Review Summary: Without Vince Clark's influence, DM created one of the most intriguing albums in their catalogue, sprinkled with oddity, melancholic beats and a lone underrated classic 'The Sun and the Rainfall'.
1982. Vince Clark who pretty much made Depeche Mode’s debut album (Speak And Spell,1981) his record, had left to form Yazoo and Dave, Martin and Fletch were left alone to try and build upon the success they had from tracks like 'Just Can't Get Enough' and 'New Life'.
Speak and Spell never really sounded like a DM album - it was more a collection of sugar-coated, pop friendly synth tunes that sounded light years away from the dark, electronic noise fans would come to love. And unfortunately, neither does this album.
However, aside from 'A Photograph Of You' and 'See You' (both songs are essentially clones of the simple, synth pop found on their debut, although the latter scored them their highest chart position to date, at the time), the album does make a considerable amount of progress from their Clark-dominated debut.
The first track, 'Leave In Silence' is a pretty simple synth-pop tune but is far from upbeat and jolly, with lines like "Stop this thing from spreading like a cancer", it becomes apparent that the boys did make a slight effort to make this record less overtly joyful. The same could be said for 'My Secret Garden' (one of the best tracks on ABF). It's a pretty simple synth-pop song again but there are subtle signs of darkness throughout - Dave’s voice is an unconcerned whisper and the tempo is fairly downbeat, especially with its slow-building intro.
There are a few quite odd songs in 'A Broken Frame', that end up being some of the most interesting moments on the album, if not for sheer curiosity factor alone. 'Monument' is one of the aforementioned, with its squelchy rhythm and odd chanting chorus of "My monument - it fell down, Work all of my days - it fell down". It's a pretty pointless lyric but the overall feel of the tune is 100% more downbeat and dark than anything found on 'S&S'.
'Satellite' captures that same feeling. It's as melancholic and grey as the artwork on the cover of the album - Dave’s voice drags along the song, with whining synth that subtly jumps in near the back end of the song, adding to the misery. 'Shouldn't Have Done That' is just bizarre - with marching, wind, and child samples, odd tinkering beats, despair filled vocals and even odder lyrics, it's not a brilliant song but is strangely lovable and worth a listen for pure bizarre-o factor, alone.
The album does contain one much underrated classic, however, with 'The Sun and the Rainfall'. The melody is just gorgeous, with gentle synth falling and rising and a pounding drum-beat that kicks in on the chorus. Dave’s gentle vocals (found throughout the record) finally seem suitable as he sings the most emotional line on ABF, "Things must change", as the tune gently fades out.
Whether it was the effect of a primary songwriter leaving or the pressure of trying to deliver more chart success, overall the album feels like somewhat of a failure - a failure in the sense that the band had an opportunity to move away from the upbeat, campy Vince Clark tunes found on 'Speak And Spell' and create their own sound, but they didn’t seem confident enough to do so.
There is a subtle undercurrent of melancholy running across most tracks but it just wasn fully formed yet, so most songs just feel miserable, as opposed to their later dark sound that was both depressing yet uplifting. Things hadn't quite gelled yet, but there are hints of darkness throughout and "The Sun and the Rainfall" is essential listening for any Depeche fan.