Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Depeche Mode Week - Day 4: The Albums


Violator, 1990

There was no excuse really. After a decade of slogging it out and making nothing but either steady or massive progress, there was no reason why they should have got this wrong. The material could have been ok, so-so, alright, and then they would have returned again. But with the maturity gained through regular touring and recording, coupled with a confident grasp of everything they had successfully used so far, the omens were great. It was also handy that a hugely popular electronic-based scene (rave) had given them more ideas for appropriate sounds. Violator was a magnificent achievement - crisp, clean and uplifting as well as dark, unsettling and pained. No more was this in evidence on the two big singles Personal Jesus and Enjoy the Silence. The balance between synths, stripped guitar licks, Gahan's vocals and Flood's production was as perfect as they had ever got, and ever did again. It's a cliche, but after Violator, everything did change and was never the same again.


Black Celebration, 1986

By the time Black Celebration was released, Depeche were established chart artists in the UK if not big-time pop stars. A Best-of album released in 1985 single-handedly stirred the "split" rumour pot, but the truth was Depeche were now used to doing things their way and writing what they wanted to, and were lucky to have an indie label in Mute who backed them up. Gore's experimenting with harsher industrial sounds and darker moods culminated in Black Celebration, an album that wavered from epic, gothic synthesized pop (A Question of Lust, Stripped) to chart-unfriendly stripped-down cabaret (It Doesn't Matter Two, Dressed in Black) Seeing them as original outcasts, the rest of the world got it, even if the UK did not. It's been cited as a major influence by Linkin Park, but don't let that put you off.

Songs of Faith and Devotion, 1993

They got there just in time. Before the band fell apart amidst the drugs, booze and mental breakdowns, they successfully convened to record a group of tracks that were almost prescient. Far more impassioned than ever before, songs such as I Feel You and In Your Room became grandiose examples of elctronic-based rock that tipped its hat to the Grunge school of emotion. Relying on heroin ever more, Gahan bears not just his soul but his very being into this album, suggesting that deep down, he knew he could fall apart at any time, something that is most evident in the pained gospel of Condemnation. It remains their most ambitious album to date.


Speak and Spell, 1981
They were one of many, but Depeche nailed down this synth-pop thing straight away with their debut, having barely entered their twenties. Catchy fare such as Just Can't Get Enough and New Life fit into the system well, but Photographic and Tora!Tora!Tora! hinted strongly at was what to come. Chief songwriter Vince Clarke got cold feet around the time of release and left to pursue a different approach, but that didn't stop the rest of them

Music For The Masses, 1987
Their worldwide profile was growing as was their confidence. It was no surprise that this opus was their most majestic yet, adding a controlled rock approach to their canon as well as a some applied orchestration. Yes, they had the solid and familiar likes of Behind the Wheel, but there were now tracks such as Strangelove and Nothing. It was prophetic too, as the accompanying tour was their biggest to date.


Construction Time Again, 1983
The use of synthesizers had added something interesting to Pop since the mid-70s, offering up some bizarre efforts along the way. While CTA was not the strangest of the period, It still raises an eyebrow today. Gore's pilfering of German industrial methods gave us original pop nuggets like Everything Counts and The Landscape is Changing. It also served up the quirky bassline of More Than A Party and the pacifist chanting of Pipeline. Ideas a-plenty, if not easy listening.


Exciter, 2001
Clean as a whistle and happy-as-larry by the time of Exciter's release, it's not surprising to suggest that a more apt title would have been Relaxer. It's clean digital approach was minmilistic and added weight to the argument that Depeche were just happy to be alive and to have survived the 90s. It's not a bad album, but when the strong tracks I Feel Loved and The Sweetest Condition sound out of place, you realise that they probably could have got away with more time writing the songs.


A Broken Frame, 1982
Regarded by the band as their worst album, their sophomore effort is now a good retrospective of a band starting again and having a go anyway. As much hit as miss, it gave us the dreamy instrumental Nothing to Fear at the very least.

Some Great Reward, 1984
More controlled than the previous effort, Gore was by now a confident songwriter with a better sense of how to apply his ideas. People are People and Master and Servant proved his knack for blending mechanics and a good pop hook. The sublime Blasphemous Rumours hinted at something more

Ultra, 1997
Stark and harrowed, this was proof that there was life in the now-grizzled dog, but only just. With the trendy moody trip-hop being used to good effect, the likes of Barrel of a Gun and Useless summed up the previous four years perfectly.

Playing the Angel, 2005
Unremarkable, but reassuring at the same time. This is just an example of Depeche doing what they're good at. Suffer Well, Precious, and Lilian are almost off the conveyor belt, but by this stage, that's as good as giving anything new and fresh.

1 comment:

David Snusgrop said...

Very nice run-down! Well done.

Apart from the fact that I rate Ultra as highly as your top 3, I agree with everything you said.