With a title like The Punishment of Luxury coming out into a geopolitical climate like this one, and knowing OMD’s past dalliances with progressive social and cultural criticism, I can’t help but read great things into this new album from the get-go. It’s been out since September so literally everyone in the world has had a chance to listen to it before me, but my copy (yes I still buy CDs, certainly when it comes to stuff like this, shut up) just arrived a few weeks ago as of this writing due, happily, to the fact it was out of stock on release date, which implies it’s selling really well! I’m not going to attempt a “proper” review or anything like that: I’m not a musicologist, music historian or music critic (Andrew Hickey and Phil are both much, much better at that sort of thing than I could ever hope to be) so I’m going to stop pretending I am and just give my thoughts on what this album says to me and how it makes me feel on a gut personal and emotional level.
The first thing we have to square away is the business of that title though. Many of OMD’s past albums have derived their names from things like paintings, art exhibitions or academic theory books (Architecture & Morality, Dazzle Ships, History of Modern) and this is the case with The Punishment of Luxury too. The problem is this time the name’s not taken from a cool post-Vorticist painting or a book of architecture history, but from a nasty bit of misogyny called The Punishment of Lust, an 1891 oil painting by one Giovanni Segantini. The painting showcases Segantini’s views that women are natural-born mothers and caregivers, depicting those who “failed” in that obligation (especially if they had gotten abortions) as either sinful, tragic or both. The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (where Andy McCluskey saw it) acquired the painting in 1893, but retitled it The Punishment of Luxury, which helpfully obfuscates the original meaning of the work.
Thankfully for us though the band have taken that title and completely reappropriated it (Andy McCluskey himself takes care to stress they’re interpreting the title a very different way): On this album, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys lash out with a crippling indictment of every single hollow vapidity of late-stage capitalism, all while weeping for those living under its boot and praying for a better life for us all. The Punishment of Luxury is just about as toothy, emboldened, inspired and as emotionally powerful, profound and resonant as I have ever heard Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
It is impossible to ignore the context of this album coming out into a world that’s seen both Brexit and a Donald Trump presidency (hell, the latter even shows up in the music video for the title track), especially when track 4 is called “What Have We Done”. It would do The Punishment of Luxury an enormous disservice, however, to simply call it OMD’s Brexit and Trump album, just as it would do Dazzle Ships an injustice to call it “just” a Cold War and Falklands conflict album: This is something with a far grander reach and a far more holistic and meaningful message to deliver, even if perhaps it couldn’t have happened before now.…