#9 – Depeche Mode

Sundays are interesting days, usually because Saturday nights are even more interesting. They’re days of reflection and contemplation. A lot of people attend church (I still need to find a Unitarian congregation here in Austin), a lot of students get work done (like I know I should be doing), it seems the world takes stock of itself in preparation for the week to come. It’s fitting, then, that I should be spending my Sunday writing a post on such an inquisitive, intelligent and spiritual band as Depeche Mode.

Singer Dave Gahan, employing some visual religious imagery to mirror some of the band's lyrical content.

Much has been written on Depeche Mode, and much will continue to be – they are one of the most popular electronic bands in the world from the last three decades. What I want to highlight here, among other things, is their fascination with religion. This is not a band that traffics in petty pop. Nearly every Depeche Mode album has at least one song that deals with religion pretty blatantly. For example, 1984’s “Blasphemous Rumours.” This was a young band still finding its voice, but Martin Gore tackles one of the heaviest of topics with the chorus, “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours, but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor, and when I die I expect to find him laughing.” Delivered in Dave Gahan’s powerful baritone, the song becomes an earnest inquiry into the meaning of life, composed with some inventive early uses of sampling technology. On future albums there was “Sacred,” “Judas,” and “John the Revelator” (that last one has been one of my favorites since its release in 2005; it just builds so well!).

And of course, there’s “Personal Jesus.” (And here‘s an awesome live version from 2009 on Jools Holland.) This condemnation of the commodification of organized religion has one of the baddest guitar riffs of all time and an incredible pounding drum part. It’s an instantly iconic song from a classic album. In 1990, Depeche Mode released Violator, which upped the ante for electronic pop music. It also included “Policy of Truth,” “Clean,” and “Enjoy the Silence,” all of which are fantastic and mature compositions.

Martin Gore and friend, blissfully unaware of the band's publicity photos being taken.

Here in the States, it’s hard to comprehend how huge Depeche Mode are. The extent of our knowledge probably maxes out at Violator songs and the early single, “Just Can’t Get Enough” from 1981, which has rightly become a pop classic. We don’t realize that every one of their 12 studio albums has reached the top 10 in the UK, with their most recent album – 2009’s Sounds of the Universe (with the great single and creepy video “Wrong“)- topping the charts in Austria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and Italy, and going platinum in France. They’ve had 48 charting singles in the UK since 1981, 44 of them hitting the Top 40, and they’ve sold over 100 million records.

Not only are they immensely popular, but other artists have been quite public about the band’s influence on their own careers. They’ve been covered by Monster Magnet, Keane, Placebo, Tricky, Berlin, A Perfect Circle, RuPaul, Dishwalla, Rammstein, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Deftones, Tori Amos, Marilyn Manson, Johnny Cash and The Cure. The list of artists who have publicly acknowledged their influence include the Pet Shop Boys, Linkin Park, the Crystal Method, Fear Factory, a-ha and Shakira. It’s also obvious that they paved the way for everyone from Nine Inch Nails to The Killers.

Personally, some of my favorite songs of theirs include “Everything Counts” (1983), “Master and Servant” (1984), the perfect “Never Let Me Down Again” (1987), the nearly a cappella “I Want You Now” (1987) and “Condemnation” (1993), a gospel song in which Gahan sounds at his most desperate. The songs are great, and have remained great for quite a long time (dipping only in the late 90s when Gahan was battling his requisite heroin addiction), with subject matter of a higher degree of difficulty than most artists even dream of attempting. With one of the richer catalogues in contemporary pop music, it’s hard to imagine an artist needing to do more for canonical recognition, let alone there being 8 more artists more qualified. Yet, as I promised, we are reaching the upper echelons of head-scratching bewilderment about artists that have changed popular music as we know it but remain for some reason outside the scope of greatness according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. What?? I cannot believe they didn’t induct Depeche Mode yet. Wtf?

    Anyway, nice write up and I love the “Personal Jesus” on Jools Holland, since I’ll take pretty much any excuse to listen to that song. That guitar riff…

    I was thinking the other day about doing a mashup of “Personal Jesus” with “Supermassive Black Hole” by Muse.

    Reply

  2. Posted by sa210 on July 4, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    ahh. so rightly said. one of the most important and influential bands of our small exhistance.

    Reply

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