Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Music and Me

I came into my "musical maturity" at about the same time that incipient synthpop was becoming highly mainstream in America. So right about the time that Depeche Mode, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Information Society, New Order, Book of Love and others were regularly filling the charts with successes in America, I was looking for a musical identity of my own. For a variety of reasons, most of which I have no interest in going into here, that's the kind of music that I latched onto.

A few things happened after that. I was in Argentina, a bit disconnected from pop culture, when that all came crashing down and the mainstream success of synthpop evaporated in America. So to me, there are two "eras" of synthpop. The 80s, which culminated in the high levels of mainstream success, and "everything since then." For me, all synthpop of the last five, ten, or even fifteen years is all "new" because it postdates the popularity crash of the early nineties. I call these two eras the "Golden Age" and the "Silver Age" of synthpop respectively. They're a bit misnomered, though... for the most part, the Silver Age beats the pants off the Golden Age.

Anyway, Depeche Mode was always my favorite during the "Golden Age" of synthpop. Something about the bleak, pessimistic viewpoint they espoused struck a chord with me (even though I'm not exactly a bleak, emo type guy) and I think that their themes and sounds are kinda timeless. Either that or I simply haven't matured at all from being a teenager twenty to twenty five years ago. Both could equally be true. But the "heyday" of Depeche Mode's sound, in my opinion, were from their mature but not yet post-synthpop sound, Some Great Reward, Black Celebration and Music For the Masses. Most people will praise Violator, but to me, that CD was always a disappointment. Sure, "Enjoy the Silence" is a classic; probably the most iconic Depeche Mode song ever, but the CD overall was a step downhill from their previous heights.

Anyway, not that I want to lock Depeche Mode in a studio and force them to recreate that same sound, but a lot of bands subsequently (many of them of my "Silver Age" of synthpop, which is still ongoing) made a lot of hay out of mining the same territory as Depeche Mode did in the middle and late 80s. Red Flag, Seven Red Seven, Cause and Effect and Camouflage were early imitators, who were able to cash in with some significant Billboard success of their own before the 80s synthpop boom ended. De/vision and Mesh are two of the most successful groups to come out after the synthpop fall. Given that Depeche Mode themselves have largely abandoned the sound, tone and themes that made them famous (arguably) the fact that some of these bands out-Depeche Mode Depeche Mode themselves is interesting. In fact, I'm not even sure that I'd call much newer Depeche Mode synthpop; it's almost become another genre altogether. Now, I'm not going to say that essentially replicating the sound of someone else is artistically very compelling, but rather, I'd say that these bands mine the same territory, without being outright copies.

I'm going to start a small series of posts wherein I talk specifically about some of the CDs that "out-Depeche Mode Depeche Mode." Most of them will post-date the synthpop crash, and Violator too for that matter, and all of them have some clear ties in sound, theme, tone and feel to the Depeche Mode of the later 80s.

So, heads-up. It's coming. The first CD I'll cover is Camouflage's 2003 effort, Sensor, which sadly is not available via mp3 from Amazon (although much of the rest of Camouflage's catalog is) and the CDs don't sell for cheap. Not to steal my own thunder, but this is a great CD, though. I'm already excited about the prospect of touching on this little CD review, so stay tuned.

Also, check out this Depeche Mode image. I used to have that t-shirt; it was part of their "101 tour" from 1988.

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