The reason I decided to write this particular post was to pay homage to Depeche Mode and challenge some people who think they are just another eighties band, and the stimulus to do so was my re-appreciation of their work after slowly buying the special remastered editions of their albums.
These special editions were released mostly in 2006 and previously ignored by me as I regarded them as money for old rope. But I have found that it is nice rope in some cases of a perfect length. Depeche Mode sound really good in 5.1 DTS surround and there is a short documentary on each DVD that accompanies the remastered CD. There are also lots of extra tracks to enjoy without the need to blow the dust off my record player. I sold some of my collection to a keener fan than me some ten years ago and so there are some tracks included on these new editions that I have not heard for some time despite my girlfriend (who is also a DM fan) having bought the remixes collections.
So let me take you on a trip – not around the world and back, but through the times where a self-absorbed young man was trying to find his way in the world and following the advice of four older boys he had never met and made music for a living. Gore so much to answer for!
It is a long time ago now so I can’t be one hundred percent sure when I first became aware of Depeche Mode… It seems like they have always been a part of my life, but that simply can’t be the case. I remember hearing Everything Counts in the charts in 1983, when I was twelve, and I must have seen them performing regularly on Top Of The Pops. However I didn’t really become a full on fan until I owned The Singles 81-85 and the 7 inch of A Question of Time in 1986. I think this was around the time I was mostly into taping Status Quo, buying Queen, and lusting over Madonna. My dad gave me Queen Greatest Hits (Volume 1 – the only volume at the time) on vinyl as I think he was sick of me using his record deck to listen to it, and I proceeded to buy their back catalogue of albums over the course of the next few months. Before that the very first music I actually made a connection with was Abba. My dad had all the albums on tape and there’s an embarrassing recording somewhere of me singing along badly to Supertrooper with headphones on.
The Queen records were selling for the very reasonable price of £4 each from the Kavern Records in the nearby North Wales town of Rhyl which is where I went since the Woolworths in my hometown tended to stick to the charts. Queen’s music seemed based around fantasy and a life style I would never live – they said little to me about my life (to quote Mr Morrissey).
I was a troubled youth to say the least with a messy home life and a string of episodes of unreciprocated love before I even turned 16. That first relationship at 15 was the exception to the rule of epic-fail which was my usual modus-operandi and was not without its trials and tribulations each one in turn at the time taking on the size of a cow (to quote Mr Hunt). The lyrics of A Question of Time, the first 7-inch by Depeche Mode I bought from Woolworth’s bargain bin of all places, and for that matter numerous other DM songs struck a chord with me which was way beyond anything I had experienced listening to Queen, Quo, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden.
I wasn’t a massive fan of what most people think of as ‘eighties music’ and tended to just follow along with what other school friends and my sister were listening to (this included the aforementioned rock bands as well as AC/DC, The Moody Blues, The Smiths, U2, Jean Michelle Jarre, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Art of Noise, Ultravox, Howard Jones, Japan and later The Pixies, INXS, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Wham!, Yazoo and Erasure all of which had little impact upon me at the time, although the latter two did feature in some musical ‘archaeology’ I performed once I became aware of their Clarke orbits).
My collection of originals at the time pretty much sucked apart from the Queen LPs. I bought very little music with my limited budget relying on friends to make me tapes and recording the Top 40 off the radio.
My diary entry for October 5th 1986 includes the comment “Listened to my tapes… counted 473 songs I’ve got mostly Quo then Queen..” which about sums it up.
On Saturday October 4th 1986 I met my girlfriend and “walked down town with her. I bought ‘Question of Time’ Depeche mode and ‘Wasted Years’ Iron Maiden both 77p. Also got Falco ‘Jeannie’ later…” and the following Wednesday “… I took powerstation 331/3 and Depeche Mode 12” from <my best friend> to re-record and record… Now listening to Ice Machine by ‘peche Mode.”
This would refer to the yellow sleeved Blasphemous Rumours 12” that had Ice Machine as an extra live track.
The diary actually has a magazine page pasted onto the back cover (it’s an exercise book) of a black and white advert for A Question of Lust -‘out Monday April 14th 1986’ and Falco Vienna Calling on the front.
There are references to taping the DM ‘album’ from a variety of sources all through November of that year. I have to assume it was Black Celebration, although I definitely had it on original cassette at some point, although they could be references to numerous albums by DM that were already out there. I can’t even remember who half to people are that I got these recordings off so it is no surprise that I can’t remember which album it was.
I split up with my girlfriend on Oct 15th and it got very messy very quickly so it’s no surprise that DM is linked in my head to depression and the complications of love.
