OMD – Punishment of Luxury (Album Review)

OMD – Punishment of Luxury (Album Review)

OMD is not just a quintessential New Wave/Synthpop band that dominated the ’80s music scene. It is rather among the pioneers of the genre that were able to either stay afloat and relevant through the decades that followed or come back musically unscathed after a period of inactivity.

Properly known as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the now highly influential band was formed in 1978, in Merseyside, England; but its musical roots may be traced as far back as to the early ’70s Avant-Pop and experimental Electronic music championed by the likes of Brian Eno (“Baby’s on Fire”) and Kraftwerk (“Radioactivity”), as well as the Post-Punk that developed immediately after the explosion and inevitable implosion of ’70s Punk in England, as led by The Sex Pistols (“Anarchy in the U.K.”), The Damned (“New Rose”), and Buzzcocks (“You Tear Me Up”) among many others.

OMD catapulted to commercial popularity in the 1980s via a slew of hit singles that included “Electricity,” “Enola Gay,” “Souvenir,” “Genetic Engineering,” “Talking Loud and Clear,” “Secret,” and the ubiquitous “If You Leave” from the soundtrack of the 1986 John Hughes film Pretty in Pink—effectively placing the band in the pantheon of New Wave Pop greats that included Depeche Mode (“New Life”), a-ha (“Train of Thought”), Pet Shop Boys (“West End Girls”), Duran Duran (“Planet Earth”), Spandau Ballet (“To Cut a Long Story Short”), and Culture Club (“Karma Chameleon”). Despite having come down in 1989 to only Andy McCluskey (bass/vocals) as the remaining founding member, OMD was still able to come up with three more albums in the first half of the 1990s until its hiatus in 1996.

Now consisting of McCluskey, fellow founder Paul Humphreys (keyboards, vocals), and longtime member Martin Cooper (keyboards, saxophone) with Stuart Kershaw (drums), who replaced longtime Drummer Malcolm Holmes in 2015 due to the latter’s heart-related health problems, OMD is slated to release its thirteenth studio album, The Punishment of Luxury, on September 1, 2017, via White Noise Records. It is the band’s third work since its reformation in 2005.

The Punishment of Luxury opens with the ebullient, celebratory, and infectious Dance mood of the title track, which is sonically a slightly sped-off sequel to the last album’s “Night Café” and would fit well on a playlist that includes Information Society’s “What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy)” and CCCP’s “American-Soviets.” Following next is the subtly somber, nostalgic, and sweetly melodic epic “Isotype,” which harks back to the early romantic, telegraphic sound of OMD. Then there is the dance floor-allure of the high-energy “Robot Man,” a likely titular tribute to Kraftwerk, one of the band’s primary influences.

“What Have We Done” is another relatively mild tempo track whose synth-bass line might remind the initiated of New Order’s “Your Silent Face.” Then, after the short spoken social commentary “Precision & Decay” comes the dark and slow Industrial rhythm of “As We Open, So We Close,” which slowly builds up into a proper Synthpop ballad steeped with keyboard melodies and McCluskey’s characteristically pained voice.

Sounding like a homage to Art of Noise (“Opus 4”), “Art Eats Art” returns the listener to the brightly lit dancefloor; another fine display of OMD’s mastery in electronic music recording technology. The catchy “Kiss Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Bang” is a brilliant Synthpop ballad, making it get away with murder, so to speak. Well, not really murder, actually; but rather the unexpected “Fuck you” in the lyrics, sang in a casually subtle way. Such a stroke of lyrical genius!

The ensuing “One More Time” is another throwback to OMD’s trademark style—brooding vocals, synthesizer drones and melodies, upbeat drum pattern, and punchy bassline. Sonically and stylistically, the following “La Mitrailleuse” is a continuation of “Robot Man”—another Kraftwerkian excursion and whose title is another art reference, this time to a painting by the British Futurist artist Christopher Nevinson, who explained the painting as “…soldier going to be dominated by the machine…”—emblematic of OMD’s own futuristic concepts.

The penultimate, other six-minute track, “Ghost Star” is a sparse, relaxing sonicscape that can elicit similar emotions as “Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans),” from OMD’s critically acclaimed third album, 1981’s Architecture & Morality. Finally, OMD wraps up The Punishment of Luxury aptly with “The View from Here,” a slow ballad that fades in with customary metronomic pulses, builds up into a galloping dancey beat coupled with synthesizer washes and McCluskey’s yearning voice, and ultimately fades out somberly yet triumphantly—a punishment of luxury, maybe; but better yet, a reward of Synthpop musicality at its finest and most romantic.

The Punishment of Luxury is both fresh and familiar, showcasing a perfect blend of OMD’s old, classic Synthpop sound and its contemporary Electronic Dance Music experimentation heard best recently in the band’s 2010 album, History of Modern. For these reasons CrypticRock gives The Punishment of Luxury 4 out of 5 stars.

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aLfie vera mella
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Born in 1971, in Metro Manila, Philippines, aLfie vera mella is a healthcare worker, singer/songwriter, and editor/writer. He was the frontman of the ’90s-peaking Philippine Alternative Rock / New Wave band Half Life Half Death, which released a full-length album and several singles on Viva Records. aLfie worked at Diwa Scholastic Press as an editor/writer of academic textbooks and supplementary magazines, focusing on Science & Technology and English Grammar & Literature. In 2003, aLfie migrated to Canada; he has since been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He works full-time at a healthcare institution, while serving as the associate contributing editor of Filipino Journal—a local community newspaper in Winnipeg—tackling Literature, Languages, Cultures, Lifestyles, and Music. aLfie has been a music journalist since the mid-’90s for various print magazines as well as websites. He started writing album reviews for Cryptic Rock in 2015. In 2016, aLfie published Part One (Literature & Languages and Their Cultural Significance) of his Essay Series, Can You Hear the Sound of a Falling Leaf?; in 2021, his first book of poetry, Pag-íhip sa Dáhon ng Kahápon [Blowing Leaves of Yesterday]. In his spare time, he enjoys reading books and listening to music. aLfie is a dedicated father to his now 13-year-old son, Evawwen; and a loving husband to Kathryn Mella, who herself moonlights also as a writer aside from holding a degree in Bachelor of Arts, Major in Sociology.

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