Depeche Mode Press File

 

About Depeche Mode Press File

Depeche Mode Press File is a thorough summary of the extensive coverage the band has received in the music press since its formation in 1980.

Select articles, album and single reviews, live reviews and news items have been combined into sections by year. These are listed in the menu. The intention has been to reconstruct a more or less chronological account of the varied opinions of a wide number of rock music journalists, and to provide some critical insight into this important and influential Electronic band. Visitors to this site are encouraged to read each section in sequence. Alternately, the reader may wish to jump in and out of each section as they see fit. Close reading of the material, as well as cross-reading between sections, will reward the inquisitive reader and help build a cumulative picture of Depeche Mode's changing critical and commercial fortunes throughout their long career. In keeping with this approach editorial comment has been kept to a minimum.

The bulk of articles and reviews included at Depeche Mode Press File is taken from the following British and American pop and rock publications and newspapers: Alternative Press, Basildon Evening Echo, Blitz, Daily Mail, DJ, Future Music, The Guardian, Hot Press, i-D, The Independent, The Irish Times, L.A. Life, L.A. Times, Manchester Evening News, Melody Maker, Mercury and Herald, Metro, Mixmag, Mojo, New Musical Express, New Sounds New Styles, Noise!, No 1, The Observer, The Observer Music Monthly, Poppix, Q, Record Mirror, Rolling Stone, Select, Smash Hits, Sounds, Time Out, Trouser Press, Underground, Virtually Alternative, Vox, and Zig Zag. Material sourced from Australasian publications Australian Smash Hits and the New Zealand-only rock paper Rip It Up has also been included. Later sections include material sourced from various online news sites.

Links to the Depeche Mode Press File scan archive DEPECHE MODE IN PRINT appear regularly throughout the site. Click on a link to see an item in its original form or to read related items not found at Depeche Mode Press File.

Introduction

Formed in March 1980, under the name Composition Of Sound, founding members Vince Clarke (guitar), Martin Gore (synth) and Andrew Fletcher (bass) were quick to seize on the advantages of newly-available synthesizer technology (synthesizers were cheaper, more portable, and easier to use), finally abandoning their traditional instruments in favour of an all-electronic line-up. When David Gahan arrived as vocalist in the spring of 1980 he brought with him a new name to match the new sound: Depeche Mode.

Within a year the group had built up a reputation as an exciting live act with residencies at the Top Alex in Southend and the Bridgehouse, Canning Town, East London. A record deal with independent label Mute Records soon followed.

Eschewing the doomy, ponderous style of many of their contemporaries, Depeche Mode put a new spin on electro-pop. Their debut single, 'Dreaming Of Me' (released February 1981), was the first of a run of catchy synthesizer-driven hit singles that were at once traditional (vocals/bass synth/lead synth/rhythm synth) and irresistably fresh. A critical and commercial sensation, these good-natured boys from Basildon seemed the band most likely to outlast the spurious New Romantic/Futurist scene with which they had (reluctantly) become associated.

But the future of the group was soon put in doubt when, in October 1981, principal songwriter Vince Clarke announced that he was leaving the group. Many critics and supporters wondered if Depeche Mode would survive without the hook-laden songs of the diminutive Clarke, and some were prepared to write the band off. However, with the news of Clarke's departure Martin Gore - who had contributed two tracks to the band's debut LP 'Speak And Spell' - stepped up as principal songwriter and the Gore-penned track 'See You' proved to be Depeche Mode's biggest hit to date. The success of 'See You' demonstrated Depeche Mode were capable of generating hits without the composing genius of Vince Clarke. But while fans of the group remained loyal, giving Depeche two more chart hits - the catchy but twee 'The Meaning Of Love' and the bolder 'Leave In Silence' - it was soon apparent that the tide of critical opinion had begun to turn against them.

