An 80’s Synthpop Renaissance? OMD’s ‘The Punishment of Luxury’

In the 1970’s, two teenagers would not only meet and become friends, but would later be at the heart of one of Britain’s then revolutionary genres, synthpop (also known as techno-pop) and take the music scene by storm. Through the decades, both Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys have gone through musical periods of both the popular and the obscure. They even spent the 90s away from the synthpop focus, with songs such as ‘Walking on the Milky Way’ (which I also adore) and with endeavours such as McCluskey’s solo projects, including the formation and management of girl-group Atomic Kitten.

Andy McCluskey (left) and Paul Humphreys (right) at Corona Capital, 2011.

However, it is September 2017 and OMD are back with a new album, ‘The Punishment of Luxury’. It is not only a nostalgic throwback to the early, experimental synthpop sound, but also an album firmly set in the electronic fabric of 2017. The album contains a stellar collection of experimental, electrifying romantic, and uplifting tracks. It is an absolute delight to the ears. Below is an exploration of my favourite songs from the album.

The album begins with the eponymous ‘The Punishment of Luxury’, the most beautiful example of the album’s music, message and sheer majesty of the synthesiser sound. The song’s uplifting music is paired with the lyrics of protest and discontent with one’s current surroundings. Here, sentiments of opposition to a world of consumerism and luxury are expressed through the soothing voice of McCluskey. Apart from messages that wholly belong in the 21st century, its music (also thanks to the absolute mastery of Paul Humphreys) is very reminiscent of not only OMD’s earliest work, but also that of the German synth giants Kraftwerk, who are arguably the band who influenced and inspired them most. Below is an example from the band – a decent recommendation if you wish to further explore the band which inspired the British synthpop movement!

The eponymous track is followed by a track that perfectly blends a romantic tone (another stellar skill by OMD) with the “robot pop” sound made famous by Kraftwerk. ‘Isotype’ is both serene and electrifying, and the many instrumental breaks in the song really create the atmosphere of some sort of dream sequence.

My two favourite tracks have to be ‘One More Time’ and ‘The View From Here.’ I love a good mellow and melancholic love song, and this is what I adore most about OMD. Beauty reigns within these songs, and McCluskey’s voice acts to amplify the romantic, thought-provoking and bittersweet aspects of both the content of the lyrics and the music. ‘One More Time’ expresses the enchantment of love and the threats it brings; we think of a man who knows the destruction that could befall him, but would go through it all over again for the feeling of being in love.

Whereas this track almost relies on the majesty of the lyrics, ‘The View from Here’ is quite the opposite. The atmosphere created in the latter is laid out by the blend of isolated, soft piano and delicate use of synths, a world away from Isotype and The Punishment of Luxury. The music really helps provide a sense of vulnerability, emotion and intimacy. Of course, again, the vocals really put this point home, and it could not be any more touching. You can tell I went crazy over these tracks, right?

So, ending on that rather lovely note, I take my hat off to OMD. The blend of Paul Humphrey’s mastery of the synth sound and Andy McCluskey’s emotional, lovely lyrics creates both perfection and utter beauty. They are truly an example of an archetype duo, and I am so happy they are still showing who is boss in the world of synthpop. May they continue to shine!

From Sophia, with Love x

 

 

 

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