Wednesday, 8 September 2010

28 Construction Time Again - Depeche Mode

Purchased : 5th Jan 1984

Tracks : Love In Itself / More Than A Party / Pipeline / Everything Counts / Two Minute Warning / Shame / The Landscape Is Changing / Told You So / And Then / Evertyhing Counts (Reprise)

This was purchased from W H Smith's in Bradford on a rather aimless Day Rover excursion during the Christmas break.

This was Depeche Mode's third LP. Their second will eventually crop up here but I missed it at the time due to its short stay in the charts (and consequently the discount range) and my ambivalence about its third single. It was the the first album to feature Vince Clarke's replacement, Alan Wilder and the consequent broadening of their sonic palette is immediately obvious. While not a concept album as such , there's a thematic unity to the songs basically saying we're growing up and taking stock of the world around us.

And so the first song "Love In Itself" is almost an apology from Martin Gore for being preoccupied with love on his earlier compositions. It was the second single from the LP and not particularly successful peaking at 21. It's a sombre song, initially based around a nagging one-note synth motif with a synthetic brass riff on top but then changes tempo for verse and chorus and the middle eight introduces acoustic piano and guitar to their music for the first time. Wih no obvious hooks it wasn't destined for Top 10 success but it's an impressive statement of intent particularly the mournful synthesised trumpet coda at the end.

Then we're straight into "More Than A Party" with its swamp rock bassline. Gore's message that there's more to life than mindless hedonism isn't startlingly original but Dave Gahan as ever delivers it with great conviction. It doesn't go anywhere very interesting musically and the silly speeded -up ending almost acknowledges that.

Gore takes the lead vocal for "Pipeline" an earnest tale of working on a Third World immigration project. It starts off like Kate Bush's "The Dreaming" with a slow dragging beat but then introduces a Japan-like Oriental melody along with strange ping pong ball noises. The sound is filled further in the second verse by more synth lines and Gahan's backing vocals which continue into the closing mantra "Taking from the greedy giving to the needy".It's ambitious but quite successful.

Side One closes with "Everything Counts" one of their best-loved singles which mingles nursery rhyme synth melodies with hip hop rhythms. Gahan sings the verses and Gore the chorus which makes for an effective contrast and Gore provides an impressive melodica solo. For all that it's not a favourite of mine because the lyrics are so clunky; rhyming "career" with "Korea" is abysmal and makes their toytown critique of capitalism rather laughable.

Side Two begins with one of two Wilder compositions "Two Minute Warning" a rather vague anti-nuclear song with an interesting hoarse vocal from Gahan and twitchy New Order-ish synths. The second half of the song is instrumental allowing Wilder to build textures and employ a piston-like drum sound.

"Shame" returns to Gore's guilty conscience about world problems set to a clockwork rhythm and atonal blasts on a recorder. It's let down by the clumsy refrain "It all feels so stupid it makes me want to give up but why should I give up when it all seems so stupid" a piece of circular logic whose absurdity is only highlighted by Gahan's conviction.

Wilder's second contribution "The Landscape Is Changing" is an early eco-hymn set to a throbbing bassline with more synthetic brass lines. The chorus proves that the new boy was just as prone to nursery rhyme simplicity - "take good care of the world" as Gore. Again the instrumental fade is quite lengthy with an obvious debt to Kraftwerk.

The vaguely apocalyptic "Told You So" is the only track that harks back to the Clarke era with its driving dance beat and melodic synth riff. Again the lyrics are poor from the toe-curling reference to Jerusalem in the first line to the "higher/church spire" and "Suited/diluted" rhymes later on. It's a shame because the arrangement is excellent with synthetic clarinet on the middle eight and judicious use of Blue Monday choral synth to punctuate the chorus.

"And Then" might have been a better choice for the second single , a sort of I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing for the synth generation. Brooding verses with Gahan at his most plaintive lead in to an appealing group chorus with Pale Shelter acoustic guitar shimmers and glockenspiel melodies. The naive lyrics are charming rather than annoying.

The album closes with a brief reprise of "Everything Counts" which emphasises its nursery rhyme quality.

Like the New Order album earlier in 1983 this is really a work-in-progress towards their peak sound. Gore's lyrics would eventually improve but here they're a major weakness derailing the band's obvious wish to be taken more seriously. It's a decent album without obvious highs and lows but not essential listening.

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