In the last number of years, Depeche Mode has risen to the top of my list of favorite bands, not second anymore, but now equal to Rush. Depeche Mode is almost the antithesis of what I typically look for in a group of musicians – they’re not virtuoso instrumentalists, and they don’t even have a drummer! Yet, there’s something about their music that keeps me coming back for more, time and time again. They are often mislabeled as an 80’s synth pop band, however, they are so much more. In fact, they are not and 80’s band at all. Actually, they are one of the few “pop” bands from the 80’s that has never stopped making albums (as a matter fact there are some blasphemous rumors that there is a forthcoming album and tour in 2017). Apart from that, they bring to the table a dark aesthetic and soulfulness that truly sets them apart from other bands that one may commonly associate them with. I love Depeche Mode. I celebrate their entire collection… well, almost their entire collection, that is, until recently.
As with anyone who has a favorite band, I tend to get totally sucked in to the band’s current collection as it exists at the time that I discover them. Anything after that tends to seem somewhat foreign to me. I’d be lying if I pretended to not be disappointed with Depeche Mode’s later albums. They don’t seem like “Real Depeche Mode” – and I’m not speaking about some perceived lack of depth in their music after the early 90s departure of Alan Wilder. There’s something more, and I finally found an opportunity to explore that.
A couple of weeks ago, I had an occasion to listen to Depeche Mode’s last four albums, “Exciter”, “Playing the Angel”, “Sounds of the Universe”, and “Delta Machine” in their entirety. While listening, I had a long time to evaluate the music and give lengthy consideration to why I haven’t paid much attention to these albums. I discovered, in fact, that these albums are not only brilliant, but quintessentially Depeche Mode. Heres why:
The issue is not totally with me or even with the music itself, but rather with the nature of what Depeche Mode, at its core is – an electronic band. Throughout their career, they have been a band full of keyboard players whose sound relies heavily on the technology of the day. Unlike my other favorite band, Rush (we’ll use them as an example here), who can play one note, and you know without a doubt it is Rush, Depeche Mode’s sound has changed drastically over the years. Sure, an 80’s Rush album sounds 80’s, and a 90’s Rush album sounds 90’s, and so forth. Yet, no matter the era, Rush is still a bassist, a guitarist, and a drummer, giving them a common thread despite adapting to the times with their sound. Synthesizers, on the other hand have changed drastically since their inception both in terms of sound and application. Furthermore, the very nature of electronic music, even in the last 10 years has evolved. Just as a band like Rush alters their sound to fit the era in which they are playing, so too must an electronic band like Depeche Mode. Combine that with the aforementioned technological changes, and you can see how Depeche Mode’s sound might change a great deal.
Just listen to a song like “Just Can’t Get Enough”, and compare it to “Walking In My Shoes”. Now, compare that to anything on “Delta Machine”. On the surface, you will undoubtedly notice a very serious difference between the three. In each case, the song sounds like an electronically created song of its time, but given a further listen, each song is without a doubt Depeche Mode.
Now before I go on, I will make notice of personal preference briefly. I like electronic music a lot, and have even been a practitioner of said music once in my life. Aesthetically, in music and art, I like things to be rather hard-edged. I like sharp, punchy sounds. I like drum patches to be loud and noticeable. I like synths to be hard and gritty. In fact, I once was letting a friend of a friend listen to some of the music I created, and he asked, “why do you always use that drum machine sound”. This should have clued me in to the fact that people who were into modern electronic music at the time were looking for a more soft, ambient type of sound. Guess who was doing that at the time? Depeche Mode. Yet, as I stated previously, deep down they were still totally, unabashedly, Depeche Mode. Let’s Make a checklist:
1. Dave Gahan. Check!
2. Martin L. Gore. Check!
3. Andrew Fletcher. Check!
4. Synthesizers. Check!
5. Dark, yet approachable sound. Check!
6. Bizzare electronic percussive noises interspersed throughout. Check!
7. Weird synthetic sounds somehow bludgeoned into fitting the music. Check!
8. Intentional discord that enhance the dark aesthetic. Check!
9. Thoughtful, well placed transitions. Check!
10. Lyrical themes exploring the not so pretty side of love. Check!
11. Martin singing the odd, very emotional songs. Check!
So you see, The soul of Depeche Mode is alive and well. Maybe I was alone in ever thinking it was’t, but if not, then I hope I have persuaded you to give these latest albums of one of my favorite bands a listen. There are some killer tracks to be heard for sure!