Review Summary: Depeche Mode go industrial, with metallic clangs and concrete slams galore. And don't forget the lyrics about suicide, religion and, um, leather boots...
After an unsteady second album, Depeche Mode had shown the world that they were ready to experiment with their sound through the use of samplers (Construction Time Again
). It was a very positive album, with a great desire to move forward, but Some Great Reward
was where this experiment was refined, distilled, made pure. It is truly OF the period; that is, it's the most industrial album DM produced, with its thumping drums, metallic tinkly-bonks, and warped scraping noises. It's also where Martin Gore truly found his songwriting feet, delving into subjects such as S&M ('Master And Servant'
), general kinkiness ('Something To Do'
), whilst still retaining a sense of sentiment ('Somebody'
), albeit with a generally cynical and pessimistic outlook ('Blasphemous Rumours'
Starting with a bizarre electronic effect that sounds like a robot going into meltdown, 'Something To Do'
is an up-tempo opener, and is full of metallic slams and repetitive choruses, "Is There Something To Do/Is There Something To Do/Is There Something To Do..."
etc. yet also expands into rather 'quirky' verses, "I'll Put Your Leather Boots On..."
. It's a far cry from "All I Want To Do Is See You/Don't You Know That It's True?"
, and the music is effortlessly harder than anything attempted before. 'Lie To Me'
is one of those lost Mode songs, those hidden gems that fans rave about even though they weren't singles. It's in the same league as 'The Things You Said'
and 'The Sinner In Me'
in that they are masterpieces of the understated. Musically, it's quite rhythmic; lyrically, it's about the necessity of lying to cover up the holes in a relationship and hopefully keep it going. Dark yet vulnerable, it's classic Mode fare.
Ahh, 'People Are People'
. This song was huge in the States, and was DM's real breakthrough there. It remains both an incredibly creative and lyrically inane experience, some of the band's finest clangs and rhythms of the time, and an oh-so-catchy chorus, all snuggling up against lyrics of this calibre - "People Are People So Why Should It Be/You And I Should Get Along So Awfully"
- yeuuch!! Martin, what were you thinking?!
'It Doesn't Matter'
is a dreamy, slightly trippy song, yet isn't very enjoyable, due to no real melody, and stark effects that sound empty as opposed to interesting. 'Stories Of Old'
is definitely a weird one; we lose most of the industrial sounds and go back to synths and sampled wind instruments, and lyrics that are initially cynical about love, only to be converted and turned around in time for the final chorus. This one is an acquired taste. Mmm, time to go all soft and sentimental. 'Somebody'
is a piano ballad, and as such is a first for the band in that it's the first time they tried a song without some kind of computer or synthesizer in the mix. It's just plain lovely, until Martin gives us lyrics "Though Things Like This/Make Me Sick/ In A Case Like This/I'll Get Away With It"
that add a disturbing twist to this ostensibly lovey-dovey song. You get the impression that they were made this way purely because the song was sounding too nice.
"IT'S A LOT/It's A Lot/IT'S A LOT/Like Life"
, and here comes 'Master And Servant'
, right up there with 'People Are People'
in terms of catchiness, except this time the lyrics are better, playing off power games in both the business world and the personal sense. The music is hard and heavy, very up-tempo, melodious in parts and supplemented by plenty of hissing and spitting, courtesy of band mentor Daniel Miller. This is a great song, one of the Mode's most famous eighties tunes, and only narrowly avoided a ban at the time (Tch! Compare this to some stuff today and it's utterly tame!).
'If You Want'
represented Alan Wilder's last songwriting effort for the band, thankfully so.. Don't get me wrong, his Recoil stuff is good, particularly Liquid
, but Martin was always going to be a rather daunting songwriter to compete with. His music on this track jumps all over the place to a droning rhythm, with bad, bad, BAD lyrics "Exercise Your Basic Right/We Can Build A Building Site"
. This is further emphasised by the majestic grandeur of the next and final track, 'Blasphemous Rumours'
. Another one to just avoid a ban, it's a chilling and darkly atmospheric song, with occasional scissor-like sound effects that lights up briefly for the sweet chorus, "I Don't Want To Start Any Blasphemous Rumours/But I Think That God's Got A Sick Sense Of Humour/And When I Die/I Expect To Find Him Laughing"
. The lyrics relate to a 16 year-old girl who attempts to commit suicide. Later, an 18 year-old girl (probably the same one) is hit by a car and dies. It's based on Martin and Andy's experiences of Boys Brigade in the 70's, when they would be regular churchgoers. At the end of every week, the priest would offer up a list of people to pray for, who would in all probability die before the next week was out. This grabbed Gore's attention enough to write the song about it; this probably started off his generally cynical outlook on faith; though in later songs he stresses the importance of having a faith in something (Songs Of Faith And Devotion
) he is here simply a man reacting to the seemingly irrational workings of the world. It's a bleak and nightmarish ending to the album - it started with that robotic whirr and ends on the sound of a human breathing.
So where does album No. 4 stand in DM's pantheon? Actually, it's important to see this album as a piece in the jigsaw rather than a stand alone work. This is Depeche Mode defining the sound that would be theirs for another 22 years. Their bleak masterpieces still resonate with feeling today; the effects may have dated, but the ideas haven't. Some Great Reward
has more energy and confidence than its predecessors and though it's not as deep or paranoid as its successors, it's still one of those albums that conveys utterly
what the band is all about. With this album, the darkest stars were born.