Review Summary: Depeche Mode's most brilliantly dark hour. Contains a plethora of anthems to be played alone, at midnight including classics like 'A Question of Lust' and 'Stripped'. Its greatest charm comes in its ability to be both depressing yet uplifting. A Classic.
If you ask most people who listen to Depeche Mode, I’d argue that a good number of them would answer 'Dark' when asked the question: What word springs to mind when you think of Depeche Mode’s sound? Ask those same people a similar question: What word springs to mind when you think of Black Celebration? And I’m convinced an even greater amount would give the same answer as before - dark. And it’s that link that’s key to understanding the greatness of this album - its pure Depeche Mode. It’s dark, moody, depressing, yet uplifting and compelling.
A heavily distorted, distant vocal of the words "Black Celebration" open the album and right away darker sounds than ever heard before on a Depeche record, fill your ears. A twinkling melody that sounds vaguely like something from a horror movie gives way to churning synths and pounding drums before Dave begins belting out the echoed, desperate lyrics "Lets have a black celebration - to celebrate the fact, that we’ve seen the back, of another black day". And its lines like that, which is one of the many reasons why this album is so special. It balances out depression with hope - it’s not suffering in its despair, its finding the bright side, the silver lining, the small glimmers of hope.
The same idea of darkness that, rather compellingly, manages to be uplifting at the same time is carried on in the next track 'Fly on the Windscreen'. The melody from 'Black Celebration' fades into the black, but bizarrely funky beat of this slice of brilliance. It captures the same feel as the last track but in an evermore stark fashion, as Gahan’s roars of "Death is everywhere" eventually get tempered by a mellowed desperate chorus of "Come here, kiss me, now". It comes as a complete sonic shock (and a pleasant one at that) as booming synth lines wail out becoming ever louder (especially after the chorus is repeated for the final time), and a subtle sample of a TV news report plays in the dense background as that track fades into the legendary 'A Question Of Lust'.
'A Question of Lust' is a classic Depeche track, sung delicately by Gore. It opens to a slow, downbeat tempo with heavy drumming, and simply beautiful synths backing Martin as he sings "It’s a question of lust, it’s a question of trust, its a question of not letting what we’ve built up crumble to dust". One the most memorable choruses by the Mode and rightfully so - it’s touching, moody and has an expectedly sinister/personal edge with the line "I need to drink more than you seem to think before I’m anyone’s". Classic.
'Sometimes' follows - a very short Gore sung track at less than two minutes. It serves as an understated personal confession, a mood setter, a taster that represents the overall flavour of the album - pitch-black darkness. Another Gore ballad appears immediately after (Black Celebration contains more Martin-sung ballads than any other Depeche album, with a total number of 4 tracks), with 'It Doesn’t Matter Two'.
What logically (from its title) is presumptuously a continuation of the 'Some Great Reward' track 'It Doesn’t Matter', upon listening is actually the opposite of the aforementioned. Whilst 'It Doesn’t Matter' was quite a emotionally sweet song, this is pure gloom, and whilst its most definitely still emotional, the last line sung resonates most effectively as the best summation of the song "and then I realise - it doesn’t matter". More of the same Gore-greatness appears later in the album, with the cynical 'World Full of Nothing'.
An absolute killer arrives with 'A Question of Time', with a kicking rhythm, a frantic electronic riff and synth violins, backed by one of Dave’s strongest vocal performances. The tracks ends abruptly, making way for an undeniable classic, 'Stripped'. A slow intro with what sounds like a train riding over tracks, builds into gentle vocals from Dave before he booms out the chorus "Let Me see you stripped, down to the bone" as the catchy melody filters in. The song is one of the finest by Depeche and the emotional synth backing that arrives as the chorus is repeated for the last few times, is gorgeous.
'Here is the House' is a really underrated track. It’s as close as Depeche came on this album to creating a straight-up synth pop sound, with a simple catchy melody and a strong baseline. It still manages to keep a downbeat atmosphere but leaves-off the despair-filled lyrics heard elsewhere on the record, and ends up an underappreciated gem in DM’s song catalogue.
'Dressed In Black' and 'New Dress' might not be as classic as 'Stripped' or 'A Question of Lust' but they are both charming and far from skipable, with 'Dressed in Black' featuring a strong steady baseline and a vaguely kinky lyric; and 'New Dress' containing a memorable, yet very dated line “Princess Di is wearing a new dress” (it also represents one of Martin’s last political lyric efforts).
Some versions of the album end with 'New Dress' but if your interested in checking this superb album out, make sure you get the version that contains the gem, 'But Not Tonight'. It’s more of the same darkness yet it features perhaps the most midnight-black-yet-uplifting tune on the album.
No matter how dark the music gets; no matter how depressing the lyrics get; no matter how gloomy the atmosphere gets - there’s always glimmers of hope and light, hidden away in the melodies and the personal lyrics, that slowly reveal themselves the more you listen. And that’s what makes the album brilliant - it remains both downbeat but hopeful, depressing yet uplifting, and most definitely, classic yet underrated.