Saturday, 25 June 2011
58 Black Celebration - Depeche Mode
Purchased : 29 December 1986
Tracks : Black Celebration / Fly On The Windscreen / A Question Of Lust / Sometimes / It Doesn't Matter Two / A Question Of Time / Stripped / Here Is The House / World Full Of Nothing / Black Dress / New Dress
This was the other Christmas money purchase of 1986 , also from Manchester.
"Black Celebration" was their fifth album released in March 1986. The Mode had a relatively quiet year in 1985 after an LP in each year of the previous four. They released just two standalone singles the quietly impressive "Shake The Disease" and the less inspired "It's Called A Heart" and a greatest hits compilation. This LP reached number 3 and spawned three hit singles. It saw a further refinement of their sound although it can still be described as "pop" unlike their subsequent efforts. The metal-bashing of 1984's "Some Great Reward" is quietly jettisoned while Martin Gore for the first time manages to avoid any real lyrical clunkers. He's also more of a vocal presence here, taking the lead on 4 of the 11 tracks.
The album starts with the only title track in the Mode canon and continues the theme established by the previous LP , that emotional and sexual support is the best crutch available for navigating through a shitty world. With lines like "Your optimistic eyes seem like paradise to someone like me", Gore seems oblivious to the danger of appearing too needy. The intro is suspiciously similar to Meat Is Murder apart from Daniel Miller's impersonation of Churchill announcing " A brief period of rejoicing" and the bassline is very similar to "Some Great Reward" 's opening track "Something To Do". It's a solid rather than inspiring start.
"Fly On The Windscreen" takes us further into the dark with its startling opening cry of "Death is everywhere ! " The song contemplates human vulnerability in the Cold War era again boiling down to a demand for sexual succour " Come here .kiss me - now !!" Alan Wilder sets it against a grinding pulse replete with menacing submarine noises and a radio voice possibly saying "Open target !" It's grim stuff but effective.
From the intro "A Question Of Lust" sounds like it's going to be more of the same then Gore comes in with the line "Fragile - like a baby in your arms" and it becomes a romantic ballad the synths buzzing around his slow perfectly-enunciated delivery until allowed to soar into a rousing instrumental climax at the end. Gore's plea for tolerance amid a naked declaration of his faults " I need to drink more than you seem to think " is touching but radio didn't like it as a second single and it became their first since "Dreaming Of Me " to fall short of the Top 20.
A major sequencing error means we next get "Sometimes" another Gore-sung lachrymose ballad. With just Alan Wilder on piano and his own echoing backing vocals Gore delivers another slab of self-laceration with the dreariest of tunes. The only good thing about it is that it's short. Gore sings "I can be tiring even embarassing" and amply demonstrates the point.
After that, another track with a Gore vocal and a title used on the previous album doesn't promise much. In fact "It Doesn't Matter Two" is better than its predecessor with a genuinely unsettling choral arrangement ( owing rather a lot to Philip Glass ) behind Gore's mounful tale of sexual surrender. The synths build nicely throughout the track though it 's slightly let down by its too soon grinding-to-a-halt ending.
Side Two begins with their most disturbing track to date " A Question Of Time", that is before the sexual corruption of a 15-year old on whom Martin Gore has his eye . Although he speaks about "them" you know the real meaning of "I've got to get to you first" long before the eventual confession " I know my kind - what goes on in our mind" . Dave Gahan knows it too delivering the words with the icy enervated menace of Mr Jones in Conrad's Victory. Musically it's not too far away from a cleaner "Master And Servant" with it's throbbing bass pulse. In a remixed version at a faster tempo it became the third single.
The first comes next. " Stripped" takes a leaf out of Traffic's book with its theme of rural retreat although the music is still dark and industrial. With its slow juggernaut rhythm it feels vaguely related to Tears For Fears's Shout although the spartan Oriental keyboard melody is pure DM. It also seems like a dry run for the band's later leviathans "Never Let Me Down Again" and "Walking In My Shoes" and like them ends with a gloriously Gothic keyboard refrain.
Then we have one of my favourite DM songs "Here Ts The House" which both introduces the electric guitar to their sound and has their most beautiful synth line. A simple hymn to the joy of cohabitation, Gore and Gahan virtually share the lead vocal over a rock beat, simple power chords and what sounds like an overwound alarm clock ticking. Then halfway through Wilder produces a gorgeously forlorn synth refrain that then backs up the last verses as in Enola Gay. The effect is spellbinding.
"World Full Of Nothing" has the last Gore lead vocal on a slow, third person tale of teen sex where Gore comes close to the fatalism of Morrissey - "She doesn't trust him, nothing is true but he will do". The stark beginning resembles Yazoo's Ode To Boy and the last few synth bars Simple Minds's Seeing Out The Angel and inbetween Wilder's string synths create an air of pastoral prettiness though you imagine Gore is talking of a bedsit fumble rather than a woodland rendez-vous.
"Dressed In Black" is a curiously low-key number in waltz time with Gore recounting a sexual adventure of his own. Gahan's vocal is a bit uncomfortable - you get the feeling that he took it on through fear of redundancy more than anything else. Wilder's muted synths and simple bassline make it pretty but it doesn't really go anywhere interesting.
That leaves "New Dress" probably the angriest song in their canon and, despite the references to Princess Di and apartheid, more topical than ever as our politicians continue to grovel at Murdoch's feet and the tabloid press gets away with murder. Wilder lays down a stark and formidable rhythm track for a treated Gahan to announce some heavy headlines before the killer hookline -" Princess Di is wearing a new dress ! " It's not subtle but it works. Wilder's Hannett-esque synths then colour in the track before the pounding sledgehammer beat previously used in the climax to "People Are People" reappears for the nursery rhyme lesson on media manipulation - "When you change the facts you may change a vote" It brings the album to a close with a ringing piano chord.
Some fans ( including Tom Ewing ) rate this as their best LP. In vinyl terms I think side two is their best side of music but "Some Great Reward" beats it on overall consistency.