Time Out July 28-August 4 1993 issue cover
What Can You Do With A Raging Hanover?
Hanover Garbsen Stadium, Germany - May 31, 1993
"In a marquee in the middle of a German field, Martin Gore is being cross-examined about the quasi-religious imagery of his lyrics by a fuzzy-haired journalist from Lisbon.
He in turn is surrounded by a gaggle of Euro-hacks who nudge each other excitedly and thrust forward their microphones in search of the perfect earth-shattering response. Martin smiles helpfully and deftly sidesteps everything in his spray-painted silver DM boots. After all, he’s got work to do.
In ten minutes he’ll be on stage in front of 20,000 people, making them dance like they’re lost in the maddest Teutonic disco orgy in the universe. His only aid will be three black synthesisers, two assistants and a singer with eyes the colour of sex and the pout of a lascivious gigolo cavalier.
Fact: Depeche Mode are enormous in Germany. They’re massive everywhere, really, apart from sleepy old Blighty where we’re too busy having wet dreams over the joke shop sex of the Pet Shop Boys to realise that in Depeche Mode we’ve got the real thing: Basildon bondage, all trussed up in dreamy tunes and suburban good looks.
The show is the stuff of Gary Numan’s dreams. An enormous stage looms over a vast green open space on the outskirts of Hanover. It is flanked by two huge mauve Depeche symbols between which three solitary keyboards tower on a platform where the guitar amps should be.
It’s a masterpiece of subtlety; a stark Bauhaus reminder that stadium pomp, when stripped of the hoary trappings of MTV, can still hold you in awe at its sheer mind-blowing magnitude.
Likewise, the dreaded synths. Being regularly in the company of people for whom electric guitars are barely less essential to existence than life itself, it’s amazing to discover that having them surge towards you from titanic speakers is a purely pleasurable experience.
Admittedly, this is just two days after having borne witness to the appalling guitar wank indulgences of Guns N’ Roses, but consider this: no crackling leads, no grisly distortion, just long, smooth blocks of sound that urge you not to clap your hands above your head like a seal, but to swing from the knees and DANCE. You should try it some time.
And then there’s Dave Gahan. Silhouetted for the most part, he is a wriggling figurine in white who manages to turn all those arty film noir videos you’ve seen of Depeche into saucy Caesar’s Palace stompers. "Personal Jesus" (once the twin peak of pseudo faith alongside the entire Sisters Of Mercy back catalogue) becomes a Glitter Band stomp whenever Dave waggles his derriere and screams "Reach out and touch me!"; "Enjoy The Silence", ushered in by a prancing Gore, is ersatz disco camp to rank with Blondie’s "Heart Of Glass"; and even "I Feel You", freed from visions of four blokes wandering through deserts and Dave smouldering his way out of a waistcoat, becomes a loose, danceable old friend.
It’s all in front of a home crowd, naturally (Depeche were always meant to have come from a Berlin satellite town – things just got muddled up), but it’s no less impressive for that.
Afterwards, backstage and distinctly off duty, Martin and Alan Wilder are playing table football when Dave makes his obligatory rock star entrance. With his ceaseless teasing and angelic white blouse, isn’t he a bit Mick Jagger ’69?
"Nah, I think it’s fat Elvis in Las Vegas meself, hur hur!"
Hollywood Soul, through and through."
New Musical Express, 19th June, 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
Germanic Shriek Preachers
Depeche Mode at the Garbsen, Hanover: larks in the park for the Essex boys' impersonal Jesus tour...
"Imagine you've got a band together, you've snatched the point blank opportunity to join Depeche Mode's European tour a few dates in, and after your first number, you have 25,000 people in front of you holding their tickets aloft and screaming the word "pfui!". It's the German word for "boo", of course, and it's probably your fault for being involved in the Jethro Tull-meets-Toyah madrigal nightmare of Miranda Sex Garden. Still, no wonder Spiritualized quit this very job three days ago.
As Mark E. Smith probably said once, treat people like animals and they'll behave like animals. These humungous outdoor gigs bring out the basest mob instincts. The Garbesen ain't exactly a stadium, just a field the size of Finsbury Park, bordered by trees. It's been intermittently pissed on all afternoon, and Elton John was here yesterday. Frankly, it's one huge dehumanising ceasepool.
