Friday, May 10, 2013

Depeche Mode retrospective

So... apparently there's a strong link between gamers and metal.  I've never really listened to much metal, other than a brief flirt with Metallica in the 80s, and Anthrax and a few other guys.  I was always an electronic music guy, and really liked the European stuff in particular.  Stuff like Depeche Mode, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, etc.  Stuff that today is called synthpop.  Since my audience here tends to be gamers, there's probably a big disconnect when I talk about certain topics--hiking and music being two notable ones.

That said, this is not a monetized blog, or anything.  I'm not looking to build a DARK•HERITAGE brand or anything; this blog is just my little corner to ramble about whatever it is I feel like talking about.  So, here's another DM related post.  I've been listening to enough of Delta Machine now that I feel comfortable commenting on it, but more telling, I've been caught up in a broader DM fever, listening to all kinds of their old stuff, remixes, B-sides, older albums, video documentaries, and more.

I saw a comment from some guy on the Internet--just the commentary page for an actual review of Delta Machine somewhere that had an interesting comment in it--it was something to the effect that Depeche Mode is like the old ex-girlfriend you had from a fun time in your life.  You look back fondly and nostalgically on those times, so you can't help but checking in from time to time to see what she's up to--only to find that she's gone somewhere so different from the direction you've gone that you have nothing in common anymore.  I think he's overstating the case--or at least my relationship with Depeche Mode isn't quite that dramatic.  But he makes a good point.  There's still a lot of that vibe present in my own relationship with Depeche Mode too, and I still see all of their best stuff in the 80s--particularly the material that came out on Some Great Reward in 1984, Black Celebration in 1986 and Music for the Masses in 1987.  After which they took some time off, recorded the best live album ever (101) at the tail end of their Masses tour in 1988, and then came back with Violator in very early 1990, which largely disappointed me, even though it was much more successful financially than anything they'd done previously, and even though it has "Enjoy the Silence" which even I have to admit is gotta be their most iconic song ever.  Violator is, however, a natural enough evolution from Masses, in many ways--it wasn't until Songs of Faith and Devotion where Dave Gahan and others consciously wanted to evolve into much more of a "rock" sound that I felt Depeche Mode really lost me and never quite got me back.  Sure, I have all of their later albums (although I picked them up quite belatedly in most cases) and I still like them well enough--but I don't love their new stuff like I loved (and still love) their older material.  As I've said before, I think some of what I miss is Alan Wilder's influence.  And they've managed to replicate some of Wilder's talent with various hired on producers and session musicians, no doubt, but I still think Wilder was a genius who's talents were--as he himself said--underappreciated in many cases until after he was gone.

And one of the things I most appreciated about the band in the "good old days" was their attention to guarding their privacy.  In the mid-90s, that was no longer possible, after Dave Gahan famously nearly died (more than once) and was arrested for heroin possession (and overdosing).  Frankly, Dave's state was almost a worse crisis for the band than Alan's departure--and when he finally licked it, it's almost like he was using the curiosity of the music press as therapy sessions, talking way too much about what was going on.

I do, actually, appreciate the video documentaries that have come out since--most notably all those that came out with the 2006 remastering and reissuing of all their earlier albums.  Seeing some behind the scenes are interesting, and they've done a good job of keeping their private details private to a surprising degree, talking more about the music and the processes than about their personal lives.  After watching all of them, I'm still not completely sure why Alan left the band, even though he featured very prominantly in the interviews.  Maybe he kept things too private; I'm not 100% sure that the rest of the band really understands even now why he left either.  They seemed to speculate a little bit on that, before admitting that they were speculating and that they should probably quite while they were ahead.  Odd.  I got a better read from Vince Clark in the earliest two documentaries, when he was still around.  They couldn't help but talk about Dave's heroin addiction, since it played such a major role in what was going on during Songs and Ultra.

Now, as part of my own review, I've been hunting down remixes and b-sides that I've been missing from the "golden years"--not that there's a lot I didn't have, because I had a lot of CD singles and even vinyl 12-inches that I'd bought back in the day (and since.)  I also have spent a fair bit of time on youtube watching their old music videos.  The band is adamant that they hated doing music videos until they stumbled across Anton Corbijn who did their last Black Celebration video ("A Question of Time") and almost everything subsequent.  In fact, they're adamant that they felt taken advantage of, seen as a tool for various directors to try out whatever outrageous idea they had and make them look foolish.

Reading a little between the lines, I think what they really mean to say is that Anton was the first director that made them feel comfortable doing something that they fundamentally didn't really like doing.  If that's the case, well, I can hardly fault them for feeling that way, but honestly, most of the older videos weren't that bad (and most of the Corbijn videos weren't really that good either.)  With the exception of "Leave in Silence" and "Get the Balance Right" I actually think most of their older videos are either quite good, or at least par for the course for the period in which they were made.  I even think "It's Called a Heart" may have the best music video Depeche Mode put out (although I'm kinda with the band on the fact that the song itself wasn't anything terribly special.)

1 comment:

Joshua Dyal said...

I should say that I'm not a complete non-metal fan; I actually quite like a lot of what is now called "hair metal" or "glam metal." You know, stuff like Del Leppard, Van Halen, Ratt, Quiet Riot, Autograph, etc. But that's all considered pretty light-weight compared to death metal, thrash metal or some of the other heavier sounding versions of metal that are popular with gamers. Or at least anecdotally seem to be.