But, with such a long and extensive journey, the band – having experimented with several distinct genres and styles in the course of its history –, has witnessed a career marked by a lot of different musical periods, perspectives and moments.
So I have decided to write it down some appointments and commentaries about my favorite Depeche Mode albums.
Although I really like the albums Some Great Reward (1984), and Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993) (and Songs of Faith and Devotion Live as well, [as the name suggests, a record with live versions from the namesake album, released about the same time], but I don’t like it as much as the studio version), they really don’t fit the unconscious level of necessary requirements to incorporate them into the personal category of my favorite Depeche Mode albums. Don’t get me wrong: I really like these albums very much, and acknowledge their outstanding qualities (probably, I will write about them in another occasion), but, for the time being, I do not love them, at least, not in the same intensity that I love the albums that I chose as my favorites.
My favorite DM albums are Violator (1990), and especially Ultra (1997) and Exciter (2001). And I also like very much two compilations, The Singles 81>85 (originally The Singles 81→85), The Singles 86>98, and their most famous live album, 101.
The recording sessions for the album were so turbulent, difficult and tempestuous that Martin Gore considered breaking up the band, and releasing the material he had written as a solo album. Nonetheless, the band has managed to successfully overcome this dark period of their career, and Ultra was finally released, in April 14, 1997 (exactly twenty years ago), to an enormous and vibrating critical acclaim. The band chose not to tour for this album. Only two small concerts – named Ultra Parties – were held for promotional efforts, one in London and another in Los Angeles.
Ultra has proved itself to be a formidable record. A little different from other Depeche Mode releases, Ultra displays a singular collection of songs, permeated by a lugubrious tenderness and a soft melancholy, as well as an easier and more ponderable darkness, with beautiful quasi-ballads and prominently slow melodies. Almost all tracks are remarkable, and have its unique identity and formidable peculiarities. Martin Gore – always criticized for usually singing two songs in every Depeche Mode album [being almost unanimous among music critics and fans alike the fact that Martin should let Dave to handle the vocals entirely] – on this album sings the third and the tenth track, Home and The Bottom Line, respectively. The Bottom Line, as incredible as it seems, is quite good, actually.
Exciter put the band on a touring schedule again – although they have toured for The Singles 86>98, a compilation album that was released three years earlier – and cemented their habit, almost a religious ritual, if your prefer, that started with Songs of Faith and Devotion, to release an album every four years, then tour for almost a year to promote the album, and to release a DVD with a performance recorded during the tour. Exactly on this order.
Exciter is a remarkably versatile album. With the poignantly poetic and incisively vibrating Dream On opening the record, Exciter has sweet tender styled melancholic serenades, like Shine and Freelove, conspicuously sinister and almost ecstatic oversized electro goth tunes, like The Sweetest Condition, Comatose and The Dead of Night, romantically flavored sentimental cantilenas, like I Am You and Goodnight Lovers, and intensely vibrating free-flowing electronic beats, like the song I Feel Loved, that became a minor club hit. Each and every time that I heard this album I also felt – and still feel – the first three tracks as perfectly complementing each other. Although these are very different songs in shape, feeling, atmosphere and style, they naively appear to be the perfect continuation of one another. Maybe this sensation is obviously inserted into the listener’s mind given the fact that there is no silence in between the tracks, so this fact gives a psychological and delusional sense of continuation between the songs. From this album, Dream On, Freelove, I Feel Loved and Goodnight Lovers were all released as singles.
Nonetheless, I always had ambiguous issues concerning this record. While I like Exciter very much, I cannot ignore the fact that some songs are vehemently ecstatic, and at certain points seems to be almost frozen, with an obviously simpleton and conventional appeal. And although the album is technically well arranged and well produced, the structure of the songs in general seems to be quite simple, and exceedingly common, even for the musical standards of Depeche Mode, that always had very simple and ordinary musical dynamics and song structures, and too sentimental and ordinary lyrics too. But ignoring this too exacerbated simplicity, and overwhelming lack of audacity and creativity, it’s also impossible to ignore the fact that this album is expressively good.
Upon releasing Exciter, Depeche Mode embarked on the Exciter Tour, one of the most successful of the band’s career. The next year, the band released a two disc DVD titled One Night in Paris, featuring a live concert from the Exciter Tour. This was the beginning of a remarkable Depeche Mode habit: from this point onwards, the band would always release a DVD featuring a concert from their tours. One Night in Paris is a formidable DVD, containing a marvelous spectacle, excitingly vibrating and marvelously fascinating, plus a great deal of additional material (like all of their DVD releases). I have watched it several times, some of them along with my mother, that also became a fan of the band. I have also two other Depeche Mode live concert DVD’s: the Touring the Angel, released in 2006, featuring a live concert in Italy shot during Depeche Mode’s tour of Playing the Angel, and Devotional, that features live concerts Depeche Mode performed in 1993 in France, Germany and Spain during their tour to promote the album Songs of Faith and Devotion, released in 2004 in DVD, and originally, in 1993 in VHS. But from all of these, One Night in Paris is the best, and of course, my favorite (although Devotional is also quite different, unexpected and exciting, but probably, this is attributable to the fact that it was a very different time for Depeche Mode, musically and stylistically, and the primarily nostalgic elements are enduringly fascinating).
This was an important period – a transactional period – for Depeche Mode. They had started to leave behind them the adorable teenagers and flavored sugar pop boy band image that the musical establishment, with the deliberate support from the band and the record company, has cultivated concerning their image during the first half of the eighties. Nevertheless, several aspects of this characteristic were still present, mainly, in the dressing style of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore, and the fact that impeccable and sugar friendly songs like People are People, Everything Counts and Just Can’t Get Enough – a song written by Vince Clarke, the leader in the early days of Depeche Mode, that quit the band after the first album, Speak and Spell, was released, responsible for giving them fame in their early days (and that in 1985 partnered with singer Andy Bell to form the greatly successful synthpop duo Erasure) – were still present on their setlist.
Another important aspect of this period was the fact that Depeche Mode was ceasing to be just a notorious band, to slowly become a worldwide musical phenomenon. This was registered in the eponymous 101, a documentary directed by renowned filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker. An intelligent, wise and curious movie about the tour, the concert, and the fact that the fame and notoriety of the group was becoming higher and higher in the US, Depeche Mode was already considered the probable exponent of the second British invasion that was about to take the United States by storm. Another Depeche Mode DVD that I have, I’ve seen this documentary several times. Although some passages are quite monotonous, this is a vigorous, sensible and valuable registration of a major period in the band’s history, that captured precisely a focal point in their career, having recorded exactly when they were ceasing to be just a synth pop band, to become one of the greatest electronic acts in the worldwide mainstream musical scene.
In what concerns the album, despite the fact that it’s not an overwhelming record, it features the most amazing songs from this period in the band’s career, and they were all executed brilliantly, with a sonorous fidelity that closely resembles their respective studio versions, with some exceptions.
After Playing the Angel was released in 2005, I have ceased to accompany Depeche Mode’s career, having lost interest in their new material. Since this album, they have been losing themselves in a dead and ridiculously ordinary creative limbo, writing, playing and producing only variations of the same album. No innovations, no audacity, no experiments. There is a total absence of fresh new elements. Depeche Mode is imprisoned in a lethargic, conventional, ordinary and tedious comfort zone, full of commonalities. Since Exciter, they haven’t done anything truly remarkable, impressive, overwhelming or interesting.
I have listened to the single of their new album, Where’s the Revolution. Not impressed. I chose to appreciate their old albums, thank you very much. Especially, my favorites.