Ongoing project: Depeche Mode beyond the hits

This act of generosity feels like it goes beyond the Prince albums that’d been gifted to me over the years… well, at least a bunch of them (Emancipation still ranks at the top for me because I couldn’t find that album myself and my physical copy of the box set was #1 on my most wanted list).

Someone from work (who I really ought to friend on Facebook after this- we only follow each other on LinkedIn- a site I doubt either of us really use) mentioned to someone else that Depeche Mode was touring and I immediately jumped into the conversation- saying I love them, got really into them a couple years ago with their greatest hits album.
Most likely I won’t see them on said tour (which is starting in Europe and going to America at some point), but it just blew my mind that they’re still going on it. He mentioned a certain era of their music was amazing, a set of albums and a newer song.

While trying to find said song (in my enthusiasm, I only heard “angel” in the title and that might be either it or referring to the title of the latest album), I found something really extraordinary- their career as a band started in 1981 and their latest release was in 2005 (maybe even after 2005). And the songs from my precious (ha-ha, little play on words there, but also true) greatest hits album are scattered throughout the decades.

I mean, I knew “Enjoy the Silence” was from the 90’s. My baseline requirement for this greatest hits album I’d been thinking about for a while, but took some extra years to remember to look for and buy– it had to have that and “People are People” are on. The two songs by them I know I like.

So… much build-up later… this conversation was Tuesday or Wednesday. Come Friday, he came to work and offered me five burned CD’s of their albums. I couldn’t believe it. I’m still flabbergasted about it, actually.
I mean, at work, I’m pretty darn quiet. We all sit in front of computers and data process all day. But when I’m around the right people, in any given situation really, I do open up. This is maybe the first thing we’ve really had in common aside from us viewing for the same position a couple years ago. (We were both temps, I was here longer than he was, and he got the full-time job that first time it was available. I had no ill will about it because I just wasn’t ready yet. The 2nd time it came around, me and one other person were able to get it. Now he’s one of the team coordinators in the department- done an amazing job so far too. He was a little shy and awkward at first- the way I still am, but with all the twists and turns that can happen at any given time at work, he’s dealt really well with the pressure. Which is better than I could do- that’s why I don’t plan on advancing beyond my current position. Not for a long time anyway.

The point of this whole rant… omg, I’m gonna be here all night…
I think that’s the first time he’d heard me excited over anything. Plus he seemed really knowledgeable about the group- way more than I am.
When the opportunity comes up, I will explain that my musical tastes are extremely various and weird and somehow this just worked its way in there. It isn’t just because I used one of their songs for a YouTube montage- their music is atmospheric and perfect for wintertime- where the terrain is rather bleak and devoid of life and it makes my commute a bit more interesting to go through.

So this blog is meant to discuss the albums, my first impressions, the songs I like and so on.
Plus the intrigue surrounding the songs on my greatest hits album and the places they really call home. That’s always an interesting experience- although Prince is the only other artist I’ve really experienced this phenomenon with. I don’t often go backwards- getting a greatest hits and the albums that come after. It’s usually one or the other… or like with the backstreet boys, I bought the greatest hits for completion sake and I created greatest hits mixes so I wouldn’t have to listen to individual albums again.
Fast-forward to present day- the albums are coming back out because the CD-R’s I recorded onto degraded to crap. The backstreet boys one, anyway. [First gen CD-R’s are terrible].

First album- Songs of Faith & Devotion.
Year: 1993
interesting fact on their Wikipedia entry, they were going through tensions as a band at the time and one of the members quit. rumors circulated they might disband and they came back strong with their follow-up “Ultra”… wow…
yeah, “Violator” was such a huge success, the previous album that it put more pressure on getting this one right. they tried this new idea of recording within an apartment building instead of a studio because it worked well for other artists like U2 at the time.
The result was clashes within the band. It was very claustrophobic for them, all living here together opposed to before where they could go back to their individual homes at the end of recording sessions.
That said, maybe I should have sequenced the albums so they’re chronological. This was the disc on the top of the pile of albums given to me.

I’m not saying that album is bad because it’s the first time I’m listening to the album and I don’t know what to expect… it’s just a different experience.
However I do want to go into all these albums blind- not knowing what songs are on them. That way, I’m not looking super forward to certain songs. I’ll just welcome them as they come.

SONGS OF FAITH AND DEVOTION had two hits- “I feel you” and “Walking in my shoes”…
funny enough, they are in the reverse order they are on the hits.
Considering the title, I expected maybe Strangelove or… even more ironic in this context… “Master and Servant”…
the 9th song was so sincere, I was half expected a hint of irony and having a song that cancelled that out next.

I mean, my understanding of Depeche Mode is that they’re a very emo group that relies a lot of synth lines and atmospheric chords and strings. and a lot of their songs hint at S&M or at least complicated relationships, nothing really straightforward and sincere.
There were some pretty sentiments in this album, which threw me off the trail a bit. But I’m sure with time I can come to appreciate it.