Depeche Mode's second LP, 'A Broken Frame', was a brave departure from the immediate pop of their debut. But although the album saw the band adding greater musical and lyrical sophistication to their signature synthesizer sound, many critics remained unconvinced of the band's progress in the wake of Clarke's departure. Burdened with a cute image of cuddly, fresh-faced boys-next-door Depeche Mode were finding it difficult to be taken seriously and, despite their best efforts to move forward musically, they were still routinely dismissed as nothing more than a bland, inoffensive pop group. Even critics who wrote favourably about the band couldn't resist playing up the sweet smiles and funny hairdos.

It was time for a change.

Depeche toughened up on 1983's 'Construction Time Again' LP. A watershed recording for the group, the album was a harder, more muscular affair than previous efforts. Experimenting with sampling technology for the very first time, recording sessions involved banging away merrily on bits of metal and corrugated iron for 'found' sounds which were duly recorded and then taken back to the studio and fed directly into the Synclavier. Lyrically, too, the album was a progression marked by a shift in emphasis away from the personal towards more general, worldly concerns. 'Everything Counts', the lead single, summed up the band's new approach brilliantly combining jackhammer beats with a simplistic yet persuasive lyric decrying the greediness of corporate capitalism. Critics were sympathetic. The hits kept coming. Depeche Mode, it seemed, were built to last.

The group released their fourth studio LP, 'Some Great Reward', the following year to widespread critical acclaim. While Martin Gore's socio-political concerns were still very much in evidence the album saw a return to more personal territory, most notably on the piano-led ballad 'Somebody'. This balance of the personal and the political was best exemplified by the single 'Master And Servant', which deftly conflated the politics of the bedroom with those of the boardroom. Powered by a literally whip-cracking beat, 'Master And Servant' mapped out new, darker territory for the group. Kinky sex, submissiveness and lust would become frequent themes on the band's subsequent releases.

The relative commercial failure (UK #18) of the Mode's next 45, 'Shake The Disease' (STD anyone?), saw the group begin to lose their grip on the charts. (The band would not land inside the UK Top Ten again for another six years, with the 1990 single 'Enjoy The Silence'.) Meanwhile Martin Gore, who had recently relocated to Berlin to live with his German girlfriend Christina, was beginning to act a little... strangely. On stage he would frequently perform dressed in a black leather mini-skirt; in interviews he talked about sex as the solution to the boredom of life; and on one occasion he simply disappeared for a week. The pressures of success and constant touring were obviously taking their toll.

Depeche Mode's next LP, the aptly-titled 'Black Celebration', was their bleakest to date. With its recurring themes of death, sex, and lust the album was an intriguing and revealing glimpse into Martin Gore's darker side. Taking its lead from the recent 'Shake The Disease' single, the album showed a move away from the upbeat pop of recent albums towards a more layered, atmospheric sound. (The moods and themes of 'Black Celebration' were to permeate Depeche Mode's sound for the next decade.) Many critics regarded the LP as the finest example yet of the Mode's growing musical and lyrical maturity: a sly subversion of their teeny-bop image welded to a set of typically catchy pop melodies. But others questioned the band's apparent progress, suggesting that the LP was in fact a forced and unsatisfying attempt to appear 'grown up' and to shake off lingering impressions of the band as cuddly pop lightweights. Reviewing 'Black Celebration' for Rolling Stone magazine, music critic Mark Coleman sized things up best when he observed that "underneath their bleached-blonde, black-leather pose lurks musical maturity and a wry sensibility deserving of a wider (read adult) audience."

Clearly Depeche Mode had still to live down their image problem in England. Reactions to the group abroad, however, had been shaped by other factors - and had prompted a different response. In Germany, home to Kraftwerk and DAF (two of Mode's most important musical influences), the band had always been regarded as rather hip. And in America, where many critics' and fans' first introduction to Depeche Mode had been 'People Are People' (the group's first US Top Forty hit), their status as an Alternative Band was generally taken for granted.