I feel reasonably comfortable saying that Black Celebration (1986) is the first album by DM that I experienced in real time. The opening title track is probably my favourite. The sound is massive helped by the slow quiet build up which entices you to turn up the volume, the vocals when they come are anthemic and there is this lyrical darkness recognising the fact that life isn’t quite as great as other bands would have you believe, but hey it’s an excuse to get pissed and laid, why not while you’re still alive.
To reinforce their point Black Celebration is followed by Fly on the Windscreen, in which death is everywhere like the musical equivalent of The Sixth Sense. A Question of Lust is the weaker of the two questions and may have well been concerned with Love, but then it doesn’t rhyme with ‘trust’. Sometimes and It Doesn’t Matter Two feel like filler before the killer Question, but they still fit thematically with the blackness of the album. A Question of Time (and the faster single edit) is equal in my affections with Stripped – they are very different songs musically but again share a common theme. Let’s get laid, right now. Funnily enough I was thinking exactly the same thing at the time.
Here is the House is again mostly about sex but verges on tweeness again, World Full of Nothing continues the theme again but discards the concept of love – sex in itself means something, honest. Dressed in Black introduces us to one of Gore’s fetishes which he revisits numerous times, most notably on Blue Dress. New Dress on the other hand is a weak ending to a brilliant album. The hidden tracks Breathing in Fumes and Black Day are monumentally odd especially if you forget they are there (and on some formats they’re not sorry!) It is also worth noting that the standalone single Shake The Disease released between Some Great Reward and Black Celebration acted as medicine for me when I experienced epic fails with girls I fancied, it was nice to know that the songwriter if not the singer had experienced the tongue-tying awkwardness of adolescence.
I first bought this on cassette and then when I finally got a CD player it was one of the first CDs I bought (admittedly INXS Kick was the second). I also remember being into the Eurythmics at the time and the Revenge album is one I still can’t listen to without getting a lump in my throat. Their music did speak to me too, but somehow I thought of them as more depressing than Depeche Mode – Thorn In My Side being particularly aimed at my unfaithful ex-girlfriend. Bless her.
The albums released by Depeche Mode prior to this were then probably gathered into my collection from sources unknown but hinted at in my diaries. It’s not that important, but it is interesting that Depeche Mode were so popular amongst the girls in North Wales, but not so much the boys.
The stand out tracks for me on Speak and Spell (1981) are Photographic, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Dreaming of Me. The associated tracks around that time of note were Ice Machine and Shout. I find some of the other tracks as camp as a row of pink tents and have assumed this had something to do with Vince Clarke. Of course I remember dancing in the school disco bumper to bumper to Just Can’t Get Enough but I always found the repetitious lyrics a little boring. I suppose Photographic is a little like Girls on Film by Duran Duran in a vague sort of way and just the right side of creepy for me at the time, I love the lyrics (I think I am probably going to be saying that a lot, so I will desist now – let’s take it as a given that I liked the lyrics – the lyrics are the most important thing for me in a song – it doesn’t matter if the tune is great if the lyrics suck I’m not interested – sights set higher than a tall church spire, a career in Korea being insincere are you having a fucking laugh? – actually that one is probably the exception… but I am getting ahead of myself). Tora Tora Tora, Ice Machine and Shout are very atmospheric musically for such a new band generally considered as pop, and rightly so even if this is no disco, and performed live excellent to listen to. The gusto with which Gahan performs these numbers is also commendable.
For A Broken Frame (1982) the lads waved tatty bye to Clarke and were temporarily a trio, although Alan Wilder did help them play live. The singles are probably my favourites on this album and I would have been familiar with them from The Singles 81>85 prior to getting a recording of this album. Leave in Silence touched a depressed nerve in my soul as did See You as well as being darned catchy. The only other stand out track for me was The Sun and The Rainfall which I find quite uplifting even though the lyrics go on about making the same mistakes over and over etc. For me the album doesn’t quite work and although I am glad Clarke left, the hole he left behind is quite obvious inside the broken frame. I found the artwork on this particular album to be the best amongst all the albums leading up to Violator.
Construction Time Again (1983) finds Wilder properly in the group and a new found sound – lots of sampling of metal and shit being banged around. Love in Itself, Everything Counts and Two Minute Warning are my faves. The Landscape is Changing on the flipside is embarrassingly like Howard Jones at his worst. Again to my mind, not a great album, although some of the sonic elements can be clearly heard developing nicely ready for the next album. Listening back to this now it really does feel dated and maybe more so than some of their earlier stuff which is odd.
