Review Summary: The Mode shy away from the light, and drag YOU down into the mire, too
Even as far back as 1986, Depeche Mode had been on quite a journey. Their debut album, a cacophony of upbeat tinkly-bonk sounds and one-fingered synth riffs, had made the UK top ten. Then, their principle songwriter (Vince Clarke) left, and the remaining members spent three albums experimenting with political sloganeering, samplers, metallic clangs and leather jackets in an attempt to carve out their own identity.
A cult band even at this point, Depeche finally made sense of it all with Black Celebration
, a step away from the commercial leanings of its predecessor, Some Great Reward
. Martin Gore finally came into his own as a songwriter, and the ever-increasing talents of Alan Wilder, aided by paternal figure Daniel Miller, sculpted the band's craft into one of the darkest and most influential albums of the eighties.
It all starts with the title track, 'Black Celebration'
, which blends the up-tempo feel of the previous album with rather morbid lyrics - "Your optimistic eyes/Seem like paradise/To someone like/Me"
. 'Fly On The Windscreen'
is even darker; a cold, rhythmic synth riff nestles up against lyrics like - "Death Is Everywhere/There Are Lambs For The Slaughter/Waiting To Die"
But it's not all doom and gloom - this is an album of feeling, and Gore's relationship with Christina Friederich comes to the fore on this album; indeed, this album has more Gore-sung ballads on it than any Depeche have ever produced. 'Sometimes'
is remarkably similar in style to 'Somebody' from the last album, albeit more ethereal, while 'A Question Of Lust'
is second only to 'Home'
in terms of Depeche ballads. It swells with feeling, and adds an optimistic edge to an otherwise brooding album. 'It Doesn't Matter Two'
is oh-so-avant-garde, yet impossibly avoids the pitfall of seeming pretentious - it remains one of the highlights of the album. 'A Question Of Time'
follows, reminding you that the Basildon boys can still rock to a funky, thrashing (though processed) guitar riff. 'Stripped'
is the centrepiece of the album, and a definitive example of how Depeche Mode can sound at once depressing and utterly uplifting.
After this the album does fall away somewhat. 'Here Is The House'
has a vaguely catchy melody, but it sounds out of place on this album. 'World Full Of Nothing'
has one of the sweetest melodies Gore has ever composed, complete with misanthropic lyrics, but the final two songs are what let the whole album down and stop it being the classic it should be. 'Dressed In Black'
is a waltz-noir trip into plaintive moaning that finally lets some pretentiousness through, while choosing to end the album with the words "Princess Di is wearing a new dress"
was probably not a good idea.
is not a perfect album - far too much reverb, overused sampling, some pithy lyrics - "Death Is Everywhere/There Are Flies On The Windscreen/For A Start"
- but overall the album epitomises what Depeche are all about. It nails their colours to the mast.
Non-commercial, dark, brooding, sometimes sentimental, never too saccharine, Depeche were masters of the 80s alternative scene and though newcomers may indeed prefer the more accessible 'Violator'
, 'Black Celebration'
remains a deep, atmospheric and pivotal moment for a criminally underrated group.