Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark: Junk Culture (1984)

One of the more monumental events in my early musical development was coming across the 1982 faux concert film Urgh! A Music War on late-night cable, I think towards the end of high school.  For those who haven't seen it, it was an early-MTV-era collection of live music clips from a random assortment of punk, post-punk, new wave and experimental bands, everyone from the Go-Go's to Devo to the Police to Wall of Voodoo.  Many of the bands were still well outside the mainstream of US radio and MTV at the time, and it was an eye-opening look at what was going on elsewhere in the music world, something that excited me to start digging around for new and emerging acts.  (You can find most of it somewhere on YouTube.)

One of the best and most mainstream-friendly bands in the movie was Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (let's go with OMD here, ok?), who appear with a live take on their classic "Enola Gay."  It was definitely one of those "why isn't this getting played on the radio?" moments.  But what really won me over was their fourth album, 1984's Junk Culture; and while fans of their earlier, more experimental electronic albums may have balked at Junk's embrace of pure new wave pop (not to say each of the prior albums didn't each include a killer pop hit or two), I found it infectious and charming, Top 40 music that wasn't quite getting the Top 40 airplay it deserved (though a few tracks got a little traction).

The album is of course highlighted by those 3 killer singles:  The infectious synth-dance-pop of "Tesla Girls," as perfect a pop track that the UK new wave scene ever produced; the more mid-tempo but no less infectious "Locomotion"; and the slower-paced "Talking Loud and Clear," with its bubbly percussion and freaky keyboard sounds.  The inclusion of these three tracks make this a veritable greatest hits package, the rest of the album necessarily paling in comparison.

But a few other tracks do stand up well.  "Love and Violence" has more abrasive keyboard sounds, a bit of a throwback to their earlier more Krautrock-derived electronica, with energetic, passionate vocals and a terrific hook.  And "White Trash" takes similar keyboard stabs and matches them with staccato vocal samples, a weird but intriguing track, with all sorts of funky electronic burblings going on.

OMD remain one of my favorite bands of the UK synth-pop era, and Junk Culture is probably one of the most enduring albums of the genre.  (I'll note that, after a few more albums and some personnel shifts, the band later regrouped, and their recent work remains surprisingly strong.)

Here's the "Locomotion" video (god, I miss the 80s...):
...and that bizarre scarecrow picnic video for "Talking Loud & Clear":
Here's a more recent live take on "Tesla Girls":