Monday, 2 March 2009

Depeche Mode Week - Day 2: Peroxide and Bondage

I've heard it said in the past that while the UK is focused on singles, the US market is more concerned with the full studio album. I have no idea why there should be a difference in mentality, but it seems true. The US will measure success over time on album sales, with singles as a pleasant addition. Perhaps us Brits just have a short attention span and can only focus on ooo, cool, new Wolverine Trailer! Brilliant.

So, where was I? Yup, The US market, which also gives a lot of oomph to the tours as well. Think of the big British groups that have had big US success. They normally are the ones that disappeared across the Atlantic for weeks on end and slogged it out. They don't appreciate people wandering over there and forcing a single down their throats without working for it, something you can get away with in the UK and only just in Europe. It's this thinking that explains Mode breaking the US a good seven years after Just Can't Get Enough.

OK, let's backtrack. It was all going fairly well in Blighty for Depeche. They survived after Vince Clarke's departure, roping in Alan Wilder to tour with them and eventually record as well. Martin Gore's songwriting improved over the next three albums, and the Top 10 got a few more hits. In addition, there was much experimental jiggery pokery with the advancing electonica thanks to a German industrial fetish, and a sudden cascade of Socialist jabber. A few examples while we're here:

See You, (A Broken Frame, 1982)

Aaaa, doesn't ickle Dave look cute in his little bow tie? Come back, leather bondage look, all is forgiven! Incidentally, It may be worth noting that wandering round Selfridges singing this doesn't result in the cashier drones spontaneously finding cool Moog sounds out their tills, and will more than likely result in your sharp upending through the front doors by a large man named Biff.

Everything Counts, (Construction Time Again, 1983)

In which Dave's voice breaks and they go to the beach via a really, really, really long flyover.

People are People, (Some Great Reward, 1984)

In stark contrast to the British Leyland factory, the sounds of machinery and drilling are backed up by people talking about how we should be nice and all that. Can't argue with the sentiment, but a bit too obvious even for me. Perhaps we should go for something more subtle from that album, like Master and Servant?

Ok, maybe not.

So that takes us to 1986, just after a quick "Best of" and a small break. It all culminated into the album "Black Celebration", or as it was cheekily referred to in the album's recent documentary, "The songs aren't good enough, there aren't any singles and it'll never get played on the radio".

Grossly unfair, but not surprising. Even considering Depeche's more quirky use of electronica than their peers, it still needed work on the listener's part. While the title track nodded towards the period's movie soundtracks from the likes of Tangerine Dream, the likes of It Doesn't Matter Two and Dressed in Black were stark, drum-less offerings of neoveau cabaret. As well as the magnificent Stripped (see later this week), we got A Question of Time, the boys first video with Anton Corbijn. More on him later:

Overall though, it felt like an album as a piece of art, as opposed to collections of songs like previous albums. It just all clicked, and remains a fantastic piece of work. Even with their fanbase, UK sales merely regarded it as a new Depeche album. On the continent and the US, though, it went further. Depeche's more punchy electro and lack of yacht-sinking stood them apart from their British new wave peers, and the alternative radio stations started to take notice. A lengthy US tour followed, and phase 2 started big style.

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