Review Summary: Depeche suddenly learn to blend dark, alluring songscapes with an arena-friendly sound. The result is the start of the DM golden ageMusic For The Masses
- an ironic tongue-in-cheek title given purely because the band had become rather alternative. It's an album that probably wouldn't ring any bells with the British record-buying public unless they were Depeche Mode fans. However, on the continent (especially Germany and eastern Europe) and an ever-growing part of America, Depeche Mode's craft really was music for the masses. This was the period when Depeche went truly global, embarking on a huge world tour that culminated in the 101st concert, performed at the Pasadena Rose Bowl to around 70,000 people. Not bad for a British electronic four-piece armed only with synths, a tape recorder and leather jackets galore.
Part of the reason for this literally massive success was another change in musical direction. The darkness was still there, as were the portentious vocals and nihilistic lyrics. But the integration of more organic elements and heavier use of guitars gave the band a more stadium-friendly sound. For the first time, these were songs that were designed to be far more effective live than on a stereo system.
But that isn't to say that the album isn't an impressive listen from start to finish. In fact, the first song is the perfect way to open the album, not least because it is quite astonishing and destined to go down in the Mode's history as one of the legendary DM tracks...'Never Let Me Down Again'
You should really hear this song live before you die. It starts with a chugging guitar riff, enters into some softened metallic sounds backed by MASSIVE drums, before a jazzy piano effect brings it into the first verse. And that's just the first 30 seconds. When the song finishes to those horrible, creepy choral sounds that make you think that the world as we know it is about to end, you suddenly get the message that this is all about one crazy, euphoric drug trip. Then you start to imagine how it would sound live in an arena...
So that's track one. And I suppose that, if I were to describe the rest of the album as a huge comedown after that ultra-dark high, some would think I meant it in a bad way. But this is Depeche Mode. Pain is good. From one extreme to the other, Gore gives us one of his lighter numbers. 'The Things You Said'
is very light and floaty indeed, almost ethereal, yet put it next to an Air track and it would seem oh-so-ominous. It shares a similar feel to 'Blue Dress'
from DM's masterpiece, Violator
was the first single, but I'm at a loss as to explain why. Perhaps because it's the most commercial? It's not a bad tune I suppose, but it's disappointing in that it dosen't break any new ground. It sounds like just another late eighties pop record. 'Sacred'
is a darker interlude into religion, using pseudo-sexual references "I'm A Firm Believer/And A Warm Receiver/...I'm A Missionary"
, to describe...actually, I have no idea. It's one of a tiny few Gore songs where I don't have the faintest clue what he's dribbling on about. Answers on a postcard, please! 'Little 15'
will sort the casual listener from the devoted fan. If you're the former, then if you decide to buy this album you can safely skip to the next track. But fans will be wallowing in bliss as 'Little 15'
goes all Euro-moody-noirish, complete with some lovely strings, but it may depress some people. It's the musical equivalent of a book by Camus.
A spinning hubcap (actually a sampled cooking-pot lid) signals the beginning of 'Behind The Wheel'
, another live favourite that establishes quite a rhythmic pace and adds some eerie high-pitched chants/gasps to this strange, chorus-free song. Depeche's talent for unusual intros is further proven by a sexual breathing pattern (an accordion pressed in and out without a note played) at the start of 'I Want You Now'
. Like so much of the music from this period, it sounds dated now, but the unique, bizarre feeling still stands out, complete with textbook Martin Gore lyrics (basically, forget all this foreplay stuff, I'm absolutely gagging for it, I want you now. Cm'ere). If anyone has told you that Depeche never got darker than they did in the late eighties, they'd be right. 'To Have And To Hold'
is a great example of this. Minor keys galore, disturbing keyboard effects and Dave's voice even more morbid than usual make this perfect music to play in, say, a dungeon. The band probably thought that they couldn't get any darker than this for the present, so the penultimate song on the album, 'Nothing'
, stirs the tempo up and brings in a catchy electro effect to add much needed pace to the end of the album (incidentally, this was remixed by Headcleanr
, who did what you'd expect - swapped synths for guitars and pushed the tempo up further. It's quite good actually).
is an instrumental, and picks up the choral shrieks where 'Never Let Me Down Again'
left them. It's a fitting end to Depeche Mode's most disturbing album. It's not as interesting as say, Black Celebration
but it sounds a lot slicker. The group effectively used this album as a training ground for the masterpiece that was to follow. Music For The Masses
is not as accessible as later efforts, but it's still well worth a listen.