Thoughts on Depeche Mode recording another album

We have written many words on the subject of Depeche Mode here. Time for a few more.

We haven’t really talked much about the implications of the impending 13th album from DM. We now face the prospect of another Depeche Mode album with as much weary trepidation as excitement. Probably more, truth be told. Again, for the uninitiated, this was the band that got your humble blogger into electronic music back in 1984/85. When asked until quite recently – favourite band? It was always Depeche Mode. And while it’s become cliché to whine about the effect of the departure of Alan Wilder from the band in the mid 90s it did truly damage the band and there has been a clear case of the law of diminishing returns in recent albums. Those recent albums have become careless, and for all the rarity of their appearances (on average every four years) they seemed tossed off. The songwriting, long their bread and butter, became stale. Their material began to feel ordinary. And ordinary was something one could never have applied to this band back in their day. Their last effort, Sounds of the Universe was one of their most forgettable to date, despite some glimmers of joy buried within the folds of its broader mediocrity. So it’s a little odd to experience that little flutter of anticipation, even now. It’s like an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend you can’t quite completely quit. They ceased to be anything but bad for you but you can’t entirely let them go; can’t completely forget those early glory days and how much they meant to you and you still possess that glimmer of hope that maybe some piece of that long-forgotten spark might still be there, keeping it’s ember faintly lit.

This blogger listens to Depeche Mode pretty near every day. The sheer volume of output over the years that genuinely meant something to this guy means a constant stream of iPhone-driven life soundtrack means it;s inevitable that this material will pop up. Today while mowing the lawn “Ice Machine” came on. It was listened to with a nostalgic but utterly sincere smile. (“Wrong” also came up while driving to the liquor store, It was skipped and hardly mourned.) Still, rare is the day we don’t listen to at least something by this band. Can’t think of another about which we could say the same thing, month after month, year after year. They recorded so much indelible, unequaled music over the years they could never escape the affections of the once-devoted. That will never go away.

But after looking so forward to the last album, coming on the heels of the mediocre-but-at-least-better-than-Exciter, previous album, and then feeling so let down, the yearning fades. When Black Celebration came out, noticed in that pre-internet age when flipping through Billboard at a local newsstand, we booked to the long-gone Kelly’s Records and bought the cassette, nearly asphyxiating from the excitement. Thanks to Rock Over London, we were able to count down the days until Music For the Masses and perhaps only the anticipation of one day having actual sex rivalled the importance to this writer; even post-Wilder, one remembers ordering via mail order so it would come as fast as could be managed, Ultra, and listening while working on client projects from our basement office. These were occasions. These were events. DM13 is more a yawn but with that little twist of the head thinking, “who knows? The magic could still be in there. One never really knows, right?” Maybe this next one will have nothing resembling a “Hole to Feed” or a “Little Soul”. Maybe this next one will recapture what once made the band vital. Even long-dissembled acts like Blancmange and Ultravox have been able to achieve that. Surely a band with as strong a core as Depeche Mode can conjure the same, right? Right?

Right??

Time will tell. We’re not totally off the wagon. We still wonder what it will sound like. We still expect to get our hands on it the day it’s released. And while we may not have that “get to the record store (remember those?) first thing in the A.M. to get our copy enthusiasm, maybe we’re not meant to hold onto that forever. As we age, our relationships to those artists that formed the basis of our transition years surely change fundamentally. Maybe now it’s just a matter of wait and see, or more precisely, wait and hope…

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20 Responses to “Thoughts on Depeche Mode recording another album”

  1. I have to tell you that I really enjoy reading your blog – most of your comments mirror my own opinions. I’ve been a fanatic of electronic music since Are “Friends” Electric?, and enjoyed early DM. However, as inventive as they were in the beginning, and as monumental as those albums and countless songs are, I must say that I enjoy their “Violator and on” period more consistently. In fact I rarely listen to their 80s output. Alternately, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t listen to such stellar songs as Useless, Precious, Insight, I Am You, and my favorites – Freestate, Home, It’s No good, Barrel of a Gun, Wrong, and the delicious Ghost and Oh Well – both bonus tracks from Sounds of the Universe. In fact, Sounds, Playing the Angel, Ultra and Violator are my favorite DM albums. Like much of the great electronic music from the 80s I found your article a tad melodramatic. But I’ll respectfully keep reading!!!!

