The new track of my synthwave project, Night Orchid:
B-side collections are most often definitely something for dedicated fans only. B-sides of singles gave the bands a chance to try out different things, experiment and bit and publish tracks rejected from albums. This is true for OMD also, as this 19-track compilation ranging from their earliest days to 1991 proves. Most of the tracks have a decidedly experimental vibe to them, as the band explores territory alien to their albums in terms of experimentation with soundscapes, voyaging into darker atmospheres than on their albums, and in general just writing tracks with a more or less un-OMD’ish feel to them.
For dedicated fans, this is an interesting glimpse into another side of the band, and for collectors, a nifty way of getting a heap of B-sides compiled together on one disc instead of spread around twenty or so singles. For the rest, a compilation of tracks that were excluded from the albums with good reason. Honestly: among the 19 tracks, there’s not a single one that’s really worth more than one listen at most.
Interesting curiosities these tracks may be, but a good album they do not make.
This anthology of the British synthpop groups’ greatest moments is proof of why it’s borderline criminal that they are often but a footnote in the history writing of synthesizer-driven pop and 80’s pop in general, but at the same time also ample evidence of why it’s nonetheless understandable that it is so.
The first three tracks on the CD, Messages, Electricity and Enola Gay, are all some of the best pop music ever written. Upbeat, naïvely melodic songs that are catchy as Hell and with a beat that just makes you want to dance with abandon, kind of like Andy McCluskey at least used to do on stage… dance like nobody’s watching, you know.
And the rest, the remaining 17 tracks: some highlights, true, but the drop in quality is just too big to be ignored. And it’s not just that the rest of the tracks aren’t as good, they aren’t visionary in the same way as the opening trio. The three first songs are bigger than life, the rest are just songs. And as the anthology progresses towards the 90’s, there’s less and less innovation and more and more trite, dime-a-dozen pop. It’s a shame really, because the three first tracks are just as good as Speak & Spell by Depeche Mode, or even better.
The DVD features a comprehensive collection of videos, most of which are utterly crude technically and artistically, but still possess a certain charm of a more innocent and less professional time, when music videos were made with a cheap budget and no fear of trying out even the silliest ideas. Good fun, and bears to be watched more than once.
…just look at him dance away!
By the end of the 80’s, British synthpop pioneers OMD had lost one of their core members, Paul Humphreys, although he did help in writing a couple of tracks for this album. Andy McCluskey carried on under the name, but one can safely say that OMD’s sail was sagging.
Unlike Depeche Mode, who made the 90’s their own by reinventing themselves on their own terms and combining the bleakness of 90’s rock to their 80’s synthpop and thus bringing synthpop screaming and clawing into the new decade, Humphreys’ solo incarnation of OMD was by 1996 basically reduced to sounding like an old dog trying to learn the new tricks of the young pups. It did occasionally learn them, as the highlights of the album prove, but for the most part it just sounds strained and lacking in spirit.
The two opening tracks, Universal and Walking On The Milky Way, together with Too Late form the three worthwhile songs the album has to offer. The rest range between mediocre and pointless. However, of the three good tracks, especially Walking On The Milky Way is a perfect example of how OMD did not go the Depeche Mode way of making it to the 90’s on their own terms; this song clearly steals a lot from the young brit-pop bands of the era. Hardly flattering words to speak of a band who once upon a time where true pioneers of synthesizer-driven pop music.
A single off their Liberator album released the same year, the CD version of the single features two remixes of the title track plus a trivial B-side called Can I Believe You. The track itself is a rather boring synthesizer-driven track that doesn’t really convince one of OMD still being vital in the 90’s, but it’s not bad. The two remixes, which bear little to no resemblance to the original, sound almost too 90’s and are both far too long, especially the first of the two, “Transcendental Mix”, which clocks in at over ten minutes and is therefore at least eight minutes too long. A completely pointless single.
Just for the heck of it, I decided to review every single CD, vinyl and tape in my collection. A long-running project of mine has been to listen through my whole collection in order, format by format, and in conjunction with this I will write reviews of variable length of each item. Just because I can… or think I can. That’s roughly 3000 items and counting to write about, excluding the few albums I’ve already reviewed in the blog.
Starting in the middle of wading through my CD collection, the first album in this daunting task is British synth pop pioneer OMDs’ fifth album, Junk Culture. In contrast to some of their previous efforts, this is a decidedly understated album with the vocals and bass basically carrying most songs, with synthesizers and other instruments being used quite sparsely on most tracks.
After the opening instrumental which has the same name as the album, Junk Culture continues with the two highlights on the album: the oddly catchy and seemingly nonsensical Tesla Girls, of which there is a ludicrous video, and Locomotion. From there, the rest of the album is downhill. The understated and minimalistic nature of the arrangements really detracts from the compositions, rendering virtually the whole album extremely dull and tedious. A dull bassline and the in themselves quite passable vocals of the dynamic duo of McCluskey and Humphreys just aren’t enough.
Despite two rather good tracks, Junk Culture is too dull and flat to be even a mediocre album.