Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury (White Noise)

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury (White Noise)

I’ve been in a coma for the last couple of years. You wake me up and tell me that Leicester City won the 2016 Premiership, that Donald Trump is president of the US, and that Jeremy Corbyn blew the roof off Glastonbury 2017. I laugh. Then you tell me that OMD have made arguably the best album of 2017. I conclude that you have lost your fucking mind, and alert the relevant authorities.

The joke of course is on me, because OMD have indeed made one of the finest albums of the year. No shit. As returns to form go, this is like Roger Federer winning this year’s Wimbledon. No, forget that – it’s like John McEnroe or Bjorn Borg winning this year’s Wimbledon. It’s brilliant. It’s the first album since 1981’s multi-million selling Architecture & Morality on which they’ve succeeded in perfectly balancing the creative tension between their experimental leanings and their ear for a pop tune to create a cohesive whole. Really, it’s fantastic.

Like 1983’s career-high Dazzle Ships it’s largely a meditation on technology, but whereas back then technology was something new and exciting, now it’s all around us and it’s not enriching our lives in the ways we thought it would. So the title track, all throbbing late-period New Order, casts a weary eye over the prison of consumerism (and, in classic OMD fashion, it has a super catchy synth hook instead of a chorus), and the brilliant ‘Isotype’ ties your brain into all kinds of meta-knots by sounding futuristic the way Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine still sounds futuristic, whilst bemoaning how the internet has reduced all 21st century thought and communication into simple visuals, memes, emoticons (OMD? OMG!) devoid of nuance. ‘La Mitrailleuse’ begins with Andy McCluskey intoning “BEND YOUR BODY TO THE WILL OF THE MACHINE!”, something one suspects OMD and their peers would’ve been happy to do back in 1981, only for the machine to be revealed as a gun. And on the slinky ‘Kiss Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Bang’, McCluskey, coming on like synthpop’s own Victor Meldrew, finds the modern age isn’t living up to expectations – “Everything makes me sick…fuck you and your theories.”

If that makes TPOL sound depressing, it isn’t. It’s a pop album at heart and even its bleaker moments are set to sparkling, bleeping analogue synth arrangements that, again like Kraftwerk, sound simultaneously futuristic and nostalgic. McCluskey, lest we forget (though forgiveness is a bit too much to ask), was the evil Svengali behind Poundland girl band Atomic Kitten (yes, the man behind ‘Tesla Girls’ and ‘Genetic Engineering’ also wrote ‘Whole Again’), and TPOL is chock full of poptastic moments. ‘Robot Man’ for example, minimalist electro-funk that sounds like it was written for some chart popstress in need of a cyborg makeover – ‘Toxic’-era Britney or ‘CGYOOMH’-era Kylie for example – is at once the most ridiculous and charming thing I’ve heard all year; whilst ‘One More Time’ and the sublime ‘The View From Here’ are gorgeous, shimmering, romantic synthpop that should by rights be twinkling out of every radio on the planet.

And I still haven’t mentioned the gloriously silly ‘Art Eats Art’, which sounds like the theme tune to some long lost 1980s BBC art show for kids, or the beautiful electro-ballads ‘What Have We Done?’ and ‘As We Open, So We Close’; or the simply stunning ‘Ghost Star’, which kicks off with what sounds like some 1980s Soviet radio fanfare (a clear nod back to Dazzle Ships) before gracefully transforming into a yearning space-age love song (“When you’ve buried all the pain that you have known/I will carry you to bed”) that may just be the greatest thing they’ve ever recorded.

Call it technostalgia, call it hauntology-meets-TOTP, whatever – The Punishment of Luxury reminds us of a time when technology meant jetpacks, flying cars and robots, rather than fake news, dank memes and fucked attention spans, and holds out just enough hope that this is merely a transitionary phase, with the real future yet to come. And it’s also OMD’s finest album in 34 years, and for that, at least, we have technology to thank.

 

The Punishment Of Luxury is out now on White Noise.

14 thoughts on “Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury (White Noise)

  1. No you arent wrong, this is a truly brilliant album, only beaten this year by LCD Soundsytem. yet still not as good as their 2010 effort “history of modern”, check that album out if you arent familiar with it already

  2. I prefer History of Modern tbh, absolutely love that album

    But this album is more like the old OMD, it does feel like its being beamed in directly from the early 80’s at times.

    “maid of orleans” was the first record I ever bought so I’ve always had a soft spot for them and take interest in anything they release

    1. I was a massive OMD nerd as a teenager. Albums, 12″s, remixes, the lot. Obviously looking back they went seriously downhill after Dazzle Ships (though Junk Culture & The Pacific Age both have their moments), so it’s great to hear them back at their very best again, albeit 34 years later.

  3. Having been an OMD fan since age 15 – and now in my early 50s, I have to say firstly, that my all-time fave OMD album will always be Organisation. Other than a few tracks, I wasn’t that keen on HOM – much oreferring EE. However…..i really do love TPOL. As an old bird, it takes me back to the glory years of my ‘yoof’ where i would spend hours listening to my vinyl albums in my bedroom and being moody…lol

    1. Like you Wendy, I’ve been a fan since the first album.
      This reminds me of their early 80s days, though still nothing can surpass “Dazzleships” for me

  4. Thanks for being the first person in the media to write something positive about Art Eats Art, which is absolutely the most fun, light, and catchy tune on the album

  5. I love it, it reminds me of their best early 80s stuff, though nothing can ever surpass “Dazzleships” for me.
    I think every album has something going for it apart from “Crush” (although even that had “So in love”).

    1. Yep, Dazzle Ships is absolutely unbeatable. Crush is without doubt their worst 80s album but like you say it did have ‘So in Love’, and also ‘Secret’ which I also like. The rest was shite though.

  6. I’ve been a fan of OMD since a teenager when my sister bought me Architecture & Morality for Christmas – who then lived to regret it as I played it obsessively. In fact I think I only took it off the turntable after saving up enough to buy Organisation. Every subsequent record by them slightly disappointed me – I guess I kept hoping for A&M part two – but I was still a signed up member of their fan club and, in my world, their biggest fan. I love this new album, and it’s No 3 in the charts as I write…. I remember my school mates teasing me that OMD weren’t cool like the bands they followed, such as Duran Duran. I said that one day they would understand that OMD was so much more than an 80s teenage pop group. Maybe now they finally get it….

  7. I am writing this as I am listening to TPOL for the third time in a row I just love the whole album one more time is my favourite, kiss kiss kiss bang bang bang is another I could go on listing every track as my favourite but that would be silly (and time consuming).
    Like a lot of people here I have been a fan since the beginning and rate dazzle ships as a truly fantastic album (international being my fave song when they played it live at MOL I cried).
    I think this album will be like LIBERATOR for me as I love every track on that album also. The choice I have now is what vinyl to play red,yellow or black or I could play the tape ha ha yes I’m the idiot (fan) who bought it on everything at 3am I lost almost a stone that month (I love omd more than food)

    1. It’s fantastic isn’t it. One of the best things they’ve ever done, then closing the album with “The View From Here” just rounds it off perfectly.

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