Depeche Mode have a special place for me. For me, 1988 was a special place for music.
There is a triumvirate of Post-Modern bands and they are the Mode, the Cure and New Order.
Although I would never have been allowed to see any of these bands in concerts, I did rock the ubiquitous Mode 88 shirt.
DM had released the masterful and grandiose Music for the Masses. New Order re-released "Blue Monday" in a remix that plays every night somewhere since it was released. The Cure's most recent release was "Kiss Me" x3 which had their finest moment "Just Like Heaven".
In the next five years, despite being on the fringe of the radio were playing stadiums and having massive hits.
From an American chart point of view, it certainly is a triumvirate, though the discussion is incomplete without The Smiths as their final album and Morrissey's first were brand new in this time frame. The Moz similarly got play on MTV and was even able to break into the radio Top 40. Nor is it complete without mention of the self-titled Echo and the Bunnymen album of the same time- their biggest American cultural moment with "Lips Like Sugar".
From a personal point of view, I also include the Best of OMD which was also released at this time and is fantastic. "Dreaming" was a chart hit, but their chart days were behind them. Their massive pop success puts them in a different discussion in the US, but for me they are just as important.
Surely, part of this is the excitement of youth, but the next year gave us PiL's 9, Elvis Costello's Spike and The Cult's Sonic Temple were all touchpoints of excitement. Then there was Doolittle and the Stone Roses and the floodgates were open. Also, I was discovering (as was much of America with the resurgence of) The Doors.
In any case, in my nostalgic haze, i have lost my point. Music for the Masses was and is a classic. Everyone knows "Strangelove" and "Behind the Wheel" and "Never Let Me Down Again", an anthemic conversion of the band's 80 s sound.
Still, if Masses
had never been made, Depeche Mode had made their mark. You can make similar arguments for Black Celebration. This was another great beginning to end listen. The goth/not goth shroud covers this album and some people prefer it to Masses. In any case, all of the elements were there.
Yet, the discussion doesn't end there. 1984's Some Great Reward would stand as the standout album if the band had never recorded another note. Critics are never kind to electronic music and this album gets short shrift. Same goes for Yaz, Soft Cell and many other pioneers who more often than not get ignored for traditional guitar-based bands like U2, the Clash and the Smiths, or at least traditional in terms like Bowie.
In the US, things get muddy, since most of us picked up the compilations Catching Up with Depeche Mode or People are People, but many of these songs are legendary in the alternative community- Blasphemous Rumors, Master and Servant, People are People, Everything Counts and others.
The story probably should end there. Having conquered all, the Mode grew their hair and picked up guitars (while on the other side of the spectrum Metallica cut their hair and picked up electronic influences).
We weren't sure what to make of the new look and the new sound which culminated in the commercially successful Violator.
What is my take on Violator almost three decades later?
I still listen to it all the time. It's perfect. I still listen to Mode a lot but I never tire of Violator. Although it might not be the "cool"est of choices, it's on my short list of greatest albums ever.
Anyway, so you know where I stand. I am not a big fan of the last 30 years of the band's recorded output. Credit to the band for being willing to push their sound. Indeed, electronic music is more challenging in that aspect than guitar-bass-and-drums.
In recent years,the Mode seems to have a love affair with Delta Blues music and are trying to incorporate those sounds into theirs. This eventually made its (il)logical conclusion in a cover (ish song) of Son House's "John the Revelator".
The DM albums have all been interesting in their own way, but nothing really grabbed me. Finally, the closest that they have come is when Dave Gahan collaborated with soundscapists Soulsavers.
The secret to what 21st Century D Mode needs to sound like is in that ambient sphere perhaps. Electronic based bands like Pet Shop Boys and OMD have tried various things to recapture that old sound, but our ears have changed.
Indeed, bands influenced by Depeche Mode have had entire careers and their own influence passed along- electroclash and ddarkwave bands that have pushed their own boundaries- The Bravery, She Wants Revenge, Rammstein, Apoptygma Berzerk, the Faint, Fischerspooner, the Killers, Ladytron, Goldfrapp, the Crystal Method- this list obviously goes on and on- but these are all bands that have come along since Songs of Faith and Devotion and have had beginning to end careers.
Spirit comes the closest they have in awhile to making a release that matches the best of their output. They have teamed with producer James Ford who has worked with Florence and the Machine, Arctic Monkeys, the Klaxons, Peaches, Everything Everything and Haim.
The lyrics are political, though they kind of let the band down. They are the weakest moment, though you can't blame the band for the thought. It just isn't Dave Gahan's strong suit. Though he does deliver strong vocals, so maybe it's Martin Gore's lyrics which can be summed up in the song Scum ("Hey scum, what are you gonna do when karma comes").
In any case, I was ready to write Depeche Mode off, and this album has done quite a bit to reverse that position. It's not essential by any means but it has some moments that prove they still can be vital.