2017 was a special year for OMD with a brand new studio album and plenty of live performances that took the band around the globe. Here’s the Messages review of 2017…
The biggest news was the announcement of OMD’s latest studio album The Punishment Of Luxury. Following on from 2013’s English Electric, the raw material for its possible follow-up had existed purely as sketches, devoid of a theme or even a title. In fact it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that details of some of these songs emerged with titles such as ‘Evolution of Species’ and ‘The Punishment of Luxury’.
Again taking inspiration from a painting, in this case 19th Century artist Giovanni Segantini’s The Punishment of Luxury, the band weaved a song from the intriguing title. In this case, the idea that the phrase is a metaphor for modern life or as Andy himself put it in an interview: “First world problems. All of the shit we have to deal with is only a problem that’s created for you by some suggestion that came from a marketing man or a PR job that’s been done on you. Everything you think you know was placed there by a marketing man… Everything you think you want, you don’t”.
Elsewhere, Andy McCluskey took time to support Liverpool music promoter Phil Hayes with his project the Good Samaritans. The aim of the project was to raise money and awareness to help remove the stigma and discrimination that many people with mental health issues can suffer.
‘Locomotion’ is one of OMD’s classic songs and in March Andy spoke to writer Spencer Vignes on the topic. This formed part of the research for Spencer’s book The Train Kept A-Rollin’ exploring how how trains and railways have shaped popular music in the last few decades. On the topic, Andy commented: “The first time I ever went to the Science Museum was as a 10-year-old. I saw the blue Deltic diesel… and that was it. A personal love affair of mine started.”
There were also some sadness during the early months of 2017. A much-loved American OMD fan, Melissa “Missy” Renee Van Slyke passed away. Meanwhile, in April, it was announced that Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi had died. OMD had made use of Roland gear for many years, including the CR-78 CompuRhythm, a programmable drum machine used for the likes of ‘Red Frame/White Light’ and ‘Enola Gay’.
His legacy continued to be part of OMD’s musical toolkit up to the present day, particularly the use of Roland Fantom workstations. Andy McCluskey paid tribute to Kakehashi: “He is responsible for so many or the instruments that transformed electronic music into something that two poor kids from the suburbs could actually aspire to owning and making music on for the rest of their lives. Thank you”.
In April, Andy and Paul travelled to Italy for a performance of ‘Enola Gay’ (with orchestra!).
May saw the first unveiling of one of the songs from The Punishment Of Luxury. ‘La Mitrailleuse’ had been inspired by a painting by the artist CRW Nevinson, regarded as one of the most famous war artists of World War I. His 1915 work La Mitrailleuse (“the machine gun”) directly influenced the gunfire elements on the track. Meanwhile, Andy McCluskey intones “Bend your body to the will of the machine”. It demonstrated the perfect companion to Nevinson’s work which sees the style of the soliders rendered in angular shapes, suggesting a merging of man and machine – a theme carried over in the video, which again features the distinctive style of Henning M. Lederer (who previously worked on videos for the English Electric album).
This was rapidly followed up with ‘Isotype’, which formed the first proper single release from the new album. Taking its name from the method of depicting pictorial symbols to illustrate data, ‘Isotype’ joins OMD’s extensive catalogue for songs on unusual subjects. The new release threw a nod to Kraftwerk in terms of its melodies and arrangement. The song boasted a warm, euphoric melody augmented by intermittent artificial vocals, something that had been such a large element of the English Electric album.
‘Isotype’ also proved to be one of the longest tracks on the album, clocking in at over 6 minutes. Once again, the talents of Henning M. Lederer have been utilised for the mesmerising animated video. The new release also formed part of a series of 12” singles. Released later in August, ‘Isotype’ was available as part of a limited run of 1,000 copies.
May also saw OMD finally get an official presence on Instagram. Meanwhile, in June, OMD became Ambassadors for BBC Music Day. The band celebrated by playing a short set on the Radcliffe & Maconie show on BBC Radio 6 Music.
Towards the end of June, it was announced that there would be alternative vinyl versions of The Punishment Of Luxury. This took the form of a limited edition yellow vinyl release with an alternative cover, but retaining the die-cut element. Only 2,500 copies were pressed.
Meanwhile, details of the album release also became available. A special limited super-deluxe book edition of The Punishment of Luxury was unveiled. This would contain a 24-page hardback coffee table-style book including lyrics, handwritten early drafts from Andy’s notebook, exclusive artwork and notes. It also included the album pressed on red vinyl. A DVD was also included with a documentary on the making of the album, plus a CD of demo versions.
