On the subject of musical discoveries, which is clearly what this blog is all about, one of my most treasured ones is the band that have been trading under the name Depeche Mode for thirty years. They are the Rolling Stones of electro pop, of my generation, but in a good way. When I think back over the years (and their many studio albums), the fact that it took 1997’s It’s No Good single for me to realise just how good Depeche actually were is a little bit amazing.
I remember standing in a McDonald’s in Hounslow High Street, chatting with my closest friend, Luke and him telling me about this amazing single that he’d heard from them called Barrel Of A Gun. I laughed at the notion: Depeche Mode- amazing? Clearly, I dan’t been paying attention since the early 80’s and Just Can’t Get Enough. Which, between us, is also rather brilliant. However, Luke was so insistent that I was moved to proceed immediately to HMV and buy one of their singles to see if he was right. That single was the aforementioned and inappropriately named It’s No Good. He was- they’d moved on somewhat from the teenybop of yore and that ability to move on has to be the main reason they have outlasted every single one of their 1980’s contemporaries. Blown away by this single, it seemed rude not to buy the parent album, Ultra album. And then Violator- an album which should be on anyone’s listening list, their debut Speak & Spell and on and on, through CDs, remastered CDs, splashings of vinyl, video and DVD. Yes, I love them enough to buy everything three times over. A Depeche Mode video (Singles 86>98) was the first music video I ever bought and where I really fell in love with the band. Their recently released Tour of the Universe- filmed in *cough* Barcelona *cough* is the only music Blu-Ray currently sitting in my collection. I watched it this weekend and it was rather fab to see the show at last. I say at last because I was at their Rome show in 2009. It sounded great but, miles away from the action, I couldn’t see a thing!
Were it not for those darkly comic videos mostly shot by Anton Corbijn in their peak years, or the disarming state of the Depeche nation updates that populate each new dvd release, I can’t be sure that the Mode would have the hold on my heart that I do. Yes, Martin Gore certainly knows how to write a good pop song, Alan Wilder knew how to arrange one and Dave Gahan can definitely deliver it. Enjoy The Silence, Never Let Me Down Again and I Feel You are all great examples of that. But the real thrill in purchasing the new Depeche dvd is not in watching them perform those songs for the millionth time, it is to find out how the “boys” are and how they see the future. Thirteen years ago, the singles collection saw them reflecting on an amazing 12 year period where they conquered the world, but went mad at the same time, losing Alan Wilder on the way and nearly losing Dave forever. This time around, you get the 47 year old Gahan candidly admitting that he won’t be able to hide the cracks in his body forever and once that day arrives, it will be time to stop.
And I reflect on that and I feel sad, because this band have been around for as long as I can remember- although it took me a while to get into them- and the fact of their stopping will age me in some way. I imagine my feelings about that are similar to the ones Jo’s dad has about the Rolling Stones. It’s not a coincidence that Gahan also references the possibility of the Stones not playing Brown Sugar and the likelihood of them getting lynched as a result when attempting to explain why Depeche have maintained their most popular songs as part of their live set for the last 20 years.
The videos… it’s funny how things turn out, despite the undimmed brilliance of Never Let Me Down, Personal Jesus and company, it really was the imagery conveyed in Anton Corbijn’s videos that hooked me into the band. He began working with them in 1986, despite feeling that they were “wimps”, in doing so, by Gahan’s own admission, he may just have saved their lives. Or their careers, at least. Although he began with Black Celebration’s A Question of Time, it is the videos from 1987’s Music For The Masses that really set the tone. By turns enigmatic, cool, funny and actually fairly sexy, Corbijn turns the videos for Never Let Me Down Again and Behind The Wheel into a kind of mini series. Having crashed a rather cool little bubble car and being dragged to safety by his bandmates at the end of Never Let Me Down… we next see the bubble car being towed away at the beginning of Behind The Wheel, Gahan on crutches waiting for a beautiful lady to come and rescue him. She does, the crutches are dispensed with and our hero is back in the game.
The video that really became the post pub favourite, though, was the video for the single that had rocketed Depeche into my heart; It’s No Good. Dave apparently used to do an excellent impersonation of a wasted rock star, becoming that impression for a time in the mid nineties, here he got to show that impression to the world. Art imitating life imitating art. Or something like that. Here, Depeche become a parody of the kind of band that travel from club to disinterested club where the only thing their audience are really interested in is smashing bottles over each other’s heads. A sly comment on the fates of their peers? Possibly, but that’s only just ocurred to me. The climax of the video sees Gahan being denied payment for his night’s work (the money having been stolen from a distracted hotel manager) and therefore losing out on the services of a couple of ladies.
I loved it. Was it a sly comment on Dave’s then recent past? Possibly, but it’s only just ocurred to me.
Never Let Me Down Again
It’s No Good
Behind The Wheel