Thursday, 2 December 2010
36 Some Great Reward - Depeche Mode
Purchased : September 1984
Tracks: Something To Do / Lie To Me / People Are People / It Doesn't Matter / Stories Of Old / Somebody / Master And Servant / If You Want / Blasphemous Rumours
This was bought from W H Smiths as soon as it came out while in Rochdale on some long-forgotten errand.
After a string of disappointments it was a relief to buy an album that exceeded my expectations. The canonicists will tell you that 1990's Violator is the only DM album you need but for me peak period Depeche Mode begins here. The step up from their last, often clumsy, effort is marked by more than Dave Gahan's leather jacket and Martin Gore's cross-dressing. Alan Wilder had now established his grip on the group's music and , heavily influenced by "metal-bashing" groups like Test Department and label-mates Einsterzende Neubaten, used sampling technology to take them into new sonic territory. Gore's writing took a step forward too, the naive politics of the past seemingly concentrated in just the one song while elsewhere he starts to explore the darker aspects of the human condition.
The cover gives you some idea of what to expect with a pair of newly-weds in the right hand corner dwarfed by the industrial architecture around them at night time. I'm reminded of the scene in Boys Don't Cry where Swank and Sevigny have to explore their feelings in the shadow of a giant factory. The opening track "Something To Do" taps into the same vein of smalltown malaise. Starting with a liquid industrial noise it then unleashes a relentless bassline around which the synths play and Gahan mournfully laments the lack of diversion in some forsaken town before alighting on sex as the solution- "You're feeling the boredom too, I'd gladly go with you". Gore takes over the vocal on the questioning chorus and the occasional synthetic brass break fits in nicely. It's an effective opener.
"Lie To Me" is dark and sinuous with Gahan singing in a breathy style and synthetic Indian pipes and Oriental keyboard melodies winding over a staccato bassline. This is the song which best integrates Gore's sexual and political concerns - "Lie to me like they do it in the factory" - and the line which summarises the whole LP "Make me feel at the end of the day, some great reward will be coming my way". Not until Pulp and Suede a decade later do we get a better evocation of working class sex.
Then we have "People Are People" (still their biggest hit single) and there's no getting away from it , "People are people so why should it be you and I should get along so awfully ?" is one of the worst lines in pop showing that Gore still had some way to go before eliminating the gaucheness from his lyrics. What propelled it into the Top 5 was the shock-of-the-new metal-bashing samples , the exciting switches in tempo and the interplay between Gahan and Gore's vocals. Across the pond Trent Reznor was taking notes.
"It Doesn't Matter" calms things down, a slow Gore-sung beatless ballad which recalls Vince Clarke's "Any Second Now" from their first LP. A humble love song with morose undertones - "Nothing lasts forever " - the chattering synths hint at impermanence.
"Stories Of Old" rises ominously with Gahan in distant voice declaring that love often ends in disaster. Gore is expressing a similar message to Jim Steinman's Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad , intimate physical contact is required but not an emotional entanglement. Gahan shows his development as a singer switching between an urgent breathy whisper begging for sex and a thrillingly steely baritone denying love -"you can try for an eternity" . The hard message is emphasised by abrupt stabs of synthesised brass one of which brings the side to a close.
Side Two begins with "Somebody" a big departure from their trademark sound with Gore singing (reportedly in the nude which must have been a treat for the engineeers) accompanied by just Wilder's piano and sampled chatter for a faux-live effect. Gore sets out the blueprint for his ideal partner (I recall that Wainwright did something similar in prose form and then presented it to his future second wife) " in fact she'll often disagree but at the end of it all she will understand me". For all the heartfelt sentiment it doesn't really go anywhere musically and not surprisingly was thoroughly ignored by radio when released as a double A-side with "Blasphemous Rumours"
"Master And Servant" became their second Top 10 single of 1984 despite raising eyebrows with its conflation of economic realities with S & M games in the bedroom - "Domination is the name of the game , in bed or in life they're both just the same". The striking start with Gahan and Gore in falsetto doing call and response vocals recalls Bohemian Rhapsody before the stabbing bassline leads into the meat of the song. Gahan's icy vocal is accompanied by synthetic cello while the instrumental breaks employ oriental xylophones and pneumatic drill percussion breaks. It's slightly over-busy but as the immediate herald of the album it was effective.
"If You Want" is a rare Alan Wilder composition though its easy fit with the rest of the LP raises the question of whether he should have had more recognition in the credits for other songs. A lugubrious celebration of the weekend, the doleful drone of its first verse arises from a bed of industrial noise before a dance pulse kicks in for the rest of the song.
The closer "Blasphemous Rumours" a questioning of Divine Providence in the face of personal tragedy remains touching despite some clumsy expression. A teenage girl finds religion after a suicide attempt then gets killed in a car crash (shades of Alanis Morrisette's Ironic here ). Beginning with the noise of the life support machine referenced in the lyrics big drums and strange metallic sound effects punctuate the song while synthetic sax accompanies Gahan's mournful verses. The melodic chorus provides the warmth to show that Gore is not just a dispassionate observer.The LP ends with a questioning coda culminating in a human breath.
While the LP trod water commercially, it remains an impressive step forward in the career of an important band.