Depeche Mode – Playing The Angel

Depeche Mode - Playing The AngelOne doesn’t listen to music by Depeche Mode to get happy.

That said, there’s something about Playing The Angel that almost makes me break out in a grin. Depeche Mode is back and in fine form on this album marking the band’s 25th anniversary. Unusually, there’s a mix of songs written by Martin Gore (who’s been the dominant songwriter for much of the band’s career) and lead singer David Gahan, but Gahan’s tunes aren’t filler material begrudgingly added to boost the songwriter’s ego. At least one of them, “Suffer Well”, is as good as many of the songs that most longtime fans now consider to be classics. To be fair, though, Gore turns out some of his best songs since Violator here, with the rollicking “John The Revelator”, “Precious” and the slow-boiling “Sinner In Me” standing out from the crowd. (It’s worth nothing, however, that “Macro” is quite possibly the weakest song Martin Gore has ever unleashed on a Depeche Mode album, combining an uninspired melody with jaw-droppingly trite lyrics – I wouldn’t make such a stink about one song normally, but it’s just so shocking since I’m used to his work being both more musical and more eloquent than this.)

rating: 3 out of 4The whole thing thunders along with a combination of modern rhythms and very analog synthesizers, and more assured vocals from David Gahan than I’ve heard in ages. The decision to lean so heavily on analog synths prevents a lot of the sound from being obviously dated, though there are enough modern elements that no one will be mistaking this album for Some Great Reward anytime soon. The distorted, crunchy guitar work is front and center on several songs – in fact, “Sinner In Me” doesn’t really properly kick in until the guitar appears. All in all, it adds up to a very satisfying listen and a fitting celebration of a quarter-century on the musical map for Depeche Mode.

Order this CD

  1. A Pain That I’m Used To (3:57)
  2. John The Revelator (3:41)
  3. Suffer Well (3:49)
  4. The Sinner In Me (4:55)
  5. Precious (4:10)
  6. Macro (4:02)
  7. I Want It All (6:09)
  8. Nothing’s Impossible (4:21)
  9. Introspectre (1:42)
  10. Damaged People (3:27)
  11. Lilian (4:44)
  12. The Darkest Star (6:38)

Released by: Mute
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 51:35

Depeche Mode – Exciter

Depeche Mode - ExciterI’ll admit it upfront: Depeche Mode lost me for the longest time. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Violator, though there was stuff to like on that album. But it was the group’s 90s output – especially Ultra – that had me tuning them out. But at the risk of sounding a little too cheesy, I found Exciter much more exciting. This album sees Depeche Mode – and specifically core members David Gahan and Martin Gore – on the rebound from some of the events that helped the group hit that low ebb.

Gore’s songwriting acumen, which seemed to be on the decline, is back in full force with a number of fascinating and listenable tunes. And it helps that Gahan is back in fine form (and even better voice) for the first time since Violator. Normally I point out standout tracks, but the truth is, there’s little on Exciter to not enjoy. My personal favorites, however, have to be the dreamy “Comatose” – replete with the kind of mesmerising chords and structure that haven’t been a mainstay of the pop music landscape for decades, only with an updated sound and some of the best Gahan/Gore vocal harmonies ever – and the bouncy and slightly sarcastic “I Feel Loved”. Other highlights include the slinky Breathe and a thundering anthem to the goth generation, “The Dead Of Night”.

Overall, I’m thrilled with Exciter – this is the best thing Depeche Mode has done in rating: 4 out of 4years. When they started out, they were mavericks on the pop scene, abandoning any sign of traditional instrumentation for the innovative sounds they could coax out of the then-new synths and samplers available in the new wave days. Even though that field’s pretty crowded now, Depeche Mode surprised me with this album, which shows they’re still the innovators they were twenty years ago.

Order this CD

  1. Dream On (4:19)
  2. Shine (5:32)
  3. The Sweetest Condition (3:42)
  4. When The Body Speaks (6:01)
  5. The Dead Of Night (4:50)
  6. Lovetheme (2:02)
  7. Freelove (6:10)
  8. Comatose (3:20)
  9. I Feel Loved (4:20)
  10. Breathe (5:17)
  11. Easy Tiger (2:05)
  12. I Am You (5:10)
  13. Goodnight Lovers (3:48)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 56:48

Depeche Mode – Violator

Depeche Mode - ViolatorHailed as a change in direction in the group’s sound, this 1990 album from Depeche Mode introduced one new element: guitars, or at least better-than-usual samples thereof, in addition to the usual wall of synths and samples. But aside from what instruments were being used, this was a big shift in another way, one that I liked – an emphasis on melody and decent songwriting rather than production techniques and pushing the limits of synths and samples for their own sake. There’s actually decent music on here.

Highlights include the slinky “Sweetest Perfection” and low-key “Waiting For The Night”, along with the hit singles “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy The Silence” (which were followed up by a somewhat smaller hit, “Policy Of Truth”). “Blue Dress” hails back to the lighter, more melodic Depeche Mode of the early 80s, in sound if not in subject matter, and features some of David Gahan’s best vocals in years. Across the board, the vocals on Violator are better than on any Depeche Mode album since Black Celebration.

Martin Gore’s guitar work stands out enough to let us know we’ve been missing out on a decent guitarist ever since Depeche Mode went all-synth.

Also, there are some untitled instrumental interludes hiding after a few of the other tracks, including a rating: 3 out of 4haunting piece called “Crucify”, which lurks at the end of the “Enjoy The Silence” track.

And finally, the album’s last track, “Clean”, truly becomes an exercise in irony in hindsight, when one considers that lead singer Gahan later went on to attempt suicide and enter drug rehab. (Then again, Gahan didn’t write the song – Martin Gore did.)

