Monday, August 30, 2010

My Best of Depeche Mode

I love Depeche Mode. They have been my favorite band since the early 90's, and every time I think a different band will supplant them I rediscover how great their music is, and they return to the number one spot. I suppose Nightwish is actually tied with them, but they're still the favorite.

I have an almost OCD like compulsion to own stuff, especially stuff related to things I like, and one of my first collections, one that I still work on from time to time, is my CD collection. It's not large, somewhere around 350 albums I believe, I probably have at least that many toys, possibly more, and I've only been collecting toys for 5 years. But by and large, the biggest portion of my CD collection is given over to Depeche Mode.

I have over 100 Depeche Mode and Depeche Mode related disc. This includes all studio albums (sometimes multiple copies), many singles, live albums, live bootleg, fan remixes, and tribute albums. At one time my goal was to have at least one copy of every song, and every (official) remix of every song I really liked. I have since lightened up on that, as it is time consuming and expensive, but there are still many releases I intend to get. One set in particular I'm working on is the CD/DVD Collector's Edition re-issues of all studio albums up through Exciter, the main draw for that being the 30-40 minute video documentaries that are included on the DVD. Other reasons are to get all the b-sides (again), which means I won't have to replace discs that have been scratched beyond use (such as the Walking in My Shoes single with the absolutely excellent My Joy b-side, which currently I cannot listen to).

Said CD/DVD sets are what prompt me to make this post, as I found the Collector's Edition of Ultra at FYE this week, for the whopping price of $4.99. Then I found an online store ( that had a few others for decent prices, so I have Collector's Editions of Construction Time Again, Violator, and Songs of Faith and Devotion on their way. I'm looking forward to seeing these documentaries, and learning about the process, the troubles and trials and successes involved in the creating of each album. While I'm waiting I wanted to visit all Depeche Mode's albums and let you listen to my favorite song from each.

Speak and Spell was released Fall of 1981 and the first album by Depeche Mode. The line up consisted of Vince Clarke, Martin Gore, Dave Gahan and Andrew Fletcher, with Dave Gahan on lead vocals, Vince Clarke writing most of the music, and Martin Gore writing a couple of songs. Vince Clarke left the group shortly after, eventually going on to form Erasure with singer Andy Bell. This album is very different from the rest of DM's music, largely (I assume) because it was Vince's music, not Martin's. It' fairly enjoyable, though by no means their best album.

My favorite song right now is Shout, the B-side to their second singe, New Life. Honorable mentions go to Any Second Now (Voices version) and Tora! Tora! Tora!.

After Vince left the three remaining members felt like they needed to prove that they could continue on without Vince, and without replacing him. Martin fully took over songwriting, and their music took a darker turn than the previous album, though we had a sample of Martin's writing in the previous album. A Broken Frame was released Fall 1982, and while I believe the album wasn't terribly successful commercially, as it took people by surprise after, it is among my favorite of their albums. It showed the world the path Depeche Mode was going to pursue and is rife with emotion. Alan Wilder was brought on to perform with the band for the live tour, and officially joined the group by the release of the next album, becoming an key part of the group for the next 13 years.

This is one of the easier albums for me to choose a favorite, and that is Leave in Silence, the opening track and first single from the album. It's a beautifully haunting melody, with subtle vocals, and I love the Longer version (on the single and US album release) with the synth instrumental at the end. Honorable mentions are My Secret Garden, Monument, A Photograph of You, Shouldn't Have Done That and The Sun & the Rainfall.

The third album Construction Time Again, Fall 1983, is not one of my favorite albums, though it contains one of Depeche Mode's most well known songs, Everything Counts. I don't really have much to say about it. Alan Wilder wrote a couple of songs for the album, their tone blending very well with Martin's songs.

My favorite song would have to be Fools (by Alan Wilder), the B-Side to Love In Itself. Honorable mentions to More Than a Party and Told You So.

In 1984, Depeche Mode's US recording label decided to release a collection of singles that US audiences might not be as familiar with, and thus came about People Are People. Not much else to say about this one.

The B-side to the People Are People single, In Your Memory is definitely my favorite from this time. I love the instrumentation, and the percussive instruments that make up the harmony. Honorable mention to Get the Balance Right as well.

Some Great Reward in 1984 brought us Depeche Mode's most well known, and most romantic song for years, Somebody.

It has a number of songs that I really enjoy, particularly Lie to Me (which includes the line, "some great reward" which for some reason always fascinates me when a song includes the album title in the lyrics), Something To Do, If You Want, Blasphemous Rumours, and more.

In 1985, The Singles 81-85 was released in the United Kingdom, including all since released to that date, and in the US it was released with a slightly different track list and titled Catching Up With Depeche Mode. I find this release significant due to it having the first released version of Fly on the Windscreen, which is one of my all time favorite Depeche Mode tracks, but I'll save it for the next album it was released on.

Flexible is the B-side to the single Shake the Disease, it's a fun song, not exactly typical Depeche Mode really, but I like it.

