Review Summary: The real Depeche are born, but it's an ugly birth...
It's that 'second album' thing. Tough for most groups that manage a decent first album, it affected Depeche Mode more because, after the band's debut album 'Speak And Spell', the main songwriter Vince Clarke left (to form Yazoo and later Erasure). After such commercial highs as 'New Life
' and 'Just Can't Get Enough
', everyone though that the band were finished. Understandable, perhaps, as they were all about 19 at the time anyway. Martin Gore, keyboard player and occasional backup instrumentalist, was thrust into the driver's seat.
Daunting as this may seem to the mature observer, the band at the time were far too naive and gauche to realise their predicament and simply went dutifully on with a follow-up album. Keeping the simplistic synth-driven sound of their first effort, the major changes here were in Martin's songs, although it was transparently obvious that some songs were thinly-veiled copies of Vince's craft. The album is a fine example of the differences between Vince and Martin at the time; Vince had the hooks but no direction - Martin had the vision but no idea of how to shape it at the time. The result is an extremely badly-produced and mis-matched album; yet strangely, amongst all of DM's records, it has an odd, quirky appeal all of its own.
'Leave In Silence
' starts a long-held Mode tradition of starting an album with a song that was different to anything they had done before (just see songs like 'I Feel You
' and 'Dream On
'). Dark, moody and atmospheric, it's a long way from the likes of 'Just Can't Get Enough
' and positively POUNDS with atmosphere. The single version was stylish enough, but this album version breaks out into an exotic ending that captivates the listener. 'My Secret Garden
' starts out like a nursery rhyme, but soon settles into some jaunty synth effects. It's another relative high point on the album; unfortunately this mediocre peak soon settles...
' is a strange song. It was covered years later by Gus Gus, who somehow managed to extract a melody from it. As for the lyrics, well..."My Monument/It Fell Down"
(parp)... oh dear...thank goodness for the instrumental. Thought you'd never hear that, eh" Instrumentals usually serve to act as a break point between brilliant songs so the listener can fully appreciate the difference in quality. Here, however, they serve as a brief respite before the underwhelming-production sets in.
Sorry to sound so negative. But the production here is so shoddy, I don't blame anyone for stopping the CD and demanding their money back. But stick with it. 'Nothing To Fear
' may have no words, but it produces a sound that's propulsive enough to encourage the album to be listened to in full. In fact, it deserves to have words added to it. 'See You
', the first single, is a track written while Martin was in his teens. As you can tell from the banal lyrics. Still, it's saved by a catchy, clean, bell-like five-note synth-hook (phew!) that just about raises it out of the mire. It's no masterpiece, but you start to think that there's some hope for the album after all.
So why attempt a song like 'Satellite
'" This parps and toots (slowly) and goes on about being a satellite of hate (or something). No, I'm not being ignorant, I usually get stuck right into Martin's lyrics, but when the music is this dull and uninspiring, why bother" This was obviously knocked up in the studio in about ten minutes. Then Martin remembers that the last album might have left the fans eager for a few bubblegum songs, a-la Vince Clarke. So he does his best impression of Vince in the following song 'The Meaning Of Love
', with its uber-joyful melody and what can best be described as 'sprinkly' synths. 'A Photograph Of You
' achieves the impossible by managing to be even worse than its predecessor. It's truly AWFUL, horrible lyrics and bubbly sound effects preceed the worst middle-eight Depeche have ever produced. Yuk.
But I gave this album the high score of 2 for a reason, you know. In an even more bizarre twist to this strange, strange album, the last two songs are the best. 'Shouldn't Have Done That
' has a chanty, mantra-like chorus, supplemented by a marching sound (band members clapping) and great, disturbing lyrics, collapsing into a music-box-like middle-eight. It sounds different and intelligent, and stands out.
But the last track is where it all happens. My word. It's strange to say, but 11 albums and 25 years later, 'The Sun And The Rainfall
' is still one of my all-time favourite Mode tracks. It's not particularly commercial, it doesn't get played in concerts, yet it transcends the work of many modern-day ambient artists. From the clean synths cascading downwards, to the oblique, blank lyrics, it is rather affecting and forces you to forget that such muddy, rigid songs like 'Monument
' and 'Satellite
' were ever on this album. Excellent.
Alas, this album is Depeche Mode in transition. It is NOT a perfect introduction for the virgin-Moders. It's not even essential for a Depeche Mode fan. 'The Sun And The Rainfall'
wasn't even a single, so you'd pretty much have to find the album to check it out. So, in summation, it's not really worth it for the few good songs. Best left for people who like quirkiness and who don't mind a weird mix of bubblegum and bleakness.