But what other options are open to a band like the Mode? They did the arena bit with Violator in 1990. Staying indoors would be bottling out. Even though we Brits have consistently been putting them in our Top Ten for over a decade now, we still have a problem with four saucy geezers from Basildon being global pop icons. They are. Check the movie 101 for proof.
Germany's really the Mode's spiritual home. In the UK, Songs of Faith and Devotion has sold 150,000 copies - an awful lot for an album preoccupied with themes of submission, lust, and a desperate belief in humankind. Out there, it's 650,000 in six weeks, and still counting. So while we will have to suffer the ignominy of visiting an athletics ground in Crystal Palace to witness the boys in action on these shores in '93, this hippo's paradise is just one of seven Teutonic ports of call.
A mere hour before they're due to step before their impersonally adoring public, Martin Gore and his two otherwise unrecognised key-tapping cohorts (do all British bands have an Other Two?) are faced with Germany's empathy for their oeuvre at a "meet and greet" with its rock press. Hands sweaty with big-moment anxiety thrust microphones mostly under Gore's nose, while sheafs of questions about his views on Life's Crushingly Vast Complexity fire his way in crap English at a rate of about ten per second. Thickly made-up, sporting that shaved-all-around-but bubbly-blond-on-top hairdo and dressed in what can only be described as a pair of silver glitter bondage keks, the lad's totally dazed. "Well, yeah, faith and religion is, er, a thing I've always, y'know, been interested in."
He's rescued by the appearance of Dave Gahan. It's some entrance. Long black spangly jacket, luscious new mane (beautifully combed), spotless white jeans and a fluffy, white dress shirt right out of Poldark. He's lost his voice, we're warned, and he can hardly string two words together, but the smile, the aura! Thirty freeze-frame seconds that make TV slo-mo seem like a Prodigy video, and he's gone. Effin' Ada! We're talking Jaggeresque.
The effect is only marginally less dazzling when Dave darts between huge, swirling 40-foot-high net curtains during the opener, "Higher Love", giving everyone tantalising first glimpses of their hero. Behind him, way up on a podium that'll have Cecil B DeMille punching his way out of the ground to film it, the other three tinker away with inanimate industry. The crowd goes 25,000 carat apeshit and somehow, it's totally comprehensible.
Whether everything the backroom boys are doing is on DAT or not, you soon realise that Dave's carrying the show with rabble-rousing pirouettes around his mike-stand and a histrionic bow after "World in my Eyes". But (and we were warned) his voice sounds fairly gruff, especially when he asks if everyone's "awroight". It's still daylight when projections, again concocted by Anton Corbijn, start flashing on the backdrops and the screens beneath the podium, making the tinklers seem another ten feet higher up. Those beaky goblins prance around on them during "Walking in my Shoes", and for "Stripped", there's someone writting the song title over and over again, and lots of belly buttons. If only someone would switch off the twilight.
It all gets really rocking on "Condemnation", when Gahan's bluesy confession gets a female gospel backing and images of flickering candles, and "Judas", the one that sounds like Clannad, provokes unbridled lighter waving. They're winning. Gore steps down to warble and strum a couple of songs. The guitar may be stringless and made of inflatable plastic - it has ceased to matter and, anyway, it's hard to tell from 500 yards. He's still strapped on and blasting out feedback when Dave jogs back for "I Feel You", which gives you a hint of what stadium Mary Chain would be like, right down to Gore's head-down bubble-curl silhouette and Gahan's crucifixion postures.
"In Your Room" (set closer), "Personal Jesus" and "Enjoy the Silence" (first encore) soar in near-hymnic celebration of melancholy and godlessness. The Mode have taken on this transparently rubbish way of doing live music, and done it with a bit of class and intelligence. When they even have the sense of humour and the total bullocks to finish with "Fly on the Windscreen" (we must look very small to them), and "Everything Counts" (but hell, there's filthy lucre at stake here), they're damn close to earning your faith and devotion. But a sewage farm is no place for worship."
