Where was I…oh yeah. Depeche Mode had released Ultra, a slow, sensual album in the wake of Alan Wilder leaving the band & Dave Gahan almost dying. Or actually dying and being revived. Either way, it’s a great album, and one of my favorite DM records, post-Violator or not.
The biggest challenge when writing posts like these, however, is not to frame what the band does *after* a classic album in the same light as the classic album, or “classic period.” I will never be caught up in the excitement of discovering Depeche Mode again, I will never have another concert experience like seeing the Black Celebration tour at Red Rocks, I will never be falling in love with my future wife to Violator. As previously mentioned, Songs of Faith and Devotion was the soundtrack to a pretty heavy time in my life. Ultra, well, I just remember half-drunk late nights with the record on and sinking into the corporeal music and lyrics.
As far as the music itself goes, “Dream On” is a peppy two-step, definitely quicker than anything on Ultra, and it’s an ok single. “I Feel Loved” was the next single, and while it definitely shares that quick two-step DNA with “Dream On,” for some reason I like it better. There’s a lot of effects and riffs winding around the beats, and it keeps my interest pretty well. There’s not much lyrically to the song, though, and that holds for most of Exciter, in my opinion. There’s a depth that feel like I’m used to from Martin Gore and I don’t feel like I’m getting it here.
Continuing with the 4-year release cycle, Playing the Angel was released in 2005. The only single I remember from this albm is “John the Revelator,” and I remember that more for the title than the music. I read now that “Precious” was the first single and that’s definitely one of the songs I picked off this album on first listen, which was pretty much a couple of months ago.
This process has been interesting for me, listening for songs to recommend when I dont really know them. I’ve been trying to figure out if I’m listening for songs that remind me of the “old” Depeche Mode or if I’m just listening for good hooks and good lyrics. I have a future post coming about when one of your favorite groups released an album you didn’t care for, I suppose I’ll explore that feeling more when I write that post.
The songs I really like on this record are the other singles – the aforementioned “Precious” and “Suffer Well,” the latter of which is one of Dave Gahan’s first lyrical contributions to be featured on a Depeche Mode album (along with “I Want It All” and “Nothing’s Impossible”). “Precious” reminds me musically somewhat of one of the slower Nitzer Ebb songs from the As Is EP, “Come Alive”and has a really catchy chorus. “Suffer Well” has a good guitar hook – something that started with Personal Jesus and has become another recent DM signature – not what most people used to think of when they thought of a synth band.
I certainly don’t mind “John the Revelator” or “A Pain That I’m Used To,” and I guess they’re someone’s idea of what new Depeche Mode singles should be. “Nothing’s Impossible” and “Lilian” are decent tracks as well, and “The Darkest Star” was all right. The rest of PtA I wasn’t crazy about.
Sounds of the Universe was released in – you guessed it – 2009 (I think that means we’re due for some new Depeche in 2013) and was the first Depeche album I recall paying attention to in a while. Which strikes me as a bit odd now, because I didn’t listen to the album until recently, either. Thinking about it now, I think I remember reading that it was a more “Depeche” album than the last couple had been.
All of this is not to say that it’s a retro record – the central musical feature of “In Chains” is a distorted wah-wah guitar riff, and most songs have at least a little guitar in them, usually supporting the chorus. But Sounds of the Universe to me sounds like a Depeche Mode that is comfortable with its past and secure in its future. This may end up being one of my favorite DM records ever. I definitely slept on this album when it was released. Don’t count on that happening again.
These albums all have their high points, but my favorite post-Violator single wasn’t an album track, it was a single that appeared only on The Best Of – Volume 1 collection. “Martyr” was recorded during the Playing the Angel sessions but could easily be a Violator track. There’s something in the strong pulsating backbeat and signature guitar riff that immediately set it off from the other PtA songs and, for me, it would be enough to purchase the whole Volume 1 collection – if there wasn’t a “Martyr” single available.
So, there you go. I didn’t go over the Dave Gahan or Martin L. Gore solo records, perhaps that will be an exercise for another time. I’ll link to my absolute favorite tracks below, and please feel free to argue or support my choices in the comments!
Affiliate Links (buy here and support Your Older Brother a little):
In Chains – Sounds of the Universe
Wrong – Sounds of the Universe
Fragile Tension – Sounds of the Universe
In Sympathy – Sounds of the Universe
Peace – Sounds of the Universe
Jezebel – Sounds of the Universe
And one more because I’m cheeky: The Dead Milkmen Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything) – Bucky Fellini