Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Sugar Tax

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With the split between McCluskey and the rest of the band resolved by the former's decision to carry on with the band's name on his own, the question before Sugar Tax's appearance was whether the change would spark a new era of success for someone who clearly could balance artistic and commercial impulses in a winning fashion. The answer, based on the album -- not entirely. The era of Architecture and Morality wouldn't be revisited anyway, for better or for worse, but instead of delightful confections with subtle heft like "Enola Gay" and "Tesla Girls," on Sugar Tax McCluskey is comfortably settled into a less-spectacular range of songs that only occasionally connect. Like fellow refugees from the early '80s such as Billy Mackenzie and Marc Almond, McCluskey found himself bedeviled in the early '90s with an artistic block that resulted in his fine singing style surrounded by pedestrian arrangements and indifferent songs. There was one definite redeeming number at the start: "Sailing on the Seven Seas," with glam-styled beats underpinning a giddy, playful romp that showed McCluskey still hadn't lost his touch entirely, and which became OMD's biggest single at home since "Souvenir." Beyond that, though, the album can best be described as pleasant instead of memorable, an exploration by McCluskey into calmer waters recorded entirely by himself outside of some guitar from Stuart Boyle. Without his longtime bandmates to help him, the results lack an essential spark (Holmes' drumming creativity being especially missed). In a tip of the hat to a clear source of inspiration, Sugar Tax includes a pleasant cover of Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights," with guest vocals by Christine Mellor, while "Apollo XI" uses Dazzle Ships-styled sample collages made up of moon-landing broadcasts, though the song itself isn't much. Even at its most active -- "Call My Name" and "Pandora's Box" -- Sugar Tax is for the most part just there.

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