Review Summary: Intelligent synth-pop with a strong Kraftwerk influence.
For some reason, 2017 was a big year for iconic 1980s bands and artists to put out new albums. There were releases from Depeche Mode, Erasure, Blondie and Modern English, among others. But of all the LPs put out by new wave idols last year, the best of the lot might well have been The Punishment of Luxury
by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. (In fact, for me, the only album that even gave it a run for its money was Gary Numan's Savage (Songs for a Broken World)
. But that's a review for another day.)
is the band's 13th studio album. It's named after a painting by Italian artist Giovanni Segantini. It's overall theme is about what the band describe as "first world" problems -- consumerism, alienation, technology run amok, etc. And frankly, I don't care about any of that. Because for me, it's all about the music.
The album is much less pop-oriented than a lot of their most famous '80s stuff, yet still quite melodic. And synthesizers reign supreme. OMD has always named Kraftwerk as one of their main influences, and you can really hear it on this album. I listen to some of the best tracks, like the title number, or "Isotope", for example, and I hear strong echoes of Kraftwerk classics like "Tour de France". OMD is more pop-leaning than Kraftwerk, and they're definitely more British than Kraftwerk (duh!), but Kraftwerk vibes permeate this LP.
Besides some of the more accessible and tuneful numbers (e.g. "The Punishment of Luxury", "Isotope", "What Have We Done", and "As We Open, So We Close"), there are some strange and fascinating shorter tracks that add an experimental element to the album. These include "Precision and Decay" (which sounds like a duet between Bebe Neuwirth and Walter Cronkite, or maybe Prymaat Conehead and Edward R. Murrow); "La Mitrailleuse" (which features a robotic voice repeatedly exhorting you to "bend your body to the will of the machine" transposed over a series of increasingly violent war noises; or the truly unusual "Art Eats Art", which strings the names of various painters and composers together in a constantly repeating low-to-high scale. OMD aren't just resting on their laurels here -- they're showing that even after more than 35 years as a band, they can still be pretty inventive.
If you're looking for OMD at their catchy-pop best, this probably isn't the album to go with. But if you're looking for some synth-based music that's both creative and mellifluous, you can't go wrong with this LP.