Smarting from Dazzle Ships' commercial failure, the band had a bit of a rethink when it came to their fifth album -- happily, the end result showed that the group was still firing on all fours. While very much a pop-oriented album and a clear retreat from the exploratory reaches of previous work, Junk Culture was no sacrifice of ideals in pursuit of cash. In comparison to the group's late-'80s work, when it seemed commercial success was all that mattered, Junk Culture exhibits all the best qualities of OMD at their most accessible -- instantly memorable melodies and McCluskey's distinct singing voice, clever but emotional lyrics, and fine playing all around. A string of winning singles didn't hurt, to be sure; indeed, opening number "Tesla Girls" is easily the group's high point when it comes to sheer sprightly pop, as perfect a tribute to obvious OMD inspirational source Sparks as any -- witty lines about science and romance wedded to a great melody (prefaced by a brilliant, hyperactive intro). "Locomotion" takes a slightly slower but equally entertaining turn, sneaking in a bit of steel drum to the appropriately chugging rhythm and letting the guest horn section take a prominent role, its sunny blasts offsetting the deceptively downcast lines McCluskey sings. Meanwhile, "Talking Loud and Clear" ends the record on a reflective note -- Cooper's intra-verse sax lines and mock harp snaking through the quiet groove of the song. As for the remainder of the album, if there are hints here and there of the less-successful late-'80s period, at other points the more adventurous side of the band steps up. The instrumental title track smoothly blends reggae rhythms with the haunting mock choirs familiar from earlier efforts, while the elegiac, Humphreys-sung "Never Turn Away" and McCluskey's "Hard Day" both make for lower-key highlights.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett