Sunday, 28 October 2012
94 A Broken Frame - Depeche Mode
Purchased : July 1988
Tracks : Leave In Silence / My Secret Garden / Monument / Nothing To Fear / See You / Satellite / The Meaning Of Love / A Photograph Of You / Shouldn't Have Done That / The Sun And The Rainfall
This was the other album bought from Ashton market. To those who've followed this blog long term it will be clear that I was filling an obvious hole in the collection. I was never set against buying this one, it just disappeared from the charts very quickly at a time when there were many other temptations then failed to appear in any sale.
This was Depeche Mode's sophomore album released in September 1982. It was their first without Vince Clarke who'd written the bulk of their debut "Speak And Spell" and though they'd already scored three hit singles without him there was still some doubt that they'd thrive long term . Clarke himself piled on the pressure by having immediate success with Yazoo , their debut LP hitting number 2 just a month before this one's release . Rather characteristically they made things even harder for themselves by not bringing in their new member Alan Wilder to the sessions. The band themselves have largely disowned it, rarely performing any of the songs live since the mid-eighties.
"Leave In Silence" announces the LP and trailed it as a single reaching number 18. David Jensen ungraciously declared it "their worst single to date" and though that was probably true at the time it was an interesting and brave choice which heralded the darker direction the band were going to take under Gore. The song is about the terminal breakdown of a relationship accompanied by a funereal chant at the beginning and decaying synth chords throughout. Dave Gahan sings it in a quiet almost muffled voice and there are odd pauses where the bassline drops out. There's a gawkiness to it that it took them a long time to lose but it's an effective trailblazer for the rest of the album.
"My Secret Garden" introduces themes of childhood and loss of innocence that recur throughout the LP. It starts with simple music box chimes before an ominous stabbing bassline begins followed by the nerviest of Kraftwerkian melody lines. Gahan sings of the voluntary destruction of an idyll with steely self-loathing - "My very only secret and I had to go and leak it - before a very rare move into falsetto to introduce Gore's self-pitying "I loved it" interlude. It perfectly captures the sense of restless unease accompanying the transition to adulthood.
In "Monument" you can hear the beginnings of the industrial sound that would come to fruition on their next couple of albums. Here they are restricted by lack of access to a Fairlight relying on their old analogue synths to replicate the clanks and boings of a relentless machine over which Gahan in a strange and husky whisper mourns the failure of a hopeless endeavour. Whether it's a political or personal statement is left in the air.
"Nothing To Fear" is the band's best instrumental , much more appealing than dour Wilder-sculpted efforts like "The Great Outdoors" or "Pimpf". The beat could be a bit crisper but there's more than enough melodic invention to keep it interesting and the main melody line is worthy of Kraftwerk.
The first side concludes with "See You", the first post-Clarke recording which poked the doomsayers in the eye by outperforming all the Clarke-era singles in the charts. Gore's song simultaneously lauds the shared memories of a first romance and mourns the impossibility of going back. Gahan copes well with the wordy lyric and complex song structure and the hopeless, endlessly repeating mantra - "All I wanna do is -see you " makes it a good choice as a side closer.
You can interpret "Satellite" as its ultra-grim follow-up, what happens when the dreams of youth are dashed and the inner optimist dies. Gore's song, performed by Gahan in a tone of ghastly enervation declares his surrender to depression and bitterness. The bassline is ultra-simple allowing the clarinet-like synth melody to writhe around the beat like some evil Oriental curse.
Then we have "The Meaning Of Love", a Top 20 hit in May 1982 but a song so loathed by Gore it was pointedly omitted from their first singles compilation in 1985. Perhaps Gore despised himself for giving in to the temptation to try and write a bouncy danceable pop song like Clarke's "Just Can't Get Enough". In fact his is the better song , less reliant on moronic repetition. The lyric is irredeemably gauche prefiguring Paul Heaton in its exposure of its own construction - "from the notes that I've made so far " - but the music is great with a catchy main riff and a nifty vocal arrangement. The backing vocals cushioning Gahan's sturdiness on the third verse are worthy of Brian Wilson.
"A Photograph Of You" is the other lighter and danceable song on the LP with an upbeat bassline and breezy melody. The song is about the conflicting feelings about momentos of a relationship that hit the rocks - "I wish I could tear it up but then again I haven't the guts". The ( probably synthetic ) whistled middle eight is a touch of genius.
"Shouldn't Have Done That" is an ambitious song about the dangers posed by carrying over childhood traumas into adult life. Coincidentally Tears For Fears were just breaking through with similarly themed material at the time. Gahan and Gore sing the song together in a sort of barber shop croon and after each three lined verse there's a little Philip Glass-like interlude, latterly joined by parade ground drums as the little boys militaristic tendencies are related. It's a little too sparse to be really impressive but its further evidence of the band's will to progress.
"The Sun And The Rainfall" closes the LP with an opaque song that seems to be about reaching a crisis point in a relationship -"Things must change, we must re-arrange them" - but neither the music with its low-key melody nor Ghan's carefully non-committal vocal give any clues whether it will work out. Perhaps it's about Clarke, perhaps not.
With three of its songs already released as singles the album disappeared quickly after entering the charts at number 8 ( higher than their debut ) and as stated above the band seem to want it buried. Future DM appearances in this story will ( excepting a live LP ) be in chronological order so we will see whether they returned to the sound here when reduced to the same core trio. For now we would have to ask them what they think is wrong with one of the most under-rated albums of the eighties.