On March 17, 1986, one of the greatest albums ever made was released, Black Celebration, Depeche Modes' 5th Studio Album. It's darker than the previous albums, and is one of my all time favorite albums, though it didn't sell as well as Some Great Reward and none of the singles were big hits. Trivia: Black Celebration is the only DM album with a title track. This album's cover art is also one of my favorites.

Hands down my favorite tracks are Fly on the Windscreen and It Doesn't Matter, Two Other favorites include Dressed In Black, Black Celebration, A Question of Time and But Not Tonight.

The sixth studio album hit in late Sept 1987, titled Music for the Masses continuing the band's success. They embarked on one of their largest tours, including a sold-out show at Pasadena Rose Bowl to a crowd of over 60,000 fans. A live album of this tour was released, with performances from the Pasadena Rose Bowl concert.

Like most of DM's albums, this one is full of excellent music, and choosing a favorite can be difficult. I would say that I find To Have and To Hold to be the best track on the album (Spanish Taster Remix), though there are many others that rank very highly on my list: Never Let Me Down Again, The Things You Said, Little 15 and Behind the Wheel. This album also contains what's probably my favorite DM instrumental track, Pimpf.

Violator was an even bigger success than Music for the Masses and this album more than any other is what most people think of when they think of Depeche Mode, at least in my experience. It seems like everyone has this album, even if they're not particularly a fan of Depeche Mode. This album hit #& in the US charts, and stayed there for 74 weeks and as of this year has sold over 13.5 million copies, being their best selling album worldwide.

Without a doubt, Halo is my favorite track from this album, followed by the B-sides Happiest Girl and Sea of Sin. Other favorites include Sweetest Perfection, World in My Eyes, Clean and pretty much the rest of the album.

While Violator was their best selling album, Songs of Faith and Devotion was their highest charting album, reaching number 1 in both the UK and the US. There is a definite religious feel to this album, with song titles like Condemnation, Mercy In You and Judas and other songs which discuss matters of a like nature, such as Walking In My Shoes. Condemnation and Get Right With Me also have a very Southern Gospel feel to them.

The Devotional Tour, was a fourteen-month endeavor, during which time, according to Wikipedia, DM was (along with U2 and REM) one of the three biggest bands in the world. The tour was a grueling experience, with many of the band taking breaks due to stress or other health problems. A live album of the tour was released as well, on CD and DVD, and live versions of songs from the tour were included on two single releases.

One of the saddest moments in Depeche Mode history occurred shortly after the end of the Devotional Tour, after 13 years in the band, Alan Wilder announced he would leave the band, for a variety of reason which can be read about elsewhere. At this commercially high point in their career many people saw this as the end of Depeche Mode, including (for a while at least) Martin Gore, as Wilder had been key in the production, sound and feel of the last several records, many believed the group could not recover from such a loss.

In Your Room, Rush, One Caress are the cream of the crop here, and that's saying a lot as all of these songs are fantastic.

However the remaining members of the band (Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher) may have felt about Alan's departure, one thing was sure, they weren't about to let this stop them, they didn't quite and give up when Vince Clark left in 1981, and they weren't going to do so in 1995. On April 14, 1997 the band released their ninth studio album, Ultra, which debuted at #5 in the US and #1 in the UK. This album has some sentimental attachment for me, as it was released a few days before my then-girlfriend/now-wife's birthday, and she bought it for me.

While I don't often think of this album of being particularly great, it is full of good songs, and a number of them are very good. The music is interesting, and while the album may lack some of the layering of the previous two records, it has it's own interesting feel. My favorite would be The Bottom Line and honorable mentions The Love Thieves, Useless, Sister of Night and Insight. Additionally, some of the remixes of Home are great.

In 1998 the 2 disc set The Singles 86 > 98 was released, along with a re-release of The Singles 81 > 85. The first has a new song that was released as a single at the same time, for which I bought the album (and even acquired the very limited edition bonus 3rd disc), the second was also enhanced with an added song, for which I bought it. I love the artwork for these releases, the coloring, in particular, is amazing, the excessive contrast of the 81-85 cover, the landscapes in th 86-98 art, it's just beautiful. Quite possibly my favorite art from any Depeche Mode work.

Since these are collections of singles most of these pieces are covered by their respective albums, however, since there is one new track on each, and I bought them for said tracks, they should definitely qualify as my favorites.

Photographic (Some Bizarre Version) is actually the first track Depeche Mode ever released, on the Some Bizarre record of 1981, a compilation of some kind, collecting tracks from different bands, I don't remember the specifics right now and I'm too lazy to look it up.

Only When I Lose Myself was the new single in 1998, and is a beautiful song, with great music. And the cover is cool.

By the time the band started working on their next studio album I was firmly plugged into the internet and learning about fan cultures and fan sites, and I followed the creating of the album with great interest. This was the first release where I bought most of the singles on day of release, and the album as well. I was very excited for Exciter to be released at the end of 2000, and it's pretty good. It's about as strong as Ultra in my opinion, which means that while it's good, it's kinda weak compared to most other albums. Still, it as some great songs, and it was fun to be able to follow the news and what info Depeche Mode released prior to release. More importantly, I was able to attend my first Depeche Mode concert in 2001, along with my wife. It was a great experience, one whose memory I will treasure forever. A very excellent live performance DVD was released as well.

