This week’s Five From the Shelf Friday comes with a theme sparked by an enthusiastic response I wrote at the God Hates Goth blog in response to a Depeche Mode post. The Mode is deeply special to my heart for many reasons, and while I know many of you are already scrolling down to see if Violator made the playlist this week, or Some Great Reward or Speak and Spell, these are the five I rolled with, four being my absolute favorites and in the case of Ultra, one that took time to grow on me but later turned into a heavy rotator. Don’t worry, though, I’m just finishing spinning Delta Machine with Some Great Reward on deck.
Following the tragic loss of Andy Fletcher, Depeche Mode is pared down to its primary voices, the immaculate archangel, Martin Gore and the man wearing his chastisements like an honor badge through his wrenching tones, David Gahan. The Mode has a new album coming in a couple weeks, Memento Mori, and I’m geeking already. A bittersweet listening experience awaits us all, if you’re a fan.
Songs of Faith and Devotion
My favorite Depeche Mode album, it has the richest layers with Martin Gore’s guitars which begin to take more of a prominent stance. Everything about this album is a reflection of sex, drug abuse, self-loathing and seduction, all leading to a state of redemption and a grasp for spiritual enlightenment by the album’s end with “Higher Love.” You know most of it is David Gahan soul searching and his in-and-out bouts against addiction. “I Feel You” is one of the slinkiest, sexiest songs the Mode ever dropped and they’ve dropped a ton. Not to be outdone, but outdone nonetheless by the sultry, heavy petting session of “In Your Room,” my absolute favorite Mode song. “Walking In My Shoes” is an alternative rock anthem to stand all time, while “Condemnation,” “Mercy in You” and “Get Right With Me” drips of a southern American church gospel session dropped into a Manchester, England recording studio. “One Caress,” Jesus wept, pun intended. It’s one of Martin Gore’s finest shining moments, and the man never fails. Gore against a slashing chamber fugue ensemble. We’re all blessed.
A Goth’s tenebrous paradise, especially when paired with Jesus and Mary Chain, The Mission or Lords of the New Church. Or The Cure’s Pornography, which I have done many times in a listening session. Black Celebration is one of Depeche Mode’s crowning achievements, even with its dank clatters and moody textures. It’s still rich in body like the title track, “Fly On the Windscreen,” “It Doesn’t Matter Two” and “New Dress.” There is still a lot of upbeat swinging vogue to Black Celebration on “Here is the House” and the carousel swish mocking the Goth scene on “Dressed in Black.” “Stripped” is the album’s calling card, of course. To most people, it presumes to have a sexual connotation, but the band themselves indicate “Stripped” talks about the dumbing down of culture via technology. This edict coming all the way back in 1986.
Music for the Masses
For most fans, this is the holy grail Depeche Mode album, while the casual fan is all about Violator. Both incredible albums marking the pinnacle of the Mode’s success. I came to them through this album and the girl I dated who introduced me to it. I have sweet, fond memories of lovemaking with her and a subsequent girlfriend, the latter being the Gothiest of Goths. It’s not only “Strangelove,” just about any longtime Mode fan’s favorite number. “Never Let Me Down Again” is the stomping, anthemic whisk into an electronic nirvana, replicated on the flipside (vinyl or cassette-speaking) with “Behind the Wheel.” “The Things You Said” is so dreamy I can picture the ecstasy that summoned its creation, and the ecstasy coming my way later in the album via “Little 15” and especially in holdout for the breathy accompaniment behind “I Want You Now.” When I listen to these songs over and over again, I remember I shed more than my clothes then. I shed an entire identity, transitioning from metalhead to alternative rocker. I even shaved the back of my head and grew a tussled tuft on the front, trying to replicate Martin Gore. Sigh…good times…
Songs of the Universe
Of all the post-Alan Wilder albums, I think Sounds of the Universe is the masterpiece of them all, though Playing the Angel, Spirit and Delta Machine are all stocked with greatness. You can hear the confidence pushing out as a trio on Universe, which took Depeche Mode some stumblebumming on Ultra and Exciter to reach this level. The emotions are wrought right out the gate with “In Chains,” wailing out the album’s prospectus. There was no tinkering around this time. Depeche Mode went for broke as if it would be their final hour and this album just smokes. “Fragile Tension” pumps with absolute desire with Martin Gore downpicking his sorrowful guitar strikes and yet the song’s ambition to capture an erotic moment of seduction yells of both frustration and hopefulness. The same desperation all but sobbing through the gorgeous “Come Back.” “Hole to Feed,” “Wrong” and “Peace” are all so skilled and, well, damn, I could spend this post breaking down the brilliance of Sounds of the Universe track by track if I wanted.
Over time, I’ve come to view Ultra as the little Mode album that could. This came after the insane success of Violator and it marks a new beginning with the departure of Alan Wilder. It sounds dark, gloomy and confused and it resounds of loss which the band experienced. With David Gahan tumbling down the ether of addiction at the same time, Martin Gore literally had to pull a rescue operation to get Ultra made. I’ve come to see the gallantry of his efforts here. Less rich in texture, it still has volume and edginess on its signature cuts, “Barrel of a Gun” and “It’s No Good” with a sparseness opening up for a different swim through “The Love Thieves,” “Home” and “Useless.” For me, Ultra’s true moment of glory comes on the luxuriant “Freestate.” If David Gahan was bombed while recording this one, you’d never know it. He masterfully pleads through the song’s snaky rhythm, punching back beat and Martin Gore’s beautiful slide guitars. It’s a signal of what came from “Personal Jesus” and Songs of Faith Devotion and would re-emerge on Delta Machine. The guitars on “Freestate” alone puts it in my top five Mode songs.
–Ray Van Horn, Jr.
4 thoughts on “Five From the Shelf Friday – 3/10/23 – Depeche Mode Edition”
I read this a few minutes ago and had to run to do something. In those few minutes I have ‘Question of time’ stuck in my head!! 😊Maggie
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Yessssss! And it’s running out on youuuuuu….
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Thank you for the shout-out! Most definitely on all points. Songs Of Faith And Devotion still stands tallest IMNSHO, though I have a great devotion to Some Great Reward and Black Celebration, not to limit my love for their many other earlier and later albums. Huge DM fan, as we both are. 💀
Anytime! Appreciate your feedback as well, my friend. I don’t ever mean to omit the earlier stuff like Construction Time Again or A Broken Frame. Those albums are great for their time, but building blocks toward a richer sound in the mid-to-late 80s and after Exciter, they achieved so much greatness as a trio that the devout fanship knows are far superior in structure and delivery. However Songs of Faith and Devotion is an album I feel will never replicated, but the Mode or any electro-pop or alternative act. It was a truly unique embodiment of experiment and soulfulness which the band themselves never really hit again. Not that they needed to.