Tuesday, 19 April 2011
52 Crush - Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Purchased : November 1985
Tracks : So In Love / Secret / Bloc Bloc Bloc / Women III / Crush / 88 Seconds In Greensboro / The Native Daughters Of The Golden West / La Femme Accident / Hold You / The Lights Are Going Out
This was bought from Bostock's in Leeds.
Having passed on "Junk Culture" because I wasn't very impressed with the singles (I actively loathed "Locomotion") I bought this one on the strength of the first and third singles which I saw as a return to form. This was OMD's sixth album and is notable for being the first LP to be produced by Stephen Hague who got the break probably because they were going straight for the US market . The cover shows a 1950s couple in an open-top convertible a long way away from Stanlow oil refinery. Many of the songs reference US topics and some conventional guitar makes its first appearance on an OMD record.
The album kicks off with "So In Love" easily the best single since "Maid Of Orleans" in '82. With Hague as a co-writer it was their most straightforward love song to date although it's clear that McCluskey is singing about the past - "It's hard to believe I was so in love with you" and warning his ex against trying to rekindle the flame. The intro starts with a toytown synth riff similar to "Genetic Engineering" but thereafter the sweeping synths are more redolent of fellow Liverpudlians China Crisis with some quickfire guitar riffs for some added bite. McCluskey's vocal is touchingly unaffected and Martin Cooper's sax solo adds the right regretful tone. It's UK chart performance was very disappointing, peaking at 27 when the awful "Locomotion" had made the Top 5 just a year before. It got one place higher in the USA but established them as a presence over the pond for the rest of the original group's lifetime.
Disappointingly it's by far the best track. "Secret" , the follow-up single is pleasant enough but insubstantial. With Paul Humphreys doing the lead vocal it's basically a speeded-up retread of "Souvenir" with Malcolm Holmes giving it some extra welly on the drums. The nursery rhyme lyrics (with some really trite rhymes) and synthesised oboe riff aim at the pastoral but just make the track a bit vapid.
Things get worse with "Bloc Bloc Bloc". The title seems to be a metaphor for sexual shenanigans which I suppose is better than "zig-a-zig ah" but not much. The song, such as it is, hung on a stop-start synthesised bass line with a niggling guitar and a shrill brass riff presumably played by recent additions the Weir brothers but Hague makes them sound exactly like a Fairlight. Cooper's sax interjections threaten to turn it in to Glen Frey's The Heat Is On . As on "Telegraph" McCluskey duets with himself (although the video would have you believe the high parts are Humphreys) on some awful lyrics with heavy-handed references to Elvis and Man Ray (getting a namecheck in a pop song for the second time in as many months) and unwelcome sexual swagger - "I wanna get laid" ; "I'll take your sister to bed". Are they sending themselves up ? Whatever the intention it's not funny and it's probably the ugliest song in their canon.
Perhaps to make amends the guys try to get in the head of a suburban housewife in "Women III" but it never gets past arch observation - "At least she has a home to share, a man who comes to do her hair" . The swing beat and sax interjections suggest they're attempting to move into Steely Dan territory although the choral synth riff is oddly reminiscent of Antmusic.
The title track is a return to "Dazzle Ships" territory with the song based around a tape loop of four brief Japansese advertising slogans. It was inspired by the band's experiences on tour in Japan with McCluskey trying to get some sleep amid the hullabaloo of downtown Tokyo. The song's actually a bit of a dirge but McCluskey's murky vocal and Weir's drowsy trommbone do achieve the right neurasthenic feel.
Side Two begins with their attempt to write an angry rock song in the vein of Ohio. "88 Seconds In Greensboro" was inspired by the 1979 Greensboro massacre (so called) when American communists took on the Ku Klux Klan and lost with 5 of their number being killed in the encounter much of which was filmed by local TV. The lyric however is typically opaque. Apart from the Peter Hook-esque bassline, the music seems like a tribute to the Velvet Underground with the rudimentary two-chord guitar riff, Holmes's simple tub-thumping and Humphreys's synthesised string screech. McCluskey sings it with passion but it's only so-so.
"The Native Daughters Of The Golden West" carries on with the US themes and rock trappings . The song was inspired by a memorial statue to female pioneers bearing the titular inscription. With an untypical straight-down-the-line lyric McCluskey hollers over a fractured guitar riff while Humphreys's synth and the male backing vocals conjure up a Southern Gothic vibe. It's let down by being pretty tuneless.
"La Femme Accident" was the third single release , falling short of the Top 40 in November 1985. I loved it at the time , relating it to a girl who had a big crush on my uninterested best friend at university, a situation I observed with a mix of sympathy and jealousy. Away from that context it sounds a bit flimsy and too short , the lovely instrumental coda fading out at the two and a half minute mark. There's some lovely synthesised string and harp sounds on the song but there's just not enough of it . The reference to Joan of Arc in the lyric seems unnecessarily arch.
"Hold You" is a very straightforward song of having feelings for someone elses's girlfriend. Over a very simple two-note bassline and burbling electronic percussion McCluskey does a soft vocal while a Mellotron sighs sympathetically in the background and Cooper comes in for a sax solo. It's very hard to dislike but like so much of this LP it lacks the melodic inventiveness of their earlier work.
That just leaves us with "The Lights Are Going Out" which seems to be a continuation of the theme with McCluskey imagining a night encounter in which he's not involved - " And I can't see me with another girl". The mournful melodica and sampled female vocal loops conjure up the right late night atmosphere but the song doesn't really go anywhere after setting the mood.
And that's the story of the LP really - some interesting ideas but the songs simply aren't strong enough. I was quite disappointed with it and that's why it will be a while before the band crop up here again.