The Sweetest Condition is definitely the best track, in my opinion, followed so very closely by Breathe that I can hardly favor one over the other. I'm also a fan of The Dead of Night.

In 2004 a collection of previously released remixes was released under the name Remixes 81-04, in 1 disc format, 2 disc set, and limited edition 3 disc set, the third disc containing mostly new remixes. Guess which I bought. A new remix single of Enjoy the Silence was also released.

My favorite remixes are Little 15 (Ulrich Schnauss Remix), Halo (Goldfrapp Remix) and Nothing (Headcleanr Rock Mix) from the Limited Edition set's third disc also liking Lie To Me (The Pleasure of Her Private Shame Remix) and Enjoy the Silence (Reinterpreted) from the third disc, and Enjoy the Silence (Ewan Pearson Remix, Radio edit) and Something to Do (Black Strobe Remix) from the single.

Playing the Angel (or "Pain and suffering in various tempos" as it says on the back cover) was released on Oct 18, 2005, which day I bought it, and it instantly became my favorite Depeche Mode record of all. Yes, I liked it even more than Violator and SoFaD. For a while at least, I'm not quite sure that it's still that good in my mind, but it is in my top 5 DM records. This was the first Depeche Mode album to include a bonus DVD (or rather, there was a CD release, and a Deluxe edition CD+DVD release, guess which I bought.)

This album is also unique in being the first recording for which singer Dave Gahan contributed music, co-writing three songs with Christian Eigner and Andrew Phillpott. Playing The Angel is the third album whose title comes from a song lyric. This album returns to a somewhat harsher sound, after the more mellow Exciter. Playing the Angel was in the top ten charts, #6 and #7 in the UK and US, respectively.

The B-sides to Playing The Angel are particularly good, we haven't had B-sides this good since Songs of Faith and Devotion. One of these B-sides, Free qualifies as my favorite track of the album, although almost all of the songs are nearly as good, especially A Pain That I'm Used To (which has excellent remixes), Suffer Well, The Sinner in Me, Precious, and so on.

A fifth compilation album was released in 2006, comprised of various DM tracks over the years, most importantly containing one new song, for which I will buy it someday (there's also a CD+DVD version of the album, of course that's the one I must buy). The new track was originally recorded during the Playing the Angel sessions, but the band felt it didn't fit the mood of the album, so it was withheld.

Martyr is the only new track released on this album, and is quite enjoyable.

And finally we arrive at Depeche Mode's most recent release, Sounds of the Universe, released April 2009. This was the groups most ambitious project in terms of different releases available. There was the regular CD release, a limited CD+DVD release with a few special remixes and videos, and a Deluxe Box Set Edition, containing 3 CDs and 1 DVD. Once again I had been eagerly following the band's progress on this album, they released video clips of them working on the album throughout the recording and creation of the album, and I was very eagerly anticipating it's release. And then they announced the Deluxe Box Set.

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a Huge fan of Depeche Mode, I desperately wanted the Box Set. The second disc would contain bonus tracks and remixes, a few of which were eventually released on singles, the third disc contained for the first time ever, demo versions of songs, from as far back as 1987's Music for the Masses. The DVD was NOT the same as the CD+DVD version, containing 4 live studio session recordings of songs (3 from this album, one from Some Great Reward), a short 10 minute film (which is on the CD+DVD version), a 45 minute documentary of the making of the album, filmed largely by Andrew Fletcher (member of the band), mainly candid shots of the band and others at work, and a 55 minute professional documentary on the band and the new album.

Additionally, 2 84 page hardcover books would be included, one containing the lyrics to the songs, along with photography by Anton Corbijn (who has been doing the band's photography for years and years), the second featuring candid photos of the band and recording studio. A few other odds and ends were included too, the only one I want to mention being 5 collectible artcards. They commissioned a bunch of artists to create their own take on the album's logo, and then printed up a set of 20 art cards. I loved them, and at the time I meant to see if I could somehow buy the 15 I didn't get so as to have the complete set, but I never did. If anyone knows how I can get a hold of the set of cards, let me know.

I desperately wanted this box set. And my lovely wife once again bought me a Depeche Mode album for her birthday, though this one was a bit more expensive than Ultra. Of course, it counted as my birthday presents, and Christmas presents later on in the year, but it was worth it. This album is my favorite, and has been since I first listened to it almost a year and a half ago. The documentaries were fascinating, and what with the Collector's Editions of the other albums I'm getting soon, I will be watching them again. Sounds of the Universe hit number 2 in UK and 3 in USA charts, the highest since Ultra, though it didn't remain on the charts long. As I said, it is currently my favorite of all their albums, I'm listening to it as I type this.

My favorite song has to be Corrupt, but of course many others are nearly as well liked, Ghost, In Chains, Wrong, In Sympathy and more.

Depeche Mode has now been making music for nearly 30 years, and it's been a very enjoyable journey (for me), I hope they can continue to make amazing music for me and other (but mostly me) to enjoy.

1 comment:

Marissa said...

That was fun, reading your thoughts on each album.