Select, August 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
REIGN IN SPAIN
by Laura Lee Davies
Time Out, 28th July 1993
Basildon boys turned sinister saviours Depeche Mode recently took Madrid by storm. This weekend their "Songs Of Faith And Devotion" come to Crystal Palace. But would you want singer David Gahan as your "Personal Jesus"? That’s another fine messiah you’ve got me on to, says Laura Lee Davies. Photographs by Anton Corbijn.
Madrid is a hot and stubborn place, physically, spiritually and historically. It suits a band like Depeche Mode, with an album out called "Songs Of Faith And Devotion" and promo pop videos that look like out-takes from "The Name Of The Rose". As the 30-plus degrees heat singes the darkening July evening, 16,000 people are gathering to see the band’s latest show.
The stage is shrouded in huge grey curtains stretching from the sandy pit to the tiles of the open-topped bull ring. There’s nothing left of the Depeche Mode who took "Top Of The Pops" on like four fluffy bunnies, back in ’81. Even live, art director Anton Corbijn – the man who has made U2’s music look so beautiful – has crafted a distinctive Depeche Mode image, somewhere between rock’n’roll swagger and a Prince-like sex-show. News that the Symbolic One is playing London the same night as them this weekend has not fazed them. In fact, the mood in the Mode camp is one of quiet confidence that they will be dominating the reviews pages of the Sunday papers.
Depeche Mode have long departed from the bleeping pop of Pixieland. When they released their "Violator" album in 1990, they were a changed band, and this spring’s "Songs Of Faith And Devotion" completed the rehabilitation. They might still use too many computers for your liking, but eat vinyl and die if you don’t recognise that their mystical obsessions with sex, religion and spiritual slavery are more than your run-of-the-mill rock fodder.
Depeche Mode recorded their album in Madrid and, they say, it’s a city that knows how to party. That’s why the 75-strong roadshow has hit the town 24 hours early and why there is a day off scheduled after the gig. At the hotel, a couple of them are shaking off heavy clubbing sessions in time for the evening’s show, making the occasional, low-key appearance in the marble-decorated foyer where the patient receptionists allow a few devoted fans (all female) to hang around for a glimpse of someone special. Nothing more taxing than plans for the London after-show party are being thrashed out on the terrace bar. Band member Andrew Fletcher groans, the gig itself is going to be a breeze compared to negotiating a 500-plus guest list.
Alan Wilder, the most musicianly of the band and key influence in the studio, gets up in time to have tea. He’s anxious because tonight’s gig is outdoors, and the visuals come across better in the dark. Wilder joined the band when Vince Clarke (now of Erasure), the band’s songwriter, left. For a while it looked like the band would have to split. Then Martin Gore, the band’s quietest member, stepped in and started writing songs which got progressively more complex and substantial. It has taken ten long years for their rearranged line-up to establish itself. "It’s difficult to sum up what Depeche Mode’s music consists of, but it’s quite easy to assess the individual parts which go to make it," explains Wilder in his level manner. "Martin is an excellent songwriter. My strength is in production. On tour Dave bears the brunt of what we’re doing. Fletch openly admits that he doesn’t do anything in the studio, really, but he still has an opinion and all our ideas somehow go to form the end result." Fletch instead is concerned with a lot of the band’s administrative needs.
It’s the kind of admission that fuels the Depeche Mode jokes about leaving the tapes rolling while the band spend the gig in the bar. Does Wilder feel the need for a band identity? "No, not really." He narrows his eyes as the corners of his mouth tweak upwards and he lets out a laugh. "At this point, when we’re touring, it’s very much down to the individual to deal with it in their own way. There doesn’t have to be much interaction between us except for meetings about what’s happening. It’s not a particularly creative process." They know the secret of their Basildon bond is not to live on top of each other, but this tour, even more than the last, is a spiritual experience no amount of down-home, grass-roots, brothers-together rock seriousness could consciously muster.