On Some Great Reward (1984) I like every track for various reasons. Something To Do and Lie To Me appealed as they spoke to me about the boredom of living next door to a seaside town they forgot to close down (Morrissey again). People Are People is brilliant to sing along to. It Doesn’t Matter I like because it goes with It Doesn’t Matter Two on the next album. Stories of Old while a little twee has some great banging synths and catchy chorus. Somebody is another great sing-a-long and the sentiment makes up for the awful rhyming. Master and Servant is by far the best track in terms of dance appeal, although the sweet sounding Gods-a-dick sentiment coupled with creepy samples of Blasphemous Rumours mean it is the stand-out track for me. In between the two is If You Want which appealed to my sense of naughtiness at the time – you can come if you want to, indeed. Frankie says relax.
I bought Music For The Masses (1987) as soon as it came out from Kavern Records (although by this time it had moved to smaller premises I think). I took the CD to my Nan’s house as it was closer than home and I could not resist the urge to play it immediately regardless of whether she wanted to hear it or not. While I listened in rapt awe she flicked through the CD booklet and worried over the lyrical content, Bing Crosby this wasn’t. She said something along the lines of ‘You need to be careful of some of these lyrics’, to which I shrugged and said ‘They’re just lyrics nan, you shouldn’t take them literally.’ Sometimes you should listen to your own advice.
Never Let Me Down Again, Strangelove, The Things You Said and Nothing are my favourites with the lyrics connecting to my brain like some kind of telepathy. Never Let Me Down Again is bombastic and a great choice of opening track. Strangelove released about six months ahead of the album was already tattooed into my brain in all its remixed variations – the Maxi mix being my favourite. ‘I heard it from my friends about the things you said…’ is a haunting opening line for any song and Gore’s vocals are sublime. Nothing sounds really poppy but the lyrics are straight from the Black Celebration school of angst.
The grunts and groans in the background of I Want You Now forced me to promptly stop listening to the CD at my Nan’s. It gives the impression that Gore is stood up singing this lament amongst a tangle of bodies at an orgy. No, definitely BONG not Bing. To Have and To Hold is probably the most aligned to their previous Black Celebration sound and seems to have more depth of sound with the foreign radio noises and Blasphemous Rumours-y rattles in the background.
The instrumental Pimpf is a really bad way of closing the album out and I find that I usually forgo listening to it. The build-up of noise just becomes unbearable after a while. I would have preferred them to include Agent Orange instead of Pimpf if they felt some overwhelming urge to put on an instrumental track. Their cover version of Route-66 was knocking around at this point so maybe that would’ve been even better.
The release of Little 15 in 1988 confused the hell out of me for some time. It seemed to come out as the ‘fourth single’ from the album, but had no BONG catalogue number and was in fact an import since it was released in Europe (France) not the UK. It received zero airplay and flopped in the UK. It didn’t do very well in France either. I bought it and then it sank without a trace. The lyrics are thought-provoking and the musical arrangement quite unusual. The single has another Alan Wilder instrumental on it, which is again preferable to Pimpf.
101 (1989) was the one and only live DM album I bought along with the video of the film. I remember buying an enormous black and white poster from the ‘poster guy’ in the Student’s Union of Gahan in his white jeans saluting the crowd at the Rose Bowl concert in much the same vain as the cover of Queen’s first album. It took most of a packet of BluTack to fix it to the wall. The film is great, the album is great, and stand out tracks for me are of course those already mentioned from Black Celebration and Music for the Masses. I especially liked how they had reworked some of the song arrangements, beats and synth sounds for the live shows. The other live albums released over subsequent years are not as good and Gahan’s vocals on Tour of the Universe (2010) are very odd in places.
I dropped out at the start of 1990 and subsequently returned to university in October of the same year. I found that I was relatively wealthy and having already pissed too much money up against various walls in my first abortive attempt at studenthood I decided to spend my money more wisely. This wisdom led me to the Left Legged Pineapple and the 12-inch section. It was in this palace of wonderment that I parted with my hard-earned coin in exchange for pretty much every remix, import and collectible they had by Depeche Mode. If it said BONG on it I was at it like a fly on a windscreen. I also purchased DM’s album back catalogue on vinyl, including the US version of the singles collection called Catching Up With Depeche Mode.
I definitely got the collecting bug. For instance I noticed that Love in Itself seemed to have four versions (e.g. the CD for Love in Itself 2 has some brilliant live tracks and Love in Itself 3 on it) and so I had to track down every version. At some point my love for the band could have been described as an obsession. This obsession is no longer there for me; things have moved on, I’m thankfully not the same person I was back then, and there were other bands that caught my magp-eye such as The Manic Street Preachers and The Red Hot Chili Peppers to name just two. However, up to a point (which I will identify in Part 2) everything the boys from Basildon released seemed to talk to me on a personal level.
Their next album was the awesome Violator. I talk about this and the rest of the albums in Part 2.