  2. Can totally empathise with the “It’s like an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend you can’t quite completely quit” line with regards OMD, only in that case, I’ve actually gone and found myself a “younger, prettier girfriend” in MIRRORS who remind me of why I loved the old girlfriend so much in the first place…

  3. An interesting, fair and “bullshit free” assessment there..
    The one real gem for me of late was the remix of “In Chains” by Alan Wilder on the last and otherwise universally awful remix album. If you haven heard it then I highly recommend it as it stands as a reminder of how the songwriting strength of Mr Gore coupled with the sophisticated arrangements of Mr Wilder created something truly beautiful and greater than the some of it’s parts

  4. Pretty much agree.

    Having the pleasure of getting to know an ex-member quite well, was surprised just how candid he was about the output since his departure. It is second rate and very much feels like they’re going through the motions.

    Of course we’ll get the usual propaganda prior to the next album release. Fletch saying “It feels great being in Depeche right now, spirits are high and both Martin and Dave have written a load of songs”. Well speaking from a purely personal level I’d rather have junkie Dave, drunken Martin, mental Fletch and grumpy Alan making the new album because all that tension probably made for better music.

    At least they bother making a new record before touring, I will give them that.

  5. Like you, I was introduced to the world of electronic music, singles from Eurythmics, Human League, and Soft Cell notwithstanding, by Depeche Mode, and DM were my favorite band well into the nineties. It is because I am such a fan of their pre-“Ultra” work that I have been increasingly disappointed with everything they’ve released since. There are tracks on “Sounds of the Universe” I could only listen to once, because they are so terrible. I think there are a couple I never listened to all the way through, not even once. “Wrong” is my favorite song on that turd of a record, and it wouldn’t even have been released as a B-side back in the “Violator” days.
    Unless Martin has found some serious inspiration or have lured Alan Wilder back (preferably both–and, please, Dave Gahan, in the name of all that’s holy, STOP trying to write songs; you have no talent for it), I wish they’d just call it quits, like they should have done after “Ultra.” It’s painful to me to hear how far they’ve fallen, and it inspires so much Depeche loathing in me that I’ve removed nearly all their tracks, even classics, from my iPod.

  6. I was about to write a similarly themed article so thanks for saving me the effort. While I don\’t fully agree with you on Exciter — it had some good songwriting but the album was ruined by an ill-fitting production — I have to say SOTU got very close to ruining DM for me for good. I\’m not exaggarating one bit when I say I could not listen to *any* DM for 16 months after the massive disappointment of SOTU. As for a new album… I feel it\’s simply an excuse for another world tour to further fill their coffers. Grabbing hands, eh?

  7. I must agree. It’s been downhill fast since Ultra. The one glimmer of hope recently was that photo of Mart, Dave, Fletch and VINCE having dinner. Perhaps just a stirring of the pot will happen? Some analog synth from Vince? I also think the choice of producers has been terrible since Ultra. I personally enjoy clean synthetic sound not clicks, noise, crap and harsh. Marts lyrics are buried in there somewhere. I’m not ready for a breakup yet, but I’ve been having an affair with Mirrors and Northern Kind lately…

  8. Great article

    Says a lot when fans of the band don’t want to hear the new album! Maybe we should just be grateful for all their great songs and memories from the pre-Songs of Faith and Devotion output. I don’t think any creative person or unit can produce consistently after that initial first few years of inspiration, and I think that’s what the problem is, they don’t sound inspired. The same old tired instrumentation backs up the same 3 or 4 types of songs they do, and we’ve heard their best versions of those. It’s no different with Erasure or the Pet Shop Boys, we’ve heard their template, there are no more surprises. I think approach with caution, hope Dave lays off the mock rock vocals and enjoy the one or two moments of greatness from Martin it’s sure to contain. (and just pray their are no Dave penned songs on it!)

  9. Two problems. Wilder is not in the band and Dave Gahan is being a twat and forcing the band to accept his songs. Unless at least one of those changes, you won’t hear a quality DM album ever again.

  10. Well, everyone that knows me wil know my passion for this band. First saw them live in 1983 and I fully ‘get’ the trepidation before an album release thing, mentioned in the blog.

    One of the great things about music is that it is subjective, and we’re all going to have our different opinions. Violator remains the best album for me, Ultra the worst. But none of the albums, IMHO, are write-offs. Personally I enjoyed SOTU more than any album going back to SOFAD.

