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.
As I often note in my profiles my brother, Aaron, had a big influence on the music I listened to growing up. He brought a lot of different and less known music home during his university years collected from friends, which I would explore after school. One band I discovered on his tapes and eventually from the one album he owned, was the band Punishment of Luxury (introduced to him by Stephen Scott, a high school friend, later a DJ around Toronto, and then and now a music video, film, and TV director/producer). I listened to the album Laughing Academy a lot in my early teens and then bought my brother the 7 album/EP in the mid-‘80s as a birthday gift. These would be the only two releases issued by the band from Newcastle, England, which while taken up by a small fanbase would generally be overlooked by most music fans.
Also known as ‘Punilux’ the band would straddle the line between novelty and serious punk band. Their penchant for masks, strange and humourous lyrics and themes, and music that would alternate between whimsical turns and straight-ahead, meaty punk-power chords would invite dismissive critics (Mojo magazine put Laughing Academy in their Hall of Shame as one of the one hundred worst albums of all time) and fans alike. I think punk fans didn't like the distortion of the sound and especially the mix with Prog Rock. My view is this was a band of unique perspective and talent, whose distinct sound was a thrilling and different contribution that provided some of the most intriguing and enjoyable songs of their era.
The band was born from fringe theatre groups, which explains the flare for the dramatic in their sound and look. The band was 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 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 would not make a dent in any charts or gain much airplay, but did some decent tours and festival appearances. When UA was bought by EMI the band 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 (there are some fun videos of them performing on YouTube). A mini-album was put out in 2012 called 5. These later releases are hard to find on streaming services and I haven’t heard them.
Laughing Academy is a fun and rewarding listen if you can get past the oddities throughout, not the least of which is the opening of the album and lead track, “Puppet Life.” Full of hooks and led with guitar mixed with psychedelic keyboards, the band blends progressive rock and punk. Neville Luxury (born Atkinson) brings drama, angst, fear, chaos, and passion to the songs with lyrics and voice. “Puppet Life” and “All White Jack” are fantastic songs that fit comfortably on any punk or goth compilation of that period, and the first side of Laughing Academy is one of my all-time album sides. Songs like “Baby Don’t Jump” displays the frenetic energy that could be brought to their music. The second album is more rhythmically based, catching you up with repeated rhythms and beats, though some of the goofiness of the album makes it hard to take as seriously as the first. Both albums are produced in a murky, thick feel in which the bottom-end seems to drag down the lighter end. So if you think the bass and treble are set wrong on your stereo, it’s 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 of course revealed the 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: 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.” So it has been replaced in the Spotify playlist with “Golden Corsets.” “Tria-Dance” cannot be found on YouTube, so has similarly been swapped.
- 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.