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"SUGAR' IS SPRINKLED WITH GEMS

Published Aug. 23, 1991|Updated Oct. 13, 2005

Orchestral Manoeuvresin the Dark

Sugar Tax

Virgin

++++

Sugar Tax is classic O.M.D., and after a four-year absence marks a triumphant return for one of new wave's original invaders. Though the group has been reduced to only one permanent member, primary lead singer and songwriter Andy McClusky has managed to distill all the best qualities of a 12-year career into a highly listenable album.

For those who ignored O.M.D. before their American breakthrough with If You Leave (from the sound track of Pretty in Pink), Sugar Tax basically sounds like a smoother version of the seven albums that preceded it. What always has separated O.M.D. from the majority of the second British invasion was their talent for memorable melodies instead of just a good dance beat. Original nucleus Paul Humphries and McClusky crafted peculiar, challenging albums that included at least one slice of perfect commercial pop that landed them in the European Top 10. Though Humphries left in 1989, McClusky has managed to keep the recipe to this secret formula, as evidenced by the fabulous opening track, Sailing on the Seven Seas, a rollicking foot-stomper in its original version, and a haunting late-night dance track in remixed form. The track is reminiscent of their early '80s hits _ silly lyrics, hopelessly cheerful chords and a melody you can sing after only one listen. On the other side of the pendulum is Walk Tall, a moody ode to co-dependency, and a spirited version of Kraftwerk's Neon Lights, likely in deference to the band that was O.M.D.'s primary influence.

The overall approach of Sugar Tax is decidedly more direct than many of O.M.D.'s earlier albums, but just as some of their former cleverness came across as gimmicky, this current emphasis on technique occasionally sounds mechanical, especially on the soundalike dance tracks Speed of Light and Call My Name, which are just too rigid to inspire any excitement. While this one shortcoming does prevent the album from achieving a perfect score, Sugar Tax was worth the wait, and makes a worthy addition to the O.M.D. catalog.

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