instead of vinyl, my eye was drawn to the “Laserdiscs” bins clearly marked like a time warp from 25 years ago!

One of the better remaining laserdisc selections I’ve seen in years

Laserdiscs were high quality for their time but what got released seemed to be kind of random. Lots of LD stock in the day was no-name indie productions of little distinction, with major name productions with little pull for me predominating. I wanted cult items on LD but they were harder to get. I would have more than the hundreds of LDs I had if not for the fact that stuff I wanted was kind of scarce in the format. What LDs exist in the wilds 21 years after DVDmageddon® are largely the nondescript varieties of disc mentioned first. Not here. This store had abut 200 LDs of very unusual “A-list” stock. Lots of James Bond/Star Trek titles. A few music titles [which I will still buy if the title is desirable] but nothing with my name on it. I ran through it all and it was all priced right [$3.00-$5.00] and clearly labelled so as not to confuse the youngsters hitting the bins for their “vinyls.” Then I saw this

Believe it or not, I stayed my hand on this one…

By the way, the timeline for seeing this LD above was right on top of the concurrent OMD thread on the blog. Was the universe trying to tell me something? If so, I was not listening. We checked out and ht the road home; enjoying Mott The Hoople and Lou Reed along the way. Try that with your “vinyls!” Here’s the take:

  1. Future Bible Heroes: The Lonely Robot –  Instinct Records ‎– INS613-2 – US – CD5 – Mr. K’s Greenville/$2.00
  2. Mark E. Smith And Ed Blaney: Smith And Blaney – Voiceprint ‎– VP448CD – UK – CD – Mr. K’s Greenville/$2.00
  3. Cluster: Cluster 71 – Water ‎– WATER 160  – US – CD – Mr. K’s Greenville/$7.95
  4. Marianne Faithfull: Blazing Away – Island Records ‎– 842 794-2 – US – CD – Mr. K’s Greenville/$4.95
  5. Lou Reed: Coney Island Baby –  RCA ‎– ND83807 – GER – CD – Mr. K’s Greenville/$5.75
  6. Steppenwolf: 20th Century Masters – MCA Records ‎– MCAD-19954 – US – CD – Mr. K’s Greenville/$4.95
  7. Mott The Hoople: Brain Capers – Atlantic ‎– 8304-2  – US – CD – Mr. K’s Greenville/$15.00
  8. Television: Television –  Capitol Records ‎– CDP 0777 7 98396 2 9 – US – CD – Mr. K’s Greenville/$5.75

When I got home I found out that an error had happened. The Eno/Moebius/Roedelius/Plank album reflected by the cover was actually this album: “Cluster’s “Cluster ’71.” Just with the wrong cover. I was happy to have this one in any case. Maybe it was better than getting a compilation of tracks I would not need once I finally had those two Cluster + Eno albums that taunt me still. Mr. K’s was proven to be a great place to shop in all four of the locations I have visited, but 2nd + Charles was dramatically different to the experience that I had previously in Charlotte. I guess, that the larger Charlotte population meant that more [fringe] things I would want filtered in the store, but what I really did not like was the messiness of the stock. I am unsure if I would shop there again, even with the Visage album to their credit.

– 30 –

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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


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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 37]

The Listening Pool – Still Life | 1994 – 1

I remember hearing somewhere along the way that Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes threw their lot in with Paul Humphreys to reunite as a new band once Paul left OMD and the others soon followed. So on one hand, we had Andy owning the OMD name and having released a pair of tepid releases that managed to make the last two OMD albums sound strong in comparison. With 3/4 of the classic OMD lineup in a new formation, interest was high from these quarters, to put it mildly.

The gents formed their own label, Telegraph Records since Paul had learned that he wanted to own his songs going forward. The band was eventually revealed as The Listening pool and I was having a hard time obtaining the CD. Eventually, I saw a catalog [SoundCity 2000?] where the Japanese CD was for sale, so I ordered one. At this point in time, Japanese CDs were about $33-35 each. Not inexpensive. That they usually came with bonus tracks not elsewhere was a small sop. Here, it netted me the extended version of the first single A-side, “Oil For The Lamps Of China.” Thank goodness my earning capacity was at its height during this period, so I could order with impunity.

