Showing posts with label depeche mode. Show all posts
Showing posts with label depeche mode. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

album review: 'spirit' by depeche mode

I've talked in politics in music a lot in this series: hell, one of the first things I ever clearly delineated were my criteria for political art to work, I've been focused on this for some time. And initially, given the aftermath of the election last year down south, I was expecting a lot more politically-themed art to erupt from the woodwork, artists who now have a clear and present threat erupting forth to make their statement.

But in watching a Dead End Hip Hop conversation with MC Uncommon Nasa - who I have covered a few times on this show - he raised a few points that got me thinking, the first being that hardship rarely precedes great art. Like it or not, when by necessity you have to be concerned where your next meal is coming or whether you can make rent and your art doesn't have the necessary focus, it can feel slapdash... and while that can work for some punks or true prodigies, that added rush to say something can also lead to ideas that aren't fully thought out or explored. And that's the other thing: everyone is going to want to rush to make some sort of statement, cash in quickly to be the standard bearers - and that means a lot of acts who aren't normally political will try to become political, and that can have disastrous results.

As such, when I had heard long-running darkwave group Depeche Mode was breaking from tradition to release a more politically-themed record... I had mixed feelings, to say the least. On the one hand, they have explored complex emotional, spiritual, sexual and even socially relevant themes before, but the complexities of modern politics are a very different animal, and I wasn't really confident they'd manage to bring together the writing to make this work. And to further qualify this, I wouldn't say I was a hardcore Depeche Mode fan - I think between '86-'93 they put out good records, which is a longer 'good' period than most critics give them credit, but outside of isolated cuts before and after a lot of it can start to run together for me. But hey, they're also an English group, probably looking to focus more on the political scene in their own country, and the longer time to deliberate probably helped, and Lord knows their writing has felt stale for years so maybe uncharted territory would be good for them, so how did Spirit come together?

Friday, March 29, 2013

album review: 'delta machine' by depeche mode

Normally, the best part of writing my reviews is listening to the pile of previous material that the artist produced before their newest outing. For me, I like to use this time to get an idea of where the album fits within the context of the artist's career, to get an idea of what this album might mean. And particularly when it comes to acts that I've never heard of or listened to before, I find it a great opportunity to tear through some of my massive backlog.

And going into this review, I couldn't help but feel a little encouraged by the task ahead of me. I mean, the last time I tackled an artist with over a dozen albums worth of material, it was Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, of whom I have no qualms stating is one of the best acts of the past thirty years. And most synthpop acts from the 80s don't last if they don't have something to say, and Depeche Mode has been hailed as one of the greats of the genre, with critically acclaimed albums and a fervent cult following. And given their tendencies towards gothic electronica and being one of the most influential members of the darkwave movement (and given I'm a fan of The Cure and Sisters of Mercy), I was definitely looking forward to powering through the discography of Depeche Mode and taking in their rich history. I was looking forward to becoming a fan.

Twelve albums later, I emerged exhausted, exasperated, and distinctly dissatisfied. Twelve albums of bleak, dreary synthpop and electronica - and I'd be hard-pressed to call three of them good (Songs Of Faith and Devotion, Violator, and Playing The Angel). Four if I was pushing it (Music For The Masses). And even the four I considered good, I only consider them good. Nothing spectacular, nothing I couldn't live without, nothing that moved me on any emotional or intellectual level, hardly any songs that sent a chill down my spine.

What a letdown.

What makes matters worse is the fact that there are a lot of thing that frustrate me about Depeche Mode, a lot of little things that would so quickly elevate this band into more than the sum of its parts. The band has a unique, heavily-synth driven gothic sound, and when they finally got a decent synthesizer and grabbed heavier samples, they had a real talent for writing intricately composed melodies. Lead vocals from David Gahan and Martin Gore were pretty damn solid as well, and the two have a gift for harmony I wish they utilized more. And when the band really tried, they could write thought-provoking and wryly insightful songs.

Unfortunately, there's a thin line between 'really trying' and 'trying way too hard', and here's where my first big problem with Depeche Mode comes up. Now I want you all to remember that nerdy kid in high school who suddenly decides he wants to be 'dark', so he starts wearing black leather and only listens to gothic music (be it metal or otherwise) and starts talking about sex with a forced casualness that just makes everyone feel uncomfortable (for those of you about to get annoyed or offended, keep in mind for a brief period that I was that kid). The funny thing is about half the time, that kid does manage to make it work and it surprises everyone - and the other half of the time, it's awkward and embarrassing for everyone involved. 

Here's the interesting thing - Depeche Mode occupies the peculiar position that they both play the music that nerdy kid would listen to, and they occupy the exact same image themselves. There are points where they nail the balance between goth and synth-nerd, and it works and all of the elements come together and that dark, brooding gothic aesthetic pays massive dividends through great, potent songs - and there are other points that just inspire cringing sympathy. 

But keep in mind this is all happens when Depeche Mode is trying. There are also the stretches - the long, long stretches - where they really aren't trying to the same extent, which leads to my biggest problem with them: Depeche Mode can get really fucking boring really fast. Outside of isolated moments of brilliance, long tracts of their first four or five albums blur together in my mind because there's nothing that really stands out amongst the bleakness. And while I get the gothic dreariness is part of their style, you'd think they'd at least have some strong hooks or memorable lyrics or compelling themes to make them stand out - but more often than not, you get nothing but a bland slurry of stylistically unique but individually uninspiring synthpop songs. By the way, for those of you who are curious why I haven't begun my deeper exploration of Nine Inch Nails, it's pretty much due to a fear of this very phenomenon.

So does Delta Machine, Depeche Mode's thirteenth album, stand out among the flurry of bland boredom, or have they made something truly intriguing?