Review Summary: The Mode put it all down and start again
This album's predecessor, 'A Broken Frame', actually beat the first album by two places in the UK, getting to No. 8. It was clear that there was enough of a fanbase to warrant continuing Depeche Mode, and their second album had allowed Martin Gore to slip into the role of songwriter and make a few initial mistakes. Now he had to deliver.
Depeche certainly found a sound with this album, but it wasn't a permanent one. By the time of album No. 4 ('Some Great Reward') they had enough vision to carve out their craft for 20 more years. So where does that leave 'Construction Time Again'? In short, this is a very experimental, fresh-sounding album that may not be as focused as later efforts but contains an inexorable desire to move forward and progress with new ideas. The band had recently discovered samplers, you see, and so had started whacking anything vaguely metallic in the hope of discovering new, exciting sounds with which to flesh out their newly-political songs. Trips to building sites and railways near Shoreditch, East London, and also near Hansa Studios, Berlin helped in terms of new sounds (anything from scraping corrugated iron sheets to the rattling of passing trains) and this truly was the band's golden period in terms of youthful experimentation and creativity.
'Love, In Itself' is a typically clanky-sounding start to the album, yet the verses sound like a nursery-rhyme (Ugly Duckling?) and so, even with 'new boy' Wilder's jazzy piano piece in the middle-eight, I can never really take this song seriously. It's a mystery why it was the second single. 'More Than A Party' is more raucous, and contains an insane, compulsive rhythm that speeds up more and more at the end of the track, until you hear a tearing sound and the sound of tape revolving round and round like film. Banal lyrics "Take All The Ice Cream/So We've Got None" but effective sounds - so typical of the Mode during this period.
'Pipeline' is a unique song in DM history; every part of it was sampled (even the vocal was recorded in a railway tunnel). It starts with hollow pounding sounds, before a tinkly-metal effect starts. There are groans, slams, lyrics about work and sweat (generally very red) and the track stands out on the album as one of its highpoints. It's not a song you'll play very often, but it's effective enough for you to remember it.
...and now we get to the 'A' material. Although the last album showed that Martin Gore could write pop songs, the real test was coming up with a killer tune that was not derived from Vince's craft and still remained catchy enough to shift a few thousand copies. 'Everything Counts' floats effortlessly over anything Vince Clarke achieved with the band, a great set of lyrics mixed with an extremely catchy, mantra-like chorus; "The Grabbing Hands/Grab All They Can/Everything Counts In Large Amounts".
Alan Wilder was a member of DM from 1982-1995, and was an integral elememt in shaping the band's dark, percussive episodes of later years. In these days, however, he attempted songwriting as well. As green as Gore, he managed to produce material of similar quality here, though he was well surpassed by the time of 'Some Great Reward'. 'Two Minute Warning' is a song written during the paranoia of the Cold-War eighties, when it was perfectly feasible to expect to be blown to smithereens at any point by bombs ('sigh'... not much has changed).
'Shame' and indeed much of this album was inspired by the band's touring experiences in south-east Asia. Dave Gahan: "From the age of about ten, I can remember things quite vividly that just didn't seem quite right. Then you see things that are poorer than you've ever seen - people begging and little kids coming up to us with disgusting, dirty clothes hanging off them, showing themselves or holding their hands out for food..." Due to that sentiment, "Crying Out In Hunger/Crying Out in Pain/At Least The Dirt Will Wash Off/When It Starts To Rain", 'Shame' remains a powerful and moving track, if for the lyrics if nothing else. Melodically, it may meander a little too much, yet this is one of only three tracks that you'll remember from this album by the time it's finished (along with 'Everything Counts' and 'And Then...'.
'The Landscape Is Changing' is another Alan Wilder effort, and is probably his best, inspired by a documentary about acid rain. The message is pushed aside for a catchy melody, repeated in the following song 'Told You So', which is full of bland synth effects, and 'Jerusalem'-inspired lyrics, that culminate in a simple, catchy chorus; "So They Can Go 'Told You So' (Told You So)".
'And Then...' is no 'Sun And The Rainfall', yet manages to recreate a similar ambient, reflective feeling. It's a song about "Universal Revolution" and though it nails the final nail in the coffin for Martin Gore as a political songwriter, it still manages to convey a message, chiefly about rebuilding a system of government from the bottom up. It's a relatively deep, introspective song that would have made a more-than-adequate third single had the band let it be so. The album effectively ends here, with only the final quirky track serving to remind us of the catchiest chorus offered here, and no more.
Not the best, then. And yet, 'Construction Time Again' serves to remind us of a time when the band were really trying to move on and create sonething different. If you're a rigid DM fan or a follower of Einsturzende Neubauten, you'll love it. For everyone else, this is a 'different' album and you really should get more into your industrial stuff before you attempt to listen to this amateuristic attempt at metal-pop.