The first track was not what I was expecting from this band. After all, Paul had walked away from OMD due to the compromised sound of trying to make it in the American market. This made me think that he was going to move in a more uncompromising, technological direction. Perhaps a return to the more electronic emphasis of OMD prior to the Stephen Hague years, which saw them behaving more like  rock band. That shows how wrong I was. “Meant To Be” sounded like modern China Crisis! Real drumming as opposed to the drum machines of Andy’s OMD, of course, but nothing motorik in the slightest. A pretty wimpy tune but at least it had some hooks. Yeah, I could hear China Crisis doing something like this. One of the Eddie Lundon tracks, at least.

They obviously put a lot of effort into the pre-release single, “Oil For The Lamps Of China.” A further ten names appeared in the credits for this one! Everyone from Prince protege Jill Jones [BVs] to Tom Lord-Alge [who mixed this] threw their hats in on this one. That said, the song was not as memorable as the previous one. The extremely soulful backing vocals made this sound cliché. This was radically not what I was expecting, and quickly degenerating from the modest levels of success that at least the first track had evidenced.

Tracks like “Follow Wherever You Go” and “Breathless” were full of cloying adult contemporary synth patches and full of Kenny G sax manoœuvres. Disgraceful! “Breathless” was so MOR that at any moment I was expecting Mark Knopfler to show up as the guitar of Tony Smith kept threatening to go full pedal steel at any moment. At least OMD never threatened to make country music. As Andy had hooked up with local b-list Liverpudlian dance music producers for his opus, Paul had also picked from the local talent pool. The difference was that he was looking at the MOR spectrum and pulled Thomas Lang into backing vocal duties there.

When Hugh Cornwell had left The Stranglers a few years earlier for solo pastures, I bought the first Stranglers single without him and ended my probe then and there. Instead of letting J.J. Burnel carry the load, they opted to enlist one Paul Roberts [not the Bad Company singer] and lost me right then and there as the crooning Roberts was completely ill-suited for the truculence that The Stranglers demanded. When Roberts showed up as guest vocalist on “Somebody Somewhere,” his tepid crooning may have fit the toothless music somewhat better, but that didn’t mean that I wanted to listen to him here, either. Listening to this was like eating the whitest bread possible. Bread so lacking in fiber [and nutrients] that it could cause diarrhea.

Next: …Where Do We Go From Here?

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Shriekback Kickstarter Perilously Still At Halfway Point

Will Shriekback make it to America this year?

We interrupt this OMD Rock G.P.A. for the following public service announcement.

It’s now half way into Shriekback’s Kickstarter campaign to finance a tour of America this year, and it’s been stalled since day two at around 22% of goal.

We knew the score. When their successful UK/Euro Kickstarter last year saw them moving forward with their first concerts in 25 years, it was understood that the North American leg could not, would not happen, until the beast got some traction closer to home first. So the Shriekfans came forth with the necessary bounty to insure this first, important step could be taken. About half of the pledgers were in fact, from North America so they knew it would happen next year for them, but they still gave freely. I ponied up a pittance since money was tight at the time.

There are currently 72 pledgers in he campaign thus far and the last one netted almost 500. They don’t need £100 from everybody. The price of a CD or two from enough punters can move hills, if not mountains. It’s collectively possible, but it doesn’t look like it can happen yet. These things tend to sprint at first and if they do not clear their goals early, it usually settles into a nail biting time about 2/3 through when, miraculously, the faithful come together and give it that final push in the last 48 hours or so that sees it just clear the bar. Well, it’s already panic time, so if you at all value Shriekback [almost the quintessential Post-Punk band, really] then hit that banner below and cough up some shekels!

Yeah, I know I have not pledged yet. Money was tight when they announced this, but I have some breathing room next paycheck and am kicking in $50. A lot, for this Monk. If it makes any difference, here is what Carl Marsh says the tentative ininerary will be:

SHRIEKBACK | Possible US Tour | 2018

June 20th | San Francisco
June 21st | San Juan Capistrano
June 22nd or 23rd | San Diego
June 24th | Los Angeles
June 25th | Chicago
June 26th | New York City
June 27th | TBA
June 28th | Philadelphia
June 29th | TBA

Carl Marsh added that those TBAs could likely be New Jersey, Boston or DC. Nothing nearby but I will go anywhere it takes to see this band this year. You should too. It’s not often that frozen giants of yore thaw and once again walk the earth, but Shriekback is one such entity. Please retweet or whatever the hell it is that you kids do these days, but just SPREAD THE WORD.

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