OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
OMD’S thirteenth album doesn’t disappoint.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark reunited in 2010 to release History of Modern, a renaissance of the band’s electronic blend of pop-art. English Electric arrived in 2013 and went even further to strengthening the argument that OMD might be one of the most underappreciated synth-pop groups to emerge in the 1980s. Undoubtedly, “If You Leave” is the most perfect song ever used to anchor a John Hughes film (Pretty in Pink) but the band always kept a mysterious distance from the pop charts as they searched for something more artistic than four dazzling minutes on MTV. On their latest, The Punishment of Luxury, duo Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys follow the wires through decades of synthesizers to create an album that captures the imagination as a work of physical and aural art.
Named for a painting by the Italian painter Giovanni Segantini which has been hanging in their hometown of Liverpool since 1893, the album grapples with the intersection of man and technology in the modern world while looking both to the past and future. “Robot Man” recreates the unsettling industrial hissing and banging of The Normal’s highly influential “Warm Leatherette” from 1978 – a significant moment in the history of electronic music that served as a precursor to new wave boom of the 1980s. Even more influential was Kraftwerk and OMD’s recent work makes no attempt to escape the shadow of the German pioneers – hell, the effervescent “Art Eats Art” celebrates the very process of consuming our influences. As elder statesmen of electronic pop, the band brings an understated sense of playfulness to their music that was sometimes lacking in their younger years. This charming wink of the eye helps maintain the balance between unadulterated pop goodness and their more experimental tendencies.
Framing even politics as an artistic expression, “La Mitrailleuse” serves as a soundtrack to the Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson oil painting which seamlessly connects man and machine-gun during World War I. On “Kiss Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Bang” Chairman Tao of China and Uncle Sam are in the crosshairs for their role in selling off their countries for the sake of a dollar. Never heavy-handed, the band acknowledge the pitfalls of progress while turning technology to their own purpose – which is to craft industrial ballads that cover hope in melancholia without ever drowning it completely. As the second side of the record (worth purchasing on vinyl for the artwork alone) unfolds, the more atmospheric electronics create a colorful haze around the songs and the album ends not with a bang but a whisper.
Nostalgia permeates The Punishment of Luxury but not for the 1980s. Rather, it is the mid-century modern era that promised a future of relaxation through the wonders of technology – such as the massive Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn, MI (referenced on “Precision & Decay”). However, lost in that transaction was the satisfaction that comes with the labor of creation. Such is the punishment of luxury – a world where endless information and bountiful consumption leave us with a hole where our heart should be. We have become the robot men and women. Such theories are hardly new in art but OMD pull it off with style and substance. Forget The Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon, I want to listen to the current trilogy of OMD albums while watching 2001: A Space Odyssey.