The venue is rather too beautiful for the bull-fighting barbarism normally associated with it. The support act, Marxman, go on stage when it’s still light. Their politico rap-dance goes down relatively well, even though they give the audience the "don’t kill bulls" line as they get into their groove. With songs about wife-battering, Northern Ireland and a particularly stomping anti-invasion number with a chorus of "Fuck Columbus!", they would probably have given Franco a posthumous earful as well if they’d been old enough to remember him. They prove remarkably effective on the relaxed crowd, now mellowing in the San Miguel-sodden sunset and the spicy haze of a few smuggled-in joints. One of the two Marxman gang-leaders nurses the side of his head backstage, someone having thrown a coin at him, and he’s looking deeply unhappy.
In a city where people go clubbing on their way to work, it’s long been dark before Depeche Mode come on. As lighters and candles ignite in the arena, it feels like a vigil to all the bulls it has sent to bovine heaven. No one here is too tired to party and the chorus of "Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé," gets stronger and more regular. For the whole of the first song, the band are just shadows behind the curtain, but the familiar silhouettes are enough to get the audience off their seats for the next two hours.
The show is spectacular. The powerful set, mostly culled from the last two, rockier albums, and a handful of carefully treated old favourites, accompanied by Anton Corbijn’s striking, sometimes tacky, sometimes moving, sometimes bewilderingly arty images, is matched by the audience’s complete commitment to the performance, pushing singer David Gahan ever further into his mock-God role, so that he takes the crowd with him on every mood change, every handclap, every strut. By the end of the show Alan Wilder has forsaken his keyboard for a drum kit and one of Martin Gore’s occasional outings on guitar has turned into an axe-wielding rock-out. The tongue-in-cheek conventional rock band poses flung up on to the video screens are not lost on the adoring masses.
The backstage party has been arranged along the stony corridors of the arena. When Alan, Fletch and Martin join the crew, record execs and a handful of lucky fans, they look remarkably cool considering they were on stage ten minutes before. The old rumours of backstage sports like snorting coke off the bellies of likely young females are finally put to rest when they challenge any takers to table football. They always win – it’s in Martin’s right-hand flicks. David, however, is still chilling out in his room. When the express train from Cloud Nine pulls in, we can talk.
"We never play audiences like this in Europe," says David Gahan in a rasping, mid-tour voice, handing round some peppermint chewy. "When we go to America it’s going to be fuckin’ mental! I’m gonna have so much fuckin’ fun with it." Gahan’s energy is still bouncing off the walls. "The ‘Violator’ tour was really intense, I actually thought that was probably it. I was trying to flee from something, but it wasn’t the band, and it took me a while to realise that. I have this chance to make lots of people feel really good, and I feel like if I really push… it’s a great feeling. Oh God, I’m starting to sound like Jesus!"
David Gahan admits to a past of sex and drink and rock’n’roll, but his move to L.A. and his recent second marriage seem rather to have turned him into one of those energetic little sunbeams who want to reach out and touch everyone else with their inner happiness. The bearded saviour of so many teenage souls jumps to his feet to address the small gathered throng. "I tell you, I had this idea the other night, I want the security guys to make it so I can walk across the top of the people!" He claps his hands and laughs with a demonic, Sid James cackle. "What about that, man? Can Prince do that? Ha ha! I’ve already been talking about this: ’cos I’m fit, right? When we shut "Personal Jesus" down, I wanna run to somewhere up at the back of the arena so they can suddenly light me up when the song comes back in, and I can be, like: ‘I’m here!’." Gahan raises his arms out to form a cross, before clapping again and crumpling back down on the sofa, chuckling with another mouthful of high-spirited L.A.-speak.
On stage Gahan is a natural Son of God. Every chorus of "Reach out and touch babe" [sic] is an opportunity for him to play Calvary with the crowd. Fortunately for him, Martin Gore writes pop songs with dark, deep religious themes, from "Blasphemous Rumours" to almost every song on this album, the title "Songs Of Faith And Devotion" fitting perfectly. " ‘Violator’ really got me to listen to Martin’s words, and understand them, and I actually started to love that person a lot more, and see what was going on. So when we got to this album, the songs he was sending me… y’know, I’d phone him up and I was like ‘Fuckin’ hell, Martin, that’s brilliant!’ And the lyrics were right for me at the time. Now I’m having fun with it. I’m not that close to it that I feel it killing me."