I’ll come back with more comments on individual songs.
But for starters, the third song kinda didn’t work for me, just because it was after the two hits set the level rather high (“Walking in my shoes” is in my top 7).
Then it starts to rebuild itself from there.
I liked the 4th song a later more, had a greater beat I could hook into and follow.
the 5th song felt like a nice little interlude, leading to the next song, but it lasted maybe 3 minutes… well, some of those 5 minutes were silence with some goings on in the background…. it’s called “Judas” funny enough.

“In my room” had a great sentiment, in that it’s very sentimental. It’s an invitation I’m more than willing to accept into the rest of the album.
Which has some hits and misses. But the greatest hit was “Rush”- track 8- it has some guitar work in it that kinda comes out of nowhere. At least for me when I don’t expect anything beyond the synth work. It seems to be about the ecstasy of the act of sex. And it’s well executed how that’s expressed in the music. Really impressive.

I downloaded the songs to my iPod so I can listen to them again later tonight. All but the hits, of course.

Strangely enough, listening to these songs again while lying in bed Saturday night… I think it made the transition with the daylight savings time change easier, like I didn’t even notice it.
Yeah, this album’s weird.

Second Album- Ultra
Year: 1997
My work colleague said his favorite song (which he had trouble picking) was on this album and it was called “Home.” The third song on this album. It had a different feel and sound than some of the songs I’d gotten to know. It felt like someone other than the lead singer was singing it because the range was different.

Anyway- the long and short of it was that it was a better experience overall. I mean, this album was so good and so strong as a whole, I couldn’t even pick a favorite song out of it.
It has only one hit- “It’s No Good”- and it was the 4th song on the album… and that’s probably the best possible position it could be in.
I mean, the previous album kinda let me down a bit because with those first two songs I did know (“Walking in my shoes” is in my personal top 7), it could only go downhill since those expectations are set pretty high.

My only issue with this album- I don’t know if Depeche Mode does a lot of interlude tracks in general, but it had two instrumental tracks- I think one was track 5 and one was track 10… and track 11 ended with a long instrumental section and track 12 was very short and instrumental and that was the end of the album.
It didn’t quite make sense to me and kinda felt anticlimactic.

but that doesn’t take away from it being a very strong record before that. the vocals had some weird stuff going on in the first song, but once I completely let go and stopped having preconceived expectations about the album, everything just fell into place.
With this album, I was able to lay back and dream (metaphorically- at the time I’m playing these, I’m also playing through Spyro the Dragon- can’t believe that game turns 20 this year and next year will mark the 20th year I’ve been playing it, although I wouldn’t complete the game until at least 3-5 years after that).
I like “dreaming” with Depeche Mode and just getting lost in the vibe of their stuff.

Time for more interesting trivia courtesy of Wikipedia-
the last album saw the departure of one band member because he was losing touch with the band and not enjoying it as much. He and someone else were absent from this one (the other nearly died of a drug overdose)- so this is the first trio effort from the band since 1982. Kinda crazy how great they sound with just those three minds.
And they also didn’t produce the album themselves- which is kinda interesting.
Maybe that dreamy vibe doesn’t come from them at all… ok, the producer that worked with them only worked with this one album.

Anyway, definitely a great album.

Third album: Violator
Year: 1990

This was a relatively short album- much like Faith and Devotion.
But it made the most of its 9 tracks.
Granted, I wasn’t jazzed about all of them.
Tracks 2, 5 and 8, I didn’t really care for. They did nothing for me and didn’t feel like the rest of the album. Track 9, I’m halfway on. Didn’t love it, but it had some redeemable qualities.

The rest… omg… it was amazing.
Since this came before Ultra, I had a gut feeling “enjoy the silence” would be on this album. It was great to have the full song on there, even though the instrumentals after the actual singing of the title (they actually say “enjoy the silence” on the song- which is pretty amazing… I always kinda wondered why it called that when the title was never said) wasn’t as great as I would have expected.
I mean, I’d be just as happy with the main instrumental of the song continuing on a loop for five minutes.

And it was nice to find another old friend there as well- “Personal Jesus” was one of the first songs from Depeche Mode I’d heard because of the 80’s block on VH1 Classic.
I didn’t care for it much then, but I’ve grown to really like it.
And it was cool to hear a longer version on its home album.
The ending wasn’t as good as it was on the greatest hits, though.

Everything else- it felt like it fit that idea I have of the band from those songs on the greatest hits. The dreamy aspect. Just feeling the vibe of it. It made me feel at home.
And unlike Ultra, it didn’t have instrumental segue tracks that kinda took away from the overall effect.

I mean, on my original scale scoring the albums in my collection, any album that I like 60% or less of was typically one I’d sell or get rid of.
But in this case, the overall package is so good, I could make due without 3-4 of the 9 tracks. That’s how great the material is.

Fourth album: Music for the Masses
Year: 1987

This album started out so good…
then it just fell apart for me.

