CD Review: OMD “Junk Culture: Deluxe Edition”

PF WilsonAlbum Review, MusicLeave a Comment

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Junk Culture: Deluxe Edition
Virgin/Universal Music Group

When CDs first appeared in the early 80s we were told it was a huge advancement in sound technology. My uncle told me about listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on one of these new-fangled compact discs, and was blown away. Once we’d all been rooked into buying CDs, and with no new more expensive technology on the horizon, they said “f*** that. Early CDs are rubbish. Here, try this re-mastered CD…huh?…huh? Isn’t that much better?”

In some cases, the re-master does sound noticeably better, but in other cases there’s no discernable difference. Fortunately, with many of those albums come bonus tracks, b-sides, and outtakes. Such is the case with OMD’s 1984 album Junk Culture. And, by the way, if you only know OMD for “If You Leave,” do yourself a favor and plunder the back catalog, at least The Greatest Hits or The Singles Collection.

Originally recorded on analog equipment, Junk Culture was mixed digitally, so it’s very hard to tell the difference sonically between the 1984 version and the 2015 re-master. The real issue is the extras.

Disc One is the original album, with the UK track listing. In North America, the title track was pushed to third in the batting order back in 1984, with the single “Tesla Girls” taking the power cut spot, followed by the UK top-5 hit “Locomotion.” The songs “Talking Loud and Clear” and “Never Turn Away” were also singles.

I’ve never really paid attention to track sequence, but here it makes a difference. In 1984, OMD had a new label in America, A&M. They were on Virgin in the UK through 1996. You can’t fault A&M for wanting people to hear a single first, especially after their previous American label, Epic, totally ignored them even though they had top-10 hit after top-10 hit around the world.

Still, leading off with the title track really does set the tone for Junk Culture. Mostly recorded in Montserrat at George Martin’s Air Studios, the album has a decidedly Caribbean feel only slightly alluded to on the four singles. “Apollo,” “Love and Violence,” and “All Wrapped Up,” really bring the Latin-inspired horns and rhythms, especially the latter. “Hard Day” is one of the exceptions but remains a great song about the feeling of absolute exhaustion.

The album also marked a turning point for the band in terms of technology as this album was created shortly after they required their first digital synth, the then-brand-new Fairlight CMI. Previously the band was using analog synths, some of them homemade or refurbished. The first song written with the Fairlight by core members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys was the aforementioned and very brilliant “Talking Loud & Clear,” which also features a gorgeous saxophone melody courtesy of Martin Cooper. It perfectly counterbalances the technological with the traditional and sounds as fresh as ever.

There’s been a bit of controversy with the final pressing. The version of “Tesla Girls,” is the single version, and the trademark “tes-tes-t-t-t-t-Tesla Girls…” that starts the vocal is not there. It just starts “Tesla Girls, Tesla Girls.” Now if you own the original it’s sorted, and it’s actually kind of cool having this alternate version.

However, fans have been a little more critical of Disc Two, which contains the b-sides and remixes. The remix of “Taking Loud and Clear” is two minutes shorter than the original vinyl 12 inch, which seems to be the biggest complaint as that song is very definitely a fan favorite. Also there are a couple of b-sides from the era missing: “Telegraph (Live)” and “Waiting for the Man (Live).”

On the plus side, there are two great never-before-released tracks, “10 to 1” and “All or Nothing.” The former borrows quite a bit from “Love and Violence,” both musically and lyrically, but is faster paced. “Her Body in My Soul,” one of the b-sides for “Locomotion,” also borrows its melody partially from “Love and Violence.”

The other newly discovered gem is “All or Nothing” with vocals by Humphreys (McCluskey usually sings lead). In an interview on BBC Radio 6’s Radcliffe and Maconie radio program, Humphreys stated that he doesn’t even remember recording the song, having not discovered it until he went through the archives.

The early demos included are interesting to be sure. “Tesla Girls” in its early incarnation is a little slower and punctuated with several odd samples. There’s also a nice hook that didn’t make it to the final version. “Heaven Is,” which wouldn’t appear on an album for 10 more years, sounds choppy and borders on annoying with its rapid-fire drum track. It’s a nice counter-point to the version that wound up on the Liberator album though. “White Trash” too is quite a bit different than the final version, and of the three demos, is the one that sounds better than the album version.

Can’t wait for that Crush re-issue!

8 Manoeuvres out of 10

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PF WilsonCD Review: OMD “Junk Culture: Deluxe Edition”