    Quite a lot’s been written about Dave’s song-writing abilities. I think they generally do form the weakpoints on the albums on which they appear. However, I think Dave’s last solo album Hourglass is an absolute tour-de-force (one of my favourite albums of the last decade), so he certainly can do it. Forgive me, Alan, but I’ll take that album over any of the Recoil output any day of the week.

    I am really enjoying the current resurgence in synthpop, but I think it would be hard to argue that many of the current crop have the ability to combine melodic uniqueness, complex sound layering and songs that work anthemically in a live environment.

  11. I have been a fan of Depeche Mode since the day I bought the 45″ of People Are People. Although I still call them my favorite band ever, it unfortunately is mostly earned from my memories of them over anything recent.

  12. I disagree, perhaps you are changing and your taste is changing more than the “quality” of their recent material. I think how much we like a DM album depends in some part of what we were expecting, and what’s going on in our lives at the time. Wrong is an awesome track and certainly better than “Work Hard” or something you’d consider from the best period. I am so looking fwd to DM13, because each album is unique. Im not saying you have to love each album, my least fav is Exciter, but with 12 albums under thier belt, they all cant be your number one fav, there will be a 1-12. #13 could be high on that ranking or the bottom, but it i will enjoy it for what it is.

    • Couldn’t agree more! Well said! I love that DM has evolved. God forbid they still sounded like they did in ’82! I really do only listen to the period of Violator and on, and their last three albums are on regular rotation on my iPhone!! And as you say, Wrong is indeed an awesome track!

  13. In my previous response to this article I said that I rarely listen to 80s DM any more. This prompted me to go back to listen again, so one by one I listened. I must say that I find those albums – as much as I loved them in the day – now unlistenable! They really haven’t stood the test of time like some of their counterparts’ output from the same era. And I really read the lyrics that I still know so well and decided thr they really weren’t that great! In fact I cringe at some of them! Don’t get me wrong. I still love it, but I love the recent DM stuff so much better and am ecstatic about the current wave of electronic music. Songs like Wrong, Useless, Home are standouts in the new scene. I also REALLY like Dave’s solo stuff I absolutely can’t wait for the new DM album!!

  14. ex_citer Says:

    I hate hiller and last two albums – this is not DM

  15. David Taylor Says:

    I agree with rdlogie. Wrong, Newborn, Ghost, A pain that I’m Used to, Oh Well… totally awesome songs and all recent. I can’t wait to hear their new material.

  16. So how do you guys feel about their new vid for “Soothe My Soul?”
    http://smarturl.it/SootheMySoulVEVO

  17. I think their recent material and the now new album Delta Machine holds up very well with their contemporaries.

    I am a fan of the 86 onwards period, I agree with the general consensus that the 86-98 period was the peak, but I would listen to the last 4 albums more than I would listen to the first 4.

    • Paul J. O' Connor Says:

      Some very interesting insights from genuine Depeche Mode fans (unlike @ Slicing Up Eyeballs). I seem to be in a minority when it comes to Exciter, i happen to think its their most interesting, beautiful and certainly their best album since the departure of Alan Wilder. Ultra had its moments but there are a few too many clunkers (Freestate, Bottom Line, Uselink), Playing The Angel and SOTU are just dull and boring, plain and simple. Exciter is a gorgous album from start to finish and apart from Violator, is the most modern sounding record they ever made from a production standpoint. As for the new Delta Machine, well it is far superior to both PTA and SOTU, Heaven, Broken and Alone are fantastic songs, but the same problem remains in terms of the shoddy production courtesy of Ben Hiller once again, why they chose this hack a third time is beyond me. I really wish they would grow some balls and attempt to hire someone like Trent Reznor to give them back that edge they once possessed over twenty years ago. Could you imagine how great a track like Alone or Should Be Higher would actually sound in the hands of a production wizard like Reznor?
      Depeche Mode will always be my favourite band, but since Exciter they really have become increasingly lazy in terms of their working habits, choices of producers and not to mention their concert set lists, if i hear Walking in my shoes or Enjoy the silence live one more time i’ll freak out. The Cure may be an incredibly boring live band but at least they mix it up a bit with album tracks, b-sides etc. I think unless they change their approach on the next album, i would rather they just call it quits.

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