Music interview '“ Andy McCluskey of OMD: '˜I think it was important to us to decide to smell the roses, hug the loved ones and enjoy the benefits of being alive'

OMD's new album explores the pressures of modern life. Duncan Seaman spoke to singer Andy McCluskey.

Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Picture: Mark McNulty
Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Picture: Mark McNulty

The borrowed title of OMD’s new studio album has a particular significance for singer Andy McCluskey, a keen admirer and collector of art.

The Punishment of Luxury was a 19th century painting by Italian artist Giovani Segantini that caught McCluskey’s eye on youthful visits from his home in the Wirral to the Walker Gallery in Liverpool.

“As a kid from the suburbs I used to take the train into town and go to the Walker Art Gallery regularly, it was source of information and inspiration and I’ve always loved that painting,” the 58-year-old singer recalls.

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    Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Picture: Mark McNulty

    “These days I come to it from a different angle because I’ve been blessed with being a trustee of the National Museums of Liverpool for the last five years, so it’s an interesting journey I’ve been on with the galleries of Liverpool and with that painting in particular.”

    While one of the pioneering bands of 80s synth pop might have reused the name of Segantini’s painting, McCluskey is at pains to point out he in no way endorses the judgmental sentiment of the artwork itself. “We’ve appropriated the title but we’re certainly not echoing the misogynist nature of ‘bad mothers’ in purgatory. A lot of late Victorian gentlemen wanted their women to be wives and mothers and no more, and if you wanted anything you were getting above your station and you were going to be condemned to a tortured life in purgatory. We’re not adhering to any of that nonsense, it’s a different meaning that we’re applying to it.”

    The album itself addresses first world problems and the everyday clutter of modern life. “I wouldn’t call them unnecessary worries; a worry is a worry wherever it’s come from,” McCluskey considers, “but effectively most people in the western world – not all, but most people in the developed western economies – are materially better off than we or are forefathers ever were before and yet we seem to be more unhappy. There’s more insomnia, more anxiety and more depression so obviously it’s our mindset, it’s the way we’re thinking.

    “It seems that we’ve substituted the imagined order of religion and royal decree for all the brainwashing that we’ve been subjected to from consumerism and now it’s invidious. You don’t realise that you’ve started to believe their hype that ‘if you don’t own this, if you don’t have the new one, the bigger one, the new HD digital 4K version, if your children don’t have the latest trainers, if your wife doesn’t look this particular shape, if you aren’t earning this amount of money and living in a house this size you’re not worthy of love and you shouldn’t respect yourself’.

    Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Picture: Mark McNulty

    “Is it any wonder then that everybody is insecure and nervous because they’ve been force-fed this aspirational, brainwashing nonsense so nobody counts their simple blessings?

    “In previous days, and still in some societies on this planet, you are so busy 24/7 trying to ensure that your children have enough to eat, that the roof stays on the house and counting your blessings that there’s no disease or hurricane or war that’s going to wipe you out tomorrow that you don’t have time to worry about anything else, you’re just staying alive.

    “That’s the blessing and the curse of the human mind: we can project, we remember the past and we can project the future so that now we spend less and less time in the now our brains start to worry and that is the punishment of our luxury.”

    From Enola Gay to new tracks such as Isotype and La Mitrailleuse, OMD’s songwriting has regularly counterbalanced their poppy instincts with a palpable sense of melancholy at where things have led us. McCluskey says they thrive on juxtaposition. “I think there’s a natural resonance when Paul and I make music, and it’s partly to do accidentally by what we discovered by trying to combine the rigidity of the machinery with the humanity that we also wanted to imbue our music with, and that juxtaposition, that place of apparent contradiction, that’s where Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s music exists. It’s beautiful but it’s often melancholy and I think that is probably a reflection of our essential spirits, but when you look at the world it’s not hard to find reasons to be melancholy at various things.”

    OMD actually stopped making music for a year after their drummer Malcolm Holmes suffered a heart attack at a show in Canada in 2014.

    “We stopped for 12 months because we didn’t want to put any pressure on Malcolm’s recovery and in that time you stop and you think: we have to get a balance right here and decide that we are blessed that we can still play concerts, that we still seem to have a desire to put ideas into musical form that people still seem to have a resonance with because they like what we do, but there’s a recognition that the music industry continues to be a selfish mistress. If you’re fortunate enough to be successful you can also give up your entire life to chasing what you’re told to do – ‘We need you here, we need you there, can you do this, can you do that?’ – and it’s nice to be wanted but you can suddenly realise – and this used to happen to us in the 80s and early 90s – you spent nine months chasing your tail, running around everywhere and you haven’t seen your friends, you haven’t seen your family, you haven’t seen the people that you love, you’ve been chasing this dream, you’ve been punished by the music industry.

    “I think it was important to us to decide to smell the roses, hug the loved ones and enjoy the benefits of being alive, the simple pleasures. And strangely enough, by actually taking the time to do that, you stop running for a moment, you stop overthinking. By staying in the now, unconsciously but perhaps unsurprisingly, your well of inspiration and your happiness quota increases and it actually makes you better able to make music. So it’s a win-win.”

    The Punishment of Luxury is out today. OMD play at Sheffield City Hall on November 7 and York Barbican on November 18.