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OMD – The Punishment Of Luxury

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“Bend your body to the will of the machine”

OMD preempted their thirteenth studio album with haunting teaser ‘La Mitrailleuse’. (French for Machine Gun.) The piece was inspired by a trip to the Imperial War Museum and Christopher Nevinson‘s World War One painting of the same name. In his canvas, WWI soldiers are depicted huddled in a trench, literally cannon fodder for the gunnery nest awaiting them. Onlookers, already grimly aware of those brave boys fate, are left in no doubt that they were mere pieces – cogs bent to the will of the war machine.
The track itself is fantastic, a throwback to OMD’s most wildly creative, early Eighties period. A dehumanized (but not quite robotic) vocal intones the quoted lyric against the choral ‘ooh’s and aahs’ which have become OMD’s trademark. ‘La Mitrailleuse’ climaxes with the ‘rat tat tat’ percussion of gunfire.

And we’re back folks.
We’re right back to primetime OMD, peerless OMD – back to ‘Joan Of Arc’ and her now legendary b-side, ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’. Could things get any more exciting? Could The Punishment Of Luxury be a crowning ‘return to form’ for the band, namely a whole album of classic, ‘old school’ OMD?

Let’s see.

According to the buzz on the street (okay, the internet) it seems that there’s some appetite to position The Punishment Of Luxury as a latter day Dazzle Ships. Whether coming from the band themselves or just the hardcore fandom that’s a dangerous and divisive strategy. For some, OMD’s fateful fourth album represents colossal commercial failure. To others (and I might include myself in this category) Dazzle Ships was a creative peak before their nosedive into transatlantic blandness. I’ve heard ‘Isotype’ described as a “weird single”. This alone hardly equates it with ‘Genetic Engineering’. If anything ‘Isotype’ sounds like a more dance-able, debut album era OMD. Comparisons, therefore, with Dazzle Ships feel somewhat of a reach.

The cover art depicts two heads, one facing forward and the other back. The backward looking one is colourful while the other is monochrome. I’m probably reading too much into this imagery but it begs the question; where are OMD themselves facing? Perhaps it is on follow-up track ‘Robot Man’ where OMD really nail their colours to the mast. Ever heard of a band called Kraftwerk? Paul and Andy have. In fairness the duo have spoken openly of their love for the synth legends. Indeed the clues have been there for all to see/hear. (Witness the ‘Europe Endless’-ness of ‘Metroland’. English Electric? German Electric more like!) While Kraftwerk gave us the Robots, OMD’s ‘Robot Man’ is more Tour De France in its leanings. Even ‘What Have We Done’, here, waltzes across familiar, Trans European territory, albeit rather nicely.

The OMD who famously “didn’t know if they wanted to be Joy Division or ABBA” appear to have settled upon a more ‘Germanic’ template.

The album is hit and miss thereafter. ‘As We Open, So We Close’ proves that Andy McCluskey still has those vocal chops. Unfortunately the rest of the track plods. ‘Art Is Art’ is worse, the kind of glammed-up Europop best left to the likes of Mika (and better still, left alone completely). The album then picks up. ‘One More Time’ is evidence that OMD can still do perfect pop. We already covered ‘La Mitrailleuse’ and the two final tracks are rather excellent, ‘Ghost Star’ in particular with its (intentional or otherwise) call back to ‘Stanlow’.

Whilst this new album opens strongly, (The title track a damning indictment of consumerism) and closes in far more satisfying style than, say, English Electrics lukewarm ‘Final Song’, the material in-between is more scattershot. I could have done with a bit more ‘machine gun’ precision. The Punishment Of Luxury is therefore no modern-day equivalent of Dazzle Ships, nor indeed any of the bands landmark records from the past. Those first four albums (and in particular Architecture And Morality) remain the high watermark for OMD. I suspect fans were projecting their own hopes when that notion was conceived. Maybe one day OMD will revisit the dark, tortured melodies of their ‘Gramophone Suite’ era? For now they seem content honing the sound of their Teutonic tutors.

Bend your body to the motorik rhythms of Kraftwerk, ladies and gents. Wherever OMD are going they sure as Hell aren’t going away. Thank the heavens for that.

Official website

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