It was the band's inroads into the States that saw Depeche Mode begin to establish themselves as a more serious critical proposition. The success of the 'Music For The Masses' album and 1988 US summer tour - climaxing at the Pasadena Rose Bowl where the band played to 65,000 fans - was all the more notable for having been achieved on their own terms. Name checks from emerging house and techno artists citing Depeche Mode as a major influence merely added to the critical kudos, kickstarting a critical reappraisal of the group back home.

The 'Music For The Masses' LP was the sound of a band discovering itself and playing to its strengths, offering the most compelling mix yet of the band's experimental/avant-garde & pure pop sensibilities. The introduction of new dynamics into the songs created a lush, expansive stadium-friendly sound that did not sacrifice the intimate, confessional tone of previous albums. 'Music For The Masses' was a culmination of an approach to making music that had seen Depeche Mode go from strength to strength ever since 1983's classic 'Construction Time Again' LP.

Despite the success of the 'Music For The Masses' LP and tour, Depeche Mode were still largely regarded as a 'cult' band, albeit a very successful one. Their next studio LP, 'Violator', changed all that. The LP would go on to sell seven million copies worldwide, transforming Depeche Mode from an underground sensation into a hugely successful international rock act.

With 'Violator' the band changed their whole approach to recording. Eschewing the extensive pre-production of previous sessions for something altogether more organic and spontaneous, songs were stripped of the embellishments heard on the group's earlier LPs in favour of a leaner, less cluttered production that subtly integrated then-current house and techno rhythms. The introduction of blues-based guitar riffs lent the dance rhythms a harder, more muscular edge, heard to most striking effect on the 'Personal Jesus' single. The album also featured Martin Gore's best, most melodic collection of songs to date. Bolstered by a sympathetic production from producer Flood, 'Violator' was the most confident, consistent and fluid Mode LP yet: an across-the-board artistic and commercial success which earned them many new fans, revived their commercial fortunes at home, and consolidated DM's reputation as one of Britain's best, most exciting and (yes) innovative bands. 'Violator' is widely regarded as the apotheosis of the Depeche Mode sound.

While they were being feted as electronic pioneers both at home and abroad, in typically perverse fashion Depeche recorded and released their most rock-sounding LP, 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion'. Released in 1993 the LP was another bold stylistic step forward and was both a critical and commercial success. But this success masked intense internal tensions within the band (tensions which had surfaced while the group were living together and recording the new album in Milan), as well as Dave Gahan's growing addiction to heroin. These problems were to reach crisis point on completion of the gruelling 14-month world Devotional Tour. In 1995, Alan Wilder announced he was leaving the group; and, later in the year, Gahan attempted to take his own life, slashing his wrists in a L.A. hotel room.

The remaining trio of Gahan, Gore and Fletcher reconvened in New York in spring 1996 to begin recording their follow-up LP to 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion'. But the progress of the recording sessions was hampered by Gahan's ongoing drug addiction and resulting health problems. Dispatched back to L.A. with orders to sort himself out, Gahan went on a binge - and eventually overdosed. He was clinically dead for two minutes before being revived by paramedics. Gahan subsequently shot up two more times before being persuaded by friends and colleagues to check himself into rehab.

Gahan's successful rehabilitation was to impact favorably on the ongoing recording sessions for the 'Ultra' LP. Improved relationships with bandmates Gore and Fletcher resulted in a more positive studio vibe, and Gahan's vocals were among some of the best he had ever recorded. A more electronic-sounding album than the previous 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion', 'Ultra' received favorable reviews but suffered to some degree from a lack of focus, no doubt exacerbated by the absence of Alan Wilder's musical and technical expertise.

DM's next LP, 'Exciter', was a far more focussed and cohesive affair. Full of subtle charms and gently shifting organic textures, 'Exciter' proved Depeche Mode were still on the cutting edge of electronica. Tracks such as 'Dream On', 'Freelove' and 'When The Body Speaks' combined electronic and acoustic sounds to sublime effect.

