Review Summary: The addition of Alan Wilder seemed to propel the bands creativity into overdrive. The result was an album more rich, dense and sample-heavy than any other DM record that came before.
When Depeche Mode released their 3rd album (Construction Time Again, 1983) it proved to be a crucial point in the bands history. Right from the first track, 'Love, In Itself' the groups sound is immediately more dense with countless bleeping sound effects and samples exploding away in the background, accompanied by the richest, catchiest synth the boys had yet deployed (as opposed to the melancholic, almost minimalist tunes found on 'A Broken Frame').
Also, Alan Wilder became a full-time member of the band (previously he had only joined them on their 1982 tours), which seemed to propel Depeche's creativity far beyond anything they had done so far as a trio (after Vince Clark left in 1981). Being the only trained musician in the band, his skill can be heard everywhere on the album - his sharp arrangement skills and heavy use of samples enabled the band to create a rich, thick synthetic sound that they would later develop into their trademark dark boom, in just a couple of albums time.
The aforementioned 'Love, In Itself' is a genuinely good synth-pop tune, with a straight-up catchy main riff and lots of nice touches, such as the change from synth to piano for a brief moment at the tail end of the song, and the subtle twinkling to be heard behind Dave's much improved vocals. The improvement in vocals is carried across to 'More Than A Party' - probably the first time we hear Dave's voice in all its familiar baritonal, echoed glory, even if he is singing pointless lyrics like "Keep telling us we're here to have fun - then take all the ice cream so we've got none".
'More Than A Party' aside, Martin's song writing has improved a great deal. The cynical lyrics found in 'Everything Counts' and 'Told You So' are a clear hint of the dark, personal songs Gore would later write, although you wont hear any darkness in these two tunes (which surprisingly turns out to be their biggest strength). 'Told You So' is a cynical look at religion with Dave's fierce roaring of "Everybody’s waiting for judgement day - so they can go I told you so", oddly running over the top of the most danceable beat on the album. The wierd mix of dark lyrics and upbeat synth ends up being one of the highlights of 'Construction Time Again'.
'Everything Counts' takes a paranoid view of the music business or capitalism in general, with lines like "the graph on the wall, tells the story, of it all". It becomes ironic when matched with, perhaps the most upbeat, jolly tune Depeche have ever made, with metallic scrapings, countless miniscule synth bleeps and buzzes and a trumpet wailing in the background (or at least a synthesised version of the instrument), all melding into one.
The metallic noises found on tracks like 'Everything Counts' (but found throughout CTA, floating in the background of most tracks) are more fully explored in the experimental 'Pipeline'. This is pure industrial noise with hammers banging, metal clattering and other manufactured noises flickering in and out of rhythm in the background, married to chain-gang like vocals from the band. It stands as an all important sign that Depeche weren’t afraid to experiment with their sound, and also an indication of what they would do next.
There are a couple of dark tracks to be found in 'Shame' and 'Two Minute Warning', with the former featuring a muddy sounding melody that moves at snail-pace and desperate lyrical shouts of "it all seems so stupid - it makes me want to give up". 'The Landscape Is Changing' is one of the more pretentious moments on 'Construction Time Again' with its eco-warrior lyrics. Its one of only two lyrics written by Wilder on this record - the other being 'Two Minute Warning', a gloomy look at the possibility of nuclear apocalypse (almost inevitable for any early 80’s band) with a funky beat and aggressive vocals from Gahan.
Things started coming together for Depeche Mode on this album - the mould hadn't fully set yet, but the blueprint for brilliance had - a blueprint that contained Dave's improving vocals and live star power, Martin's first steps into writing meaningful lyrics, and Wilder's technical capability.
Their sound would come to full fruition on their next album, 'Some Great Reward', but what we have here are a set of rich synth tunes full of overlapping samples and sound effects, an essential DM track in 'Everything Counts', and a few other worthy contenders - 'Told You So', 'Love, In Itself' and the interesting, industrial experiment 'Pipeline'. Overall, its a fairly consistent effort with enough worthwhile moments to warrant a listen and makes for an optimistic expirence for fans, as Depeche take a decent-sized step in the right direction.