Review Summary: After the departure of original songwriter and synthpop legend Vince Clarke, Depeche Mode faced an opportunity to create their own unique sound. Alan Wilder joined the band soon after, and with a couple of records, new songwriter Martin Gore continued to 1 of 1 thought this review was well written
If you ask the average Depeche Mode fan what the best time period for the group is, they would almost certainly say "late 80s early 90s". While I whole-heartidly agree that their rockier era was the most crucial and successful time period for the band, my personal favorite time period was the mid 80s, 1984-1986. There is something about the sound, with its industrial scrapings, haunting vocals, and classic presentation. Some Great Reward is often cited as the first good direction for Depeche Mode, and then their four "best" albums would follow suit. I would say Some Great Reward is more than a catalyst, but a product of Martin Gore's ever-increasing talent. There's something about it that's truly special, and they would keep this formula in their next album, Black Celebration, my all time favorite. I think the mid 80s was when Martin was most inspired, he had a German girlfriend, and I think his love and lust was leaked into the content of the music so well.
The record begins with strange breathing noises and kicks into high swing with the thumping "Something to Do". Arguably one of the hardest songs of their collection, this song sets the tone that Depeche Mode aren't kids anymore. It has that sick bassline that is very similar to "More Than a Party" from their previous album, but it's much more effective. Dave's voice also has really matured here, and would forever hold to become the power it is today. "Lie to Me" follows soon after, one of the most classic and catchy songs on the album. A personal favorite of mine, it captures Depeche's Mode's maturing themes, as the song provides great lyrics about romantic feelings and trust. This song's synthline still makes my skin crawl. Another classic, "People are People" follows soon after. I would argue that it's their most important song to date, exposing them to mainstream America and truly launching them to the acclaim they deserve. "People are People" is a beautifully organic sampled track with thrusting metal clashes and bubbling synths. Still one of my favorites, the simplistic lyrics about respecting people's differences and distrusting violence work in this poppy but mature hit.
The proper first of the many famous Martin Gore ballads comes here with "It Doesn't Matter". It has a very creeping sound with an ambiguous feeling that seems to be about expectations in a person you love. Martin's voice during the mid 80s era is superb and I somewhat wish I could have it back. Dave's haunting voice returns in "Stories of Old" which has fantastic lyrics about not giving up your own life for the sake of love. A perfect song that is so criminally underrated with a great danceable beat. Another Martin Gore ballad follows suit, which shared a double-A side with "Master and Servant", "Somebody". "Somebody" is a fan-favorite, with Gore's sensitive voice conveying a paradoxical view of person you love... or hate. It's brilliant. Industrial banging returns on the next track "Master and Servant", a staple classic. More great lyrics follow here about S&M fantasies and domination. So sexy and appealing, this is when Depeche Mode truly gained their "have sex to" sound.
The end of the LP is very satisfying. My favorite song on the album "If You Want" is track 8, written by Alan Wilder. It has arguably the most danceable feel ever, with beating and banging of silverware galore. The lyrics are simple, but engaging. I play it loudly always. And then the gloomiest DM song to date. "Blasphemous Rumours" is a very cynical song, questioning God's benevolence and why he would allow tragedies to happen. You really do become angry at how cruel the world is, the melancholy sound of minor chord synths and pebble rolling despair create the overall mood. It is amazing, the dark conclusion of the album is really what escalates this album to the top for me. The B-sides from the singles are "In Your Memory" and "Set Me Free (Remotivate Me)", the former being written by Wilder with a haunting melody and tough lyrics, while the latter is a very bouncy and poppy song, but it still is great as a B-side.
This album is one of my favorites of all time, and to me it showcases the period where Depeche Mode where at their peak of musical greatness. The unique dark synth sound with industrial clanging makes their two mid-80s records so special for me, and it bridges them to their finest hour, the Violator era, so it deserves much credit.