Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 71]

OMD – The Punishment Of Luxury | 2017 – 4

[continued from this post]

There have been a handful of world class OMD songs on the band’s modern albums. Several songs that were absolutely at the top of the stack for me. “History of Modern [parts 1/2].” “New Holy Ground.” “The Right Side?” “Our System.” “Final Song.” I feel that these stand with the best from their first four albums, but “Ghost Star” is in another realm altogether. It rubbed shoulders with the band’s absolute acmes with songs like “Souvenir” or “Stanlow.”

The song began with suspended drone chords that had the sound of curlews and lark song on it as what the band called “Vangelis chords” added drama to the delicate cloud of sound. These harkened back to the string patches from “66 And Fading” with added pneumatic sibilance and choral sounds mixed into the dense cloud of sound. It all ended up like a vast steam powered organ adding drama to the mix. This was an imposing, almost epic sound thus far and when McCluskey added his vocals to the song, the contrast was profound. This widescreen sound was the backdrop for as intimate a vocal sound as he’s ever committed to mic.

In this way the personal intimacies that informed the song were translated into a piece of art that sounded monumental in its scope and import, yet was the concern of ultimately just two people. Had you have been one of the people that this song was about, it would have felt exactly like that. McCluskey managed to make this song suspend time for the first three and a half minutes as the sustained chords underpinning this one sat motionless until the second part of the song began.

The band revealed that the first 3:30 of “Ghost Star” was a song McCluskey was developing on his own [originally called “Birds”] that he established on his own, not knowing how to take it any further. Meanwhile, Paul Humphreys had a song he was working on that he felt might be a good was to finish the job. Let me state that Humphreys had excellent instincts since the first 3:30 of “Ghost Star” acts as an amazing, sustained introduction to the final 2:30 of the song, where the rhythm and melody blossoms into something elegant and beautiful in a fully complimentary way to the intimate stillness that McCluskey had created earlier. The two song fragments were conflated into something far larger than the sum of their parts by the instincts of these two men who have known each other for over 50 years.

With “Ghost Star” they have achieved a new, climactic triumph of a song.

Then, after this rarefied plateau was reached, the album needed a suitable coda. “The View From Here” was a string laden ballad with buttery, tremolo bass guitar adding a touch of soothing respite to what were fairly devastating lyrics.

“Climb the mountain of your fear
You should see the view from here
Walk with me until we’re done
Take the long road don’t go home

As the knife goes deeper in
Nothing remains of where it’s been
Pull the petals one by one
Finally they’re all gone

Sliding backwards down the slope
Clinging desperately to hope
Watching you untie the rope
Cast away and couldn’t cope

Climb the mountain of your fear
You should see the view from here
Climb the mountain of your fear
Easy said and done from here” – “The View From Here”

The added scorched earth of “The View From Here” to the already painful rumination of “Ghost Star” show that this band, if anything, have only added to their abilities in crafting songs of melancholic devastation from within the confines of a beautifully contrasting melody. I can’t help but notice that there was at least one song with the word “fear” in it on both “History Of Modern” and “English Electric.”

I found that “The Punishment Of Luxury” hit a sweet spot of OMD for me. I liked the sonic scope of “History of Modern” even as it encompassed ideas that I felt were best left on the cutting room floor. “English Electric” was harder, darker, and more focused. The sound palette was a bit too focused for my taste. There was a homogeneity to it that was not as inviting as “History Of Modern” had sonically been. “Punishment Of Luxury” had great songs with an overriding theme that still had room to flow down some different musical tributaries without losing their focus and failing to gel as a whole.

The band’s reliance on soft synths limits how good any of this can sound; particularly when compared against the sonic footprints of their earliest four albums. Those albums just sound unique and apart from the world around them. Particularly “Organisation” and “Architecture + Morality.” I realize that this band will never take the pains to sound so unique and powerful again. They are too used to a life of digital ease of use and compromise. That said, Paul Humphreys is the musical bricklayer who expertly fills the grout in between the space in the songs. He has taken the same technology that everyone else uses to make music these days and has at least consistently explored the established OMD sonic tropes [while managing to add one or two late in the game] and has crafted an engaging and diverse album that has no boring spots with “The Punishment of Luxury.”

Next: …We Begin the Conclusion [this could take a while]

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
This entry was posted in Core Collection, Record Review, Rock GPA and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 71]

  1. Echorich says:

    Ghost Star is a beautiful, widescreen and elegant – to quote some of your own descriptives – song. It is most certainly the highpoint of OMD Mk 3’s output. During this latest stage in the band’s career, they have traveled a path that has challenged their art and both surprised and satisfied their fans. Their music shouldn’t be ignored because it has gone a long way to enhance their legacy.


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