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Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark:
The Punishment of Luxury (White Noise Ltd.)

OMD’s
renaissance that began in 2010 with History of Modern continues a
winning streak with their third since the original quartet reunited.
OMD’s melodic sensibility has always had a Kraftwerkian simplicity to
it, and the production of these newer albums feels very much an
extension of that by way of current technology.

Very little about
standout single “Isotype” will surprise fans, including bits of
cut-up voiceover, voice synthesis, blippy synth patterns, and Andy
McCluskey’s signature melodic vocals. But a lack of surprises doesn’t
mean that it’s not excellent, coming up only just shy of 2013’s
English Electric single “Metroland” (my personal favorite track
of theirs from the last 10 years). When I saw them perform in
Portland in support of History of Modern, it was obvious how much fun
they were having on stage, seeming fully chuffed at the renewed wave
of support for their music both new and old. Tracks like “Robot
Man” and “Art Eats Art” seem to feed on that enthusiasm, upbeat
synth-pop delivered with a wink.

But like English Electric, the album
tends to oscillate between more earnest songwriting, tongue-in-cheek
uptempo tracks, and vignettes or instrumentals that feel like an
extension of their misunderstood 1983 album Dazzle Ships, with its
curiosity about manmade technology, systems, and soundbytes.
“Precision & Decay” has some of the sample power of Dazzle
Ships
’ “Genetic Engineering” without the pop song, and “LA
Mitrailleuse” sequences weapons firing into a majestic soundtrack.
As with most OMD albums for this listener, there are a few mid-tempo
sweet numbers that feel a little by-the-numbers, but none of them is
bad — they just focus much more directly on the song without too
many bells and whistles.

“As We Open, “So We Close” might be
the best marriage of those facets of their music, its whirring,
mechanical rhythm section providing some angular underpinnings to
McCluskey’s vocal and the song’s otherwise dreamy arrangement. Fans
of OMD’s repertoire will likely enjoy this one, one of their finer
albums beyond their initial wave of 80s classics. While it doesn’t
quite have English Electric’s magic that wowed me so, The Punishment of Luxury is still one of
the better synth-pop albums of the year.

Buy it: OMD Store