Order this CD

  1. World In My Eyes (4:26)
  2. Sweetest Perfection (4:44)
  3. Personal Jesus (4:56)
  4. Halo (4:30)
  5. Waiting For The Night (6:07)
  6. Enjoy The Silence (6:13)
  7. Policy Of Truth (4:55)
  8. Blue Dress (5:42)
  9. Clean (5:28)

Released by: Reprise
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 46:58

Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence

Depeche Mode - Enjoy The SilenceWhile I stated in a previous review that Depeche Mode really lost me with Black Celebration, this CD maxi-single contained the only song of theirs that has piqued my interest since then, “Enjoy The Silence” from the 1990 album Violator. This heavily percussive number combines an interesting piece of music with an unheard-of innovation for Depeche Mode: a guitar! Yes, Martin Gore plays a little bit of guitar on this album, which isn’t really all that alien to the group’s sound – prior to recording its first album, Depeche Mode actually had two guitars! – rating: 3 out of 4and it has an interesting effect on the typical Depeche Mode sound. But even “Enjoy The Silence” isn’t the best thing on this disc. The piano-heavy instrumentals Memphisto and Sibeling are examples of other interesting avenues Depeche Mode could be exploring.

Order this CD

  1. Enjoy the Silence (4:15)
  2. Enjoy the Silence – hands and feet mix (7:20)
  3. Sibeling (3:20)
  4. Enjoy the Silence – bass line (7:40)
  5. Enjoy the Silence – ecstatic dub (5:54)
  6. Memphisto (4:05)
  7. Enjoy the Silence – ricki tik tik mix (5:35)
  8. Enjoy the Silence – harmonium (2:39)

Released by: Reprise
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 40:48

Depeche Mode – Black Celebration

Depeche Mode - Black CelebrationThis is the point at which Depeche Mode’s sound started shifting from the interestingly experimental sampling and synths of Some Great Reward to a much heavier, more industrial sound… and I have to confess, they lost me for a long time after this one last really good album. If anything saves this album, it’s the slower songs and ballads, such as “A Question Of Lust”, “World Full Of Nothing”, and the menacing “Dressed In Black”. Faster-paced songs worthy of mention include “A Question Of Time” and the atypically bouncy “But Not Tonight”. The vocals on Black Celebration seem to be above the par set for the previous releases, though the album also falls flat for rating: 3 out of 4trying to copy the style of the group’s own well-received earlier material – “Sometimes” and “It Doesn’t Matter Two” are conscious attempts to reproduce earlier songs such as “Somebody” and “It Doesn’t Matter” from the previous album, and both fall very, very flat. This album is a very mixed bag.

Order this CD

  1. Black Celebration (4:55)
  2. Fly on the Windscreen – final (5:18)
  3. A Question of Lust (4:20)
  4. Sometimes (1:53)
  5. It Doesn’t Matter Two (2:50)
  6. A Question of Time (4:10)
  7. Stripped (4:16)
  8. Here is the House (4:15)
  9. World Full Of Nothing (2:50)
  10. Dressed in Black (2:32)
  11. New Dress (3:42)
  12. But Not Tonight (4:15)

Released by: Mute
Release date: 1986
Total running time: 45:16

Depeche Mode – Shake the Disease

I first heard the title track of this single/EP on a “best of” album covering Depeche Mode’s work up until just before Black Celebration, and I really liked it. It was another one of those cases where I had to give the tape back to its owner, but I finally managed to find a relatively inexpensive CD single containing just this song and another one from that compilation that hadn’t been released on any other album. I hate it when they do that! But I won this time. “Shake The Disease” stuck fast in my mind when I first heard it because of the overlapping vocals throughout the song – actually, compared to a classroom full rating: 3 out of 4of munchkins bleating “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, this song’s overlapping is pretty simple, but it’s done nicely and, well, I just like the song. I don’t really spend a whole lot of time on the various remixes and dance mixes, but “Shake The Disease” by itself was worth a couple of bucks for me.

Order this CD

  1. Shake the Disease (4:49)
  2. Flexible (3:11)
  3. Shake the Disease – extended remix (8:46)
  4. Flexible – extended remix (6:17)
  5. Shake the Disease – edit the shake (7:12)
  6. Something To Do – metal mix (7:26)

Released by: Intercord Ton Gmbh
Release date: 1984
Total running time: 37:41

Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward

Depeche Mode - Some Great RewardThis, to me, is the definitive Depeche Mode album. It also marked the beginning of many listeners’ fascination with the self-proclaimed all-electronic group. The famous (but tiringly repetitive) “People Are People” emerged from this album, but there are other songs I much prefer. “Somebody” is one of the first, if not the first, really good Depeche Mode ballads in the band’s catalog, which is an aspect of Depeche Mode’s sound that I think they made a big mistake in not pursuing. There’s also “Blasphemous Rumours”, a brutally harsh song that’s probably been burned or banned somewhere in the Bible Belt, though its lyrics seem to be aimed at a teen/young adult audience and one has to rating: 3 out of 4wonder just what the message is. But the best thing on here is “It Doesn’t Matter”, easily one of my favorite Depeche Mode songs by miles – and yep, it’s another ballad. Why they shunned that path in favor of going the industrial route baffles me, especially when they were so good at it.

Order this CD

  1. Something To Do (3:45)
  2. Lie To Me (5:04)
  3. People Are People (3:52)
  4. It Doesn’t Matter (4:45)
  5. Stories Of Old (3:12)
  6. Somebody (4:26)
  7. Master and Servant (4:13)
  8. If You Want (4:40)
  9. Blasphemous Rumours (6:21)

Released by: Mute
Release date: 1984
Total running time: 40:18