Review Summary: Depeche Mode veteran’s reunite for the first time in over 30 years, and craft a surprisingly excellent instrumental techno record.
VCMG is the collaborative efforts of two electronic music legends. Both have served stints in one of the most important and lasting British alternative bands of the past 3 decades, Depeche Mode. Vince Clarke – VC – lasted only 1 album with the Mode, but his subsequent records with Yazoo and Erasure turned the promise of early electro-pop delights such as ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ into a career long promise. Martin Gore, on the other hand, slowly but surely emerged out of the shadows after Clarke’s departure to become one of the most gifted songwriters and (occasional) singers of his time, helping elevate DM to the stadium filling electro-giants they are today.
It “occurred” to Clarke to contact his old pal Gore when thoughts of creating a minimal dance record entered his enterprising mind. He needed a partner, someone different who he hadn’t really worked with a lot but who still had serious electronic credentials to his name. Martin Gore was selected, and an email working-relationship struck up between the pair, kicking off the VCMG project for real. It would be cynical but reasonable enough to at first predict that Clarke picked his erstwhile band mate as a partner merely to drum up anticipatory interest – with legions of Erasure and Mode fans dying to hear what the old veterans had come up with together, for the first time in over 30 years. But the cynics are proven undeniably wrong, as everything about the album – right from its uncommercial title, Ssss
, to its vocal-less, purist approach – leads to anything but a cash-in and leaves only room for a serious, ‘proper’ record to be observed.
If the idea of this reunited duo making a dance record seems odd then the methods they used to accomplish such means will surely seem even odder. Ssss
was composed entirely over email, with Clarke and Gore sending ideas and tunes back and forth until something approaching an LP with 10 separate tracks was achieved, before the set was sent off to an independent producer the pair picked. Despite the disjointed composing method, Ssss
sounds nothing less than complete, cohesive and crisp. The production is clean and slick, leaving no signs of a fractured creation, letting the beats and synth blips meld together as perfectly matched as you’d like.
It’s a very professional, disciplined record, with a real sense of tight construction and serious intent, but the pair hasn’t fortunately forgotten to have a little fun and spruce up their hour long dance-a-thon with dabs of zaniness. Tracks like ‘Windup Robot’ – which throws in squelchy sound effects for the hell of it – and the brilliantly named ‘Skip This Track’ demonstrate this especially. Although the track-list is very consistent and ultimately designed to be an anonymous and continuous stream of techno fun, a couple of highlights still manage to stand out – first single; the pulsing, bouncy ‘Spock’, and its follow-up, the nervy and excellent ‘Single Blip’.
All in all, VCMG deserve nothing less than praise. It’s not a temporary solution to fill the gap between now and the next Mode or Erasure record; it’s not a cash-in or a bid to gain some music press publicity; it’s a project that has spawned a seriously cared-about, and passionate album, and one that ends up sounding more fun and worthwhile than most would initially assume.