Published Sep 01, 2017Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's 13th album — their third since reforming in 2006 — ripples with familiarity. The reasons are twofold: for one, the textures OMD peddled in their '80s heyday have long since returned to contemporary toolkits; but it's also because, since reuniting, the English synth-pop band seem increasingly content to circle their own past, with little conceptual progression to speak of. Warm electronic melodies, timekeeping digital blips and repetitive grooves criss-cross The Punishment of Luxury, just as they did on 2013's English Electric. The production seems glossier, but that's the only significant change here.
That's not a bad thing, necessarily: OMD retain a skilful knack for melody and offer a barrage of effortless synth-pop hooks across the album's 12 tracks. The opening title tracks lyrics, examining our modern tech-heavy living, are buoyed by an uplifting instrumental, while "As We Open, So We Close" pulls a gorgeous chorus out of a sparse assemblage of digital drums and effects. "Ghost Star," one of the album's best songs, uses its six-minute runtime for a beautiful, emotive slow-build.
Elsewhere, the ain't-broke-don't-fix approach comes across slick but forgettable: "Robot Man" is a goofy, dated imagining of a modern-day mix of man and machine, and "Art Eats Art" hangs heavy on repetition and vocoder effects without finding much melodic purchase.
The Punishment of Luxury continues the band's ongoing reunion without significantly altering their course. A few songs here could end up in the band's permanent setlist, but for an album so concerned with our present-day living, OMD seem too content to linger in their own past. (White Noise)