Tuesday, April 27, 2021

50 Feels Like a Long Time Ago - 40 Even Longer...

I was 21 in 1981 and lucky to be working in the industry. Because of a cake job, I was part of an entourage that took Haircut 100 to Disneyland (I rode Alice in Wonderland with Nick Heyward), sat at the pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt with Spandau Ballet, and went to Dave Gahan’s 21st birthday party. I truly was living the new wave dream. My work on the AM Network has me constantly researching and reviewing the music of 50 years ago, but lately, in my alone-time, it’s been all about the early 80s instead – ho-hum, 40 years ago.

While the 70s were my informative years, I spent the 80s in my 20s. Oh, not the 80s of hair metal and Lionel Richie, but the first wave that included New Order, The Smiths, Prefab Sprout, and Depeche Mode. It’s funny that the danceability of the times negated how penetrating and thought-provoking the music could be. From the Smiths to the Pet Shop Boys, politics and social criticism played an ever-present role. You wouldn’t always think so, but the same is true of Depeche Mode.
To start in media res, what better way to introduce DM than with “Love, In Itself.” From the band’s 3rd LP, Construction Time Again, the track is quintessential in the canon for its infectious melodies, over-the-top romanticism, dramatic vocals, and complex dance beats – and not a single organic instrument!
From the same LP and along the same lines, we get “Everything Counts,” a catchy tune wrapped around social narcissism and consumerism: "The grabbing hands, grab all they can. All for themselves, after all.” Not only does the band have you bobbing your head, but they also have you using it.
My introduction to the band came in 1983 with “Blasphemous Rumours” a song that for those of faith, including myself, was a bit hard to swallow. Similar to XTC’s “Dear God,” the track was not so much anti-Christian but anti-religion, and many detractors see it as an atheistic anthem. Make up your own mind, of course, but for me, “Blasphemous Rumours” stands as a song that says, simply, God helps those who help themselves, a philosophy that goes back to Sophocles.
In 1984 we get three tracks, including “Somebody.” If you’re looking for melancholy, look no further. Sounding as if it were played in an empty auditorium with vocals and a grand piano and the ambiance of conversations and children playing, the song is incredibly romantic in the unrequited ilk. One of my favorites “But Not Tonight” comes from the same album (Black Celebration), but only if you have the American pressing. It was left off the U.K. issue and from the most recent re-release. My third selection from a flawless LP is “Here is the House,” a song that had great meaning for me in the 80s because, despite my wild L.A. New Wave days, I aspired to be a family man. Today, it’s a song that truly encompasses who I am as a husband and father, and homeowner with dogs and chickens and a lawn to mow.
From 1990, of course, is their biggest hit. “Enjoy the Silence” a track that represents Depeche Mode at their artistic and commercial apex: layered electronics and arpeggios, grim lyrics, and of course, Dave Gahan wandering around the English countryside dressed as a king. What more could you want?
Finally, a love song, or its antithesis, in my favorite DM track, “Shake the Disease,” about a person afraid to express his true emotions, hoping, instead, that the other person will understand what he feels and wants to say without having to say it. Yes, indeed, it’s sappy, and if sappy is all you want, you get it from Depeche Mode in spades, but when you look deeper into the tracks, you find truth somewhere within the electronic beat. “Shake the Disease” contains no organic instruments, typical of the DM canon, and therefore the soundscape is one that no one has ever heard before: man-made noises or those that come from the environment, an environment that includes the chain of a roller coaster and Dave Gahan’s Porsche growling in the background.
If you still turn up your nose it Depeche Mode, I am sorry for you.

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