Keeping busy, OMD also embarked on a brief series of US concerts entered on the west coast (and which included an appearance at a special ‘80s-themed event in Los Angeles alongside Belinda Carlisle and Psychedelic Furs). It also saw the premiere of the full band performing ‘Isotope’ and ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ for the first time.
PledgeMusic subscribers were pleased to see that another track from The Punishment Of Luxury was available to download. ‘The View From Here’ showed a more reflective side of OMD compared to the previously unveiled tracks.
August delivered another shock as the famous ‘Red Frame/White Light’ in Meols was removed by BT. With the decline of public phonebox use across the UK, this perhaps shouldn’t have been unexpected. But the iconic cultural significance of this phonebox was something that prompted a reaction. OMD fan Steph McCahill led a campaign to restore this part of OMD’s history to its rightful place.
The good news is that the ‘Friends of 6323003’ were successful in their efforts and October saw the Red Frame box back in its original home. The Friends of 632 3003 hosted a meet-up at the newly reinstalled phonebox (on the day or OMD’s Liverpool concert). Fans came to the box from Poland, Germany, Holland and Chile.
September finally saw the release of The Punishment Of Luxury, aided by a launch party hosted by 100% Records at Tape in London. Reviews for the album included The A.V. Club who concluded “In the wrong hands, this kind of thing could come across as heavy-handed or detached, but The Punishment Of Luxury exudes warmth and empathy throughout”. Meanwhile, PopMatters took a more critical approach: “The Punishment of Luxury sounds too clean, too digital for its own good. There’s too little of the analog muskiness that made their early work so haunting”.
The album also found OMD in the strange position of battling it out between LCD Soundsystem and The Script for the top of the UK charts. They ultimately had to concede defeat, but still managed an impressive No. 4 in the charts for their troubles.
The next scheduled single release from the album was announced as the Paul Humphreys-led ‘What Have We Done’. Messages’ Imogen Bebb summed it up in her review: “Whilst lyrics like “And when love seemed so heartless/when light turned to darkness”, as well of the title of the track itself, may evoke thoughts of something like the breakup of a love affair, Humphreys has stated in interviews that the track was actually written after he was forced to put his beloved dog Patsy to sleep”.
Meanwhile, Paul himself summed up the themes of the song in a special piece for The Independent (who premiered the video for the track): “What Have We Done’ is an intensely personal song about life, love and loss. It’s about facing and confronting life changing decisions, and situations, that we all have to face at some point in our lives, and then having to live and deal with the resulting and inescapable consequences of our choices”.
October saw the release of the new album’s title track in all its glory. Musically, the new song boasted strident electronic rhythms and a powerful percussive foundation. As with many OMD songs in the past, ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ also presented an opportunity for the band to make pointed comments – in this case taking aim at consumerism. Lyrics such as “surrounded by your broken toys/you don’t know how to make the pain just go away” and “think you’re right think you’re free/floating in your purgatory” are pretty unambiguous in their message. As with the previous releases, it was issued as part of a limited edition vinyl run of 1,000 copies. This included a a 12″ extended mix plus a bonus B-side track ‘Lampe Licht’ which had been inspired by motorik drum legend Hans Lampe from Neu!
OMD also performed at a special benefit gig when they attended the BBC Children In Need Rocks The 80s event alongside the likes of a-ha, Bananarama, Boy George and Erasure.
The Punishment Of Luxury tour kicked off in Dublin and OMD took on Dublin-based band Tiny Magnetic Pets as support (see our sister site The Electricity Club’s review of their album Deluxe/Debris). OMD put on sterling performances, particularly at Guildford and London’s Roundhouse. But they also had a surprise lined up for their York concert when Julia Kneale stepped onto the stage as a special guest.
With the UK tour over, OMD made plans to embark on their European tour, this time with Holygram in support. The tour kicked off in Erfurt and apparently included a partial ceiling collapse at their performance in Hamburg!
December saw the release of a special bonus CD which compiled many of the B-sides, extended versions and bonus tracks that had been released throughout the year.
2017 closed following a busy year for OMD, but the new year offers more adventures for Wirral’s finest. 2018 marks OMD’s 40th Anniversary year and ,as such, the band are contemplating some special ways to mark the event.
Meanwhile, Paul and Andy will be embarking on a special 2-man tour in Europe scheduled to begin in February. A North American tour is also scheduled to follow in March. Plus, OMD are planning to sail the seven seas when they appear as part of the Throwback event in October. This event sees the band appearing alongside The Human League and Erasure’s Andy Bell performing on a 3-day event on a cruise ship.
It looks like OMD will be enjoying a stellar year in 2018.
Official OMD Website: http://www.omd.uk.com/
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and The Electricity Club.