Overlooked: Punishment of Luxury
Overlooked are shorter playlists and write-ups that focus on artists that didn’t get the attention their music deserved during their time. Click on the streaming service of your choice below to listen to the playlist as you read along.
My brother, Aaron, had a big influence on the music I listened to growing up. He brought home a lot of different and less-known music during his university years that he collected from friends. I would explore his records and tapes every day after school. One band I discovered in his collection was the band, Punishment of Luxury. They were introduced to him by Stephen Scott, a high school friend of my brother’s who became a DJ at some of Toronto’s best-known alternative dance clubs in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and then became a music video, film, and TV director/producer. I taped the copy of the album, Laughing Academy, from my brother’s collection and listened to it repeatedly in my Walkman to and from school during my grade eight year. I also gave Aaron the album/EP, 7, as a birthday gift. These would be the only two releases issued by the band from Newcastle, England that, while taken up by a small fanbase, would generally be overlooked by most music fans. Until I requested them on radio in recent years, I have never heard them played anywhere other than on my stereo.
Also known as ‘Punilux’, the band would straddle the line between novelty and serious punk band. Their penchant for costumes, strange and humourous lyrics and themes, and music that would alternate between whimsical turns and straight-ahead, meaty power-punk chords would invite dismissive critics and fans alike. Mojo magazine put Laughing Academy in their Hall of Shame as one of the one hundred worst albums of all time. My view was of a band of unique perspective and talent whose distinct sound was a thrilling and different contribution to an explosive era of music. They provided some of the most intriguing and enjoyable songs of the post-punk period.
The band was born from fringe theatre groups, which explained the flare for the dramatic in their sound and look. They were named after an 1891 painting (also known as “The Punishment of Lust”) by Giovanni Seganti. OMD also named their most recent album after the same painting. Punilux caught the attention of BBC DJ John Peel in 1978 with their debut single, “Puppet Life,” issued on dark-pop label, Small Wonder. They then signed with United Artists and after replacing their drummer, recorded and released their debut album, Laughing Academy. They did not make a dent in the charts or gain much airplay but did some decent tours and festival appearances. When UA was bought by EMI, Punilux was dropped.
It took until 1983 before they were signed again by Red Rhino and released the six-song album/EP, 7, in 1984. The band broke up not long after but an unreleased album, Gigantic Days, was issued in 1998 and the band has reformed to do the odd show in England over the past fifteen years. A mini-album was put out in 2012 called 5. These later releases are hard to find on streaming services and I haven’t been able to hear them.
Laughing Academy was a fun and rewarding listen if you could get past the oddities throughout, not the least of which was the spoken intro to the album’s lead track, “Puppet Life.” Full of hooks and led with guitar mixed with psychedelic keyboards, the band blended progressive rock and punk. Neville ‘Luxury’ Atkinson brought drama, angst, fear, chaos, and passion to the songs with lyrics and voice. “Puppet Life” and “All White Jack” were fantastic songs that fit comfortably on any punk or goth compilation of the period. Still, the first side of Laughing Academy is one of my all-time favourite album sides. Songs like “Baby Don’t Jump” displayed the frenetic energy that could be brought to their music.
The second album was more rhythmically based, reeling you in with repeated rhythms and beats; though some of the silliness of the song’s content and dramatic elements made it hard to take as seriously as the first. Both albums were produced with a murky, thick feel in which the bottom-end seemed to drag down the high notes. So, if you think the bass and treble are set wrong on your stereo, it’s probably not you. It does make the music sound dated and like you’re listening to it through a wall, which can be either annoying or intriguing, much like everything else about Punilux.
For many years I believed I was one of the only people in the world that knew of this band, and through that felt a special, personal relationship to their music. The arrival of the internet revealed a broader awareness of the band, though mostly focused, naturally, in their native England. They may have been overlooked, but in my mind are certainly not forgotten.
Note: at the time of making the playlist, the album ‘7’ on both Google Play and Spotify has issues with alignment of track names to songs. “The Bird and the Elephant” is listed on Spotify but is actually a repeat of the first song, “Funghi.” It has been replaced in the Spotify playlist with “Golden Corsets.” “Tria-Dance” cannot be found on YouTube, so the same swap has been made.
Puppet Life \ Laughing Academy (1978)
All White Jack \ Laughing Academy (1979)
Obsession \ Laughing Academy (1979)
Baby Don’t Jump \ non-album B-side (1979)
The Bird and the Elephant (Golden Corsets on Spotify) \ 7 (1983)
Revelations \ 7 (1983)
Tria-Dance (Golden Corsets on YouTube) \ 7 (1983)
These are the inside gate-fold picture from Laughing Academy and the back of 7, showing some of the bizarre elements of their imagery and album artwork.