Review Summary: In which a bunch of mostly American alternative rock bands pay tribute to four knob-twiddlers from Basildon.
It's said to be a mystery. Ask almost any member of an American rock, metal or industrial band what they think of Depeche Mode, and, far from dismissing them as just another bunch of European knob-twiddlers, they'll invariably wax lyrical about how much they listened to them as a teen, how much of an influence they were and how great the songs are. That's the SONGS mind you; if anything this album shows that most of their fans took different paths when making their own music. It's the raw materials, the simple, stripped-back songs
that they liked, and wanted to pay tribute to.
The tribute album. Karaoke for bored millionaires? Usually, yes, and that's why they're often so crap. If the artists deviate too much from the original songs, the fans get mad. If they stick to the script, the reviewers say they lack creativity. It's a no-win situation. Fortunately, what For The Masses
delivers is an eclectic mix of covers that satisfies both. For most of the songs here, the song structures remain largely the same, but sound amazingly fresh because of the alt-rock angle. Apollo 440 realised that nothing could really be done to hold 'I Feel You's
chugging guitar riff, so they kept it, but added plenty of dense layers of samples and squeals that give the song a dirtier, grimier feel. Dishwalla take the housey 'Policy of Truth'
and turn it into a relentless, driving groove, while Deftones's version of 'To Have and To Hold'
eclipses the original by some distance, burying the song in a mire of murk and slams.
The Cure cover Depeche Mode. A sentence guaranteed to make any morbid 80s goth downright tumescent with excitement, it nevertheless stands as perhaps the album's biggest anticlimax; a hyperactive mess of samples and yelping that's still decent, but not the great meeting of bands that it perhaps could have been (we can only wonder what would have happened if Robert Smith had gone for his second choice, 'Walking In My Shoes'
). It's still a refreshingly different take, as are many other gems - Veruca Salt deliver a wonderful performance on 'Somebody'
, Louise Post's vocals making it both saccharine and slightly creepy at the same time. Self's version of 'Shame'
different from the original, it actually ends up being good. The 'other' artists here (read: not alternative rock) deliver some brilliant covers too: Hooverphonic go all the way with trippiness on 'Shake The Disease'
, a bizarre, floaty song of swirling synths and dreamy vocals, while 'Master and Servant'
is covered by Locust (AKA Mark Van Hoen) and rendered as creepily submissive as the original was brashly dominant.
The Smashing Pumpkins show admirable restraint with 'Never Let Me Down Again'
, resisting the temptation to replicate the majesty and doominess of the original and instead turning it into a bluesy ballad that, impossibly, works. Rammstein finish the album by delivering the token comedy moment with their over-the-top cover of 'Stripped'
, but the true highpoint of the album is discovering possibly the greatest cover of 'Enjoy The Silence'
yet made. The now sadly-disbanded Failure waited until the end of their career to deliver this cover which, while staying true to the original, still builds and develops in a way that puts it head and shoulders above most other attempts.
It's rumoured that Nine Inch Nails and Marylin Manson were due to contribute songs, but were unable to at the time. Maybe a couple more big names would have brought this album the attention it deserved; an album that is confident to include obscure songs ('Shame', 'Monument'
) and songs that manage to sound very different to the originals, while keeping the brilliance that made them so popular in the first place. Now surely, that's what a good tribute album should be about?