It started with “Never let me down again”… and it felt so awesome to slip back into it, like putting on a form-fitting jacket.
The next two songs fit along those same lines and went along for the ride for a while.
Then “Strangelove”… it was a different arrangement and the music was different, but I recognized it almost immediately and again, I was happy.

The rest of the album just fell apart, like I said.
The songs were either boring, didn’t go anywhere, or with the last track- just non-existent. It ended with a long music tone that just lasted for ages and had no point.

I don’t know why these albums end as odd as they do. They don’t really have a point or add to the rest of the album.

And it always seems like when I find my old friends on these albums, the rest really doesn’t hold up to that same hype and I wind up disappointed.

I listened to the first two again and got different results.

“Songs of Faith and Devotion” has its ups and downs, but it grew on me a lot these past few listens. Namely because it has highlights that I really look forward to.
“Ultra”- it’s a very cohesive album that meshes well together, but there’s nothing I look forward to getting to.

…so I have just the one album left…

so busy with the Prince stuff I hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

But I’d listened to the others a few more times.
“Violator” is probably my favorite. But it’s probably the equivalent of what 1999 is to Prince. It’s the album everyone loves and identifies them with. For me, it encompasses best how I view them as a band and the lead vocalist and his abilities.
The second song [“The Sweetest Perfection”] has grown on me a bit- it’s very mesmerizing and if you let it in, it’ll never let you go for the rest of the trip.
“Policy of Truth” is becoming a favorite- it’s after “enjoy the silence”… the main hook is great (although I’m not a big fan of what sounds like a plane zooming from one earbud to the other… but when the song ends with it and everything else kinda stops at the same time… chills). And I think it’s meeting my current mindset- and pretty much telling me that I should stop surfing comments to search for anyone that’s on the same page as me when NOBODY seems to be. “Never again is what you swore the time before” is a lyric that repeats a number of times, almost like a bridge through the chorus.
“Halo” is another one I really like a lot– love the way his vocals sound. It slowly builds and builds and more layers and instruments come in. It really fit in with Spyro when I was playing the album along with the game. And it also has the same vibe I get from the greatest hits album material that I was listening to when I was getting the idea for doing my first Plushenko YouTube montage.

that time feels like forever ago too… the way I felt when I watched him skate is wrapped up in so many songs, but when I actually spend time watching him- at least the past few times- I barely feel anything at all.
I think my last YouTube montage where it got stressful towards the end broke me… that, plus the fact he officially retired and maybe I don’t want to remain invested in him. And with that, my Russian learning has fallen very much behind. I’m doing the daily word and that’s basically it. time I update this, I’ll be sure to have listened to the last album by then (my luck- Precious will be on it 😛 )… I’m sick of seeing this draft on my home page.

Final album- Playing the Angel
Year: 2005

my luck wound up being on the money… Precious was track 5 on this album and that REALLY took me back.

Since I last wrote, I took care of a bunch of Plushenko related YouTube videos I had saved up in my “Watch Later” list. And that connection finally returned.
Maybe I’d just felt like with these recent performances, something was just missing for me. Either he didn’t seem physically strong to me or he didn’t seem to love performing as he used to.

As for this album as a whole… it was another disappointment.
I recognized two songs- besides Precious, there was “Suffer Well”- which I think was track 6 or 9 on my greatest hits album. It’s an okay song, but it never really sparked anything in me.

It started off on a startling note with a couple of live sounding guitar tracks. Nothing like the Depeche Mode I’d gotten to know over these previous releases.
Themetically, a lot of the tracks felt like they followed in the vein of “Precious.” They weren’t as gripping or impressive in their arrangement. But they were about losing love or the end of a relationship or marriage. So they felt like they were written around the same time with the same mindset.

I had to listen through some of the tracks again after getting to the end of the album in an attempt to get more out of them.

Maybe it’s because I’d heard Violator a couple of times recently and had fallen so in love with it in that time…
I just didn’t connect with this method of songwriting and musicality as much.

For me, Depeche Mode is a synth-pop band with a lot moody and melancholy vocal deliveries. And they’re also about the vibe and atmosphere.
The lyrics here sound a little too personal to the songwriters so there isn’t that relatability. Not that I personally related with any of these songs but that special one. But I was at least able to follow some of the lyrics.

I’d hate to end this whole entry on this depressing note, so I’ll just do a sum-up at the end.

Violator is by far my favorite and the strongest album- but it’s also the one that’s probably the most commercially accessible.
Songs of Faith & Devotion was a little strange at first, but it grew on me a lot, which is always a cool feeling to have with an album- whoever the artist may be.
Ultra doesn’t have any big standouts or songs that I look forward to as much as the other two, but it’s a nice cohesive album.
Music for the Masses did not live up to its name. After Strangelove, I just didn’t find any other song I liked as much as the ones before it.
and Playing the Angel- some songs were good and have potential, but at the moment, it seems a miracle that Precious came from such a blah release and rose to be such a success that it became a greatest hit and I was able to find it and have that history with it.

Because it’s a beautiful history I’m never going to forget.

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