I remember thinking this in particular about Camouflage and their 1989 album Methods of Silence with it's dance chart hit "Love is a Shield." I remember particularly reading a review in which the reviewer claimed that in attempting to not sound like a synthie-pop knock-off of Depeche Mode, they introduced a real oboe sound, which ironically sounded even more like a synth-line.
"Life in a Northern Town" also prominently features an oboe, background strings, backing piano lines, and a lot of overdub and other effects, which is why it fits nicely in with the synthpop scene, even though the use of synthesizers by Dream Academy was somewhat limited. To the casual listener, this was simply a somewhat dreamy and Romantic (in terms of the literary and music movement moreso than with regards to the genre of literature famously read by women, although it could qualify to some degree under both definitions) new wave song not too unlike a lot of synthpop ballads.
It's not clear what northern town is being referred to in the title. The song is dedicated to late guitarist Nike Drake, who was from Tanworth-in-Arden, but the two music videos featured scenes mostly filmed in Hebden Bridge and Newcastle Upon Tyne respectively. Then again, maybe you're not really supposed to think that much about it anyway.