 

 

In their 30-odd years as recording artists Depeche Mode have managed that rare feat of balancing massive popular success with consistent musical innovation, pushing the boundaries of what is possible and acceptable in electronic music - and earning hard-won critical respect in the process. What makes this all the more remarkable is that Depeche Mode have held on to both their dignity (leather mini-skirts notwithstanding!) and artistic integrity, rarely compromising their independent ideals for the sake of a hit single.

Depeche Mode will undoubtably still be releasing great albums well into the 21st century. The story of this surprising and remarkable band is still being told.

Enjoy the silence.

Braceneck Boy
December 2007 

All photographs of the group by Anton Corbijn except home page image. Reproduced WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.


Some notes on content and referencing

In putting together Depeche Mode Press File the best possible effort was made to reference all articles, reviews, photographs and news items. When I originally cut out and collected these items, I never imagined I would one day attempt to compile them in any way. No conscious effort was made to record the date items appeared in their respective publications, nor the names of writers. (News items were usually not credited to a particular writer.) In most cases this information has survived. In other cases the information is incomplete or is simply not available. In these instances, the date of publication was arrived at as the result of an educated guess based on available release date information for singles and albums or contemporaneous articles or reviews. In the case of some of the material taken from Australasian publications (Australian Smash Hits and the New Zealand music paper Rip It Up), dates were even more difficult to ascertain as it was typical for singles and albums to be released and reviewed several months after the UK release. In these instances I have not attempted to guess the publication date, rather I have merely recorded the publication and name of author only. When the name of the author was unknown, I wrote "Unknown author" or "Reviewer unknown". Credits for photographs have been given when the name of the photographer was known. Otherwise I have written "unknown photographer".

Album and Single Cover Art

All single and album covers by Anton Corbijn (in collaboration with design teams Area and Form) except "Speak And Spell", concept and photography by Brian Griffin; "A Broken Frame", "Construction Time Again", design by Martyn Atkins, photography by Brian Griffin; "Some Great Reward", photography by Brian Griffin, design by Martyn Atkins, Marck, and David A. Jones at Town and Country Planning (T&CP); "The Singles 81-85", front cover photography by Eric Watson, design by Martyn Atkins, Marck, and David A. Jones at T&CP; "Black Celebration", "A Question Of Lust", "A Question Of Time", photography by Brian Griffin assisted by Stuart Graham, design by Martyn Atkins, David A. Jones and Mark Higenbottom (T&CP); "Music For The Masses", design and photography by Martyn Atkins, David A. Jones and Mark Higenbottom; "Dreaming Of Me" by uncredited designer; "New Life", photography by Rodney Martin; "Just Can't Get Enough", sleeve by Neville Brody; "See You", "The Meaning Of Love", by Atatak Design (Rrr); "Leave In Silence", design by Martyn Atkins, calligraphy by Ching Ching Lee; "Get The Balance Right", "Behind The Wheel", design by T&CP Associates; "Everything Counts", design by T&CP Associates, illustration by Ian Wright; "Love, In Itself", photography by Brian Griffin, design by Martyn Atkins, T&CP Associates; "People Are People", photography by Peter Ashworth, design by T&CP Associates; "Master And Servant", photography by Brian Griffin, design by T&CP Associates; "Blasphemous Rumours/Somebody" by uncredited designer; "Shake The Disease", "It's Called A Heart", "Stripped", illustrations by Tamara Capellaro, typography and design by T&CP Associates; "Strangelove", "Never Let Me Down Again", design and photography by Martyn Atkins, David A. Jones and Mark Higenbottom.


ALL MATERIAL INCLUDED AT THE DEPECHE MODE PRESS FILE HAS BEEN REPRODUCED
WITHOUT PERMISSION

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This site is dedicated to my friend David 'Vosk' Votskos

With the best upper-body development in Tokyo,
this man is a mean match for the Mode's musical muscle.
Respect, buddy!



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