17 February 2010

"We understood each other, but didn't make a sound..."

Talking Loud And Clear by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. A song of obvious contradiction but one I still find most heartwarming and gentle on the rare occasions it turns up.

I didn't know much about OMD before 1984. I vaguely remembered Enola Gay and Souvenir, and also got given a flexisingle of theirs by my brother. It came free with a 1981 edition of Smash Hits which he had bought, against his usual heavy metal principles, because there was an interview with Rainbow therein. Oddly, on the flexisingle, the band were just called Orchestral Manoeuvres. I can't remember which songs were on it.

Then Locomotion was released as a single shortly after I really started to listen to absolutely everything in the charts, and I became interested.

Talking Loud and Clear
was the follow-up to Locomotion, released in the summer of 1984 from the album Junk Culture. It was, essentially, an electro ballad and allowed Andy McCluskey to deliver his softest and most understated vocal yet, something evidently a paradox with the title and general theme of the song.

What I've always liked most is the length of the intro, which allows a new instrument or track to be introduced at the end of each bar. You get a few synth effects with a bass drum to start with, then a simple electronic melody track, a harmony of which is then added. Then the drums and bassline kick in, and it's that bassline that provides the eventual vocal melody for McCluskey. Finally, we get the "baaarm! baaarm! baaa-aaaarm!" brass section before the singer, after 56 seconds, finally begins to pretty much whisper a song about, erm, talking loud and clear. The only other song I can think of that has this type of gradual intro is Close To Me by the Cure.

McCluskey's lyrics give off images of alfresco summer afternoons in the company of a loved one, totally comfortable with the setting and therefore unafraid to say what he may think. I particularly love the line "doesn't really matter what we do or what we say; with every little movement, we give ourselves away".

After the first round of vocals is complete, there is a nice oboe score placed on to the song as a separator and then an instrumental bridge, before McCluskey returns with a second and final verse. It's quite a long song for such a short lyric sheet and there is no chorus, but it just works. As his voice finishes its work, the track carries on for more than a minute - oboe and trumpets mixing it - before fading away.

The video is a peculiar and evidently inexpensive bit of work. McCluskey and his OMD partner Paul Humphreys are initially seen as scarecrows in a farmer's field (and I recognise the actor playing the farmer but can't quite place him) before the pair of them turn up as themselves with glam 80s girlfriends, and enjoy a picnic.

McCluskey mouths the words while sitting down in his white trousers (serious grass stain potential) and then a little girl seems to nick an apple while the two couples go for a walk, leaving all their picnic apparatus and leftovers behind. Then they come back, pack up and go, and the girl returns to look at the scarecrows and do something with the straw on the front. As the song fades out, McCluskey and his glam girlfriend - with a different hair colour - return during a snowfall (and really bad fake snow at that) and drape a towel on the scarecrow's arm. The end.

If you can decipher what the hell that was about, then well done. I haven't the foggiest idea.

Video weirdnesses aside, I do think the song is fantastic to this day. Simple, effective and very much of its time as all the electronic bands from the beginning of the 1980s branched out in more grown up, thoughtful pop. OMD never quite hit the heights that some may assume - this song only got to No.11 in the charts - and perhaps there was a lack of obvious star quality onstage to go with some very polished songs. They also chose to write about rather quirky subjects, not least a certain infamous aeroplane, rather than go down the regular love song routine.

Of course, there was the most rare of comebacks in 1991 which produced big hits and the biggest-selling album, but largely revived nothing about OMD's heyday except McCluskey's exceptionally poor dancing, something which he acknowledges himself. The version of McCluskey we got during Pandora's Box was still nothing like the bloke of a million bodily itches who capered around stages during Electricity in 1980. But he was still very, very bad at it. Atomic Kitten should be grateful that all he did for them was write, rather than choreograph.


Jon Peake said...

Being that much older than you of course, I remember them well.

I even went to see them in 2008. Look here:


Suzy Norman said...

I had a poster taken from Smash Hits of OMD. As a seven-year-old I used to kiss Paul Humphreys every night before bed.


Simon said...

"He got the name of the band, I got the company car".

Lovely song and a nice write-up. I shall be listening to the Greatest Hits this weekend I think.