In the past six years Gahan married his long-time girlfriend, fathered a son, found new love on tour with an American publicist called Theresa Conroy, got divorced, and re-married. Although it’s the kind of angst-ridden, emotionally painful existence some people would probably think was the perfect lifestyle for a grumpy rock band like Depeche Mode. Gahan puts his renewed enthusiasm for the music down to his present happiness.
"When we came to making this album, I felt something had to change gear. I wanted everyone to really want to do it. I had all these ideas. I came back looking like someone different, and for a while, it was difficult to become friends again. I think I’ve done a couple of interviews that I was probably a bit over the top in, ’cos there was stuff I just had to say. In retrospect I think back on how hard it was for me to push for things like drums, playing together on the record, for Martin to become more of a star. Seeing him show off on stage, I love watching him, man."
Although Gore writes all the songs, he rarely does interviews because the rest of the band are better at explaining his work. The numbers Gore sings are becoming more prominent, suggesting a new-found confidence and humour. Is he happy about sharing the star role? "I don’t think he knows it yet!" laughs Gahan. "He’s just a brilliant songwriter. I think I used to go out there with the attitude, ‘fuck. I’ve got to do another gig’, and I’d go out really negative, and use it as an excuse to let out a lot of aggression. Now it’s a lot better.
"But tonight was special, man. For a few days I was thinking, I’m tired, we’ve done, like, 35 gigs already, I never see my wife. But then suddenly you’re on stage and it’s like, I wanna do this for a long while, y’know? What am I gonna do when I stop doing this? Landscape labourer again, ha ha."
Well, there’s always Vegas. "Yeah, yeah, we’ve already been talking about it. Like Wayne Newton’s got this place called ‘Wayne’s’, cost him $25 million to build. It’s got a lift going on to the stage from his dressing room, Jacuzzi, lights. He owns the pad. Yeah, ‘Dave’s’, be fuckin’ funny. You laugh now, but you’ll be there in 20 years’ time. You can get a lot of stuff done to you in different places in America that keep you looking young for ever. Seriously, you get extra bits of fucking muscle. Check it out, fucking Hollywood, funny place. It’s just the stuff in here," he taps his much-tattooed body, "that gets older."
On the all-night/morning club-crawl after the show, the band are the last ones standing and no one shows signs of getting older, outside or in. They even chose their hotel because it was handy for their favourite club. Tonight, however, it’s only half-packed with groovers, so everyone elects to move on to Pacha’s, apparently the one to be seen at. As three drinks come to over £20, it would seem they’re probably right. Despite the heat, Martin is dancing in a football shirt out of politeness to some who’s just given it to him. Every member of the band has come along, but there is no gang-bravado. As Alan Wilder points out, on a tour with over 70 people, it’s easy to keep your distance.
Most bands get more predictable once their peak has produced the most reliable formula. Depeche Mode are still evolving, over ten years down the line. The four are, as Alan Wilder freely admits, quite separate individuals, and perhaps there is only so long they can work together, even if most of their music is constructed Meccano-style. But the band are on a high right now. They are touring their best album ever, with their best show ever. Hell, they’re even turning into a rock band. The popular view in Britain – that they are still the alien oddity that fell to earth – doesn’t worry them.
"That’s the English way," groans Gahan. "It’s so ‘Coronation Street’. But then, if I was still there, I’d probably still be watching those things. When I go back now, I think, "I used to get my wife to tape this!" In England everyone saw us grow up. C’mon, I saw one of those things, like Take This or whatever they’re called on television. It’s like, are these kids wearing bondage stuff and things, or is that Village People? I’m sorry, that went over my head. Am I missing something there? But then I think of us when we were first going, and we needed some guidance! But you grow up and you like different things, your taste in music, film, clothes, people. You have children. It’s hard to do that when you’re in a rock band, pop band, whatever you wanna call it; you need to try and explain yourself to everybody. Now I get the chance to do that for a couple of hours a night and I love it. Tonight it was so wild, I thought they were gonna get me at one point. I thought, cool man, they might get my arm… ah, I’ll get it fixed in L.A."
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photo by Anton Corbijn reproduced without permission.
The following four items review Depeche Mode's National Sports Centre, Crystal Palace, London gig on July 31, 1993. This was the only British date on the European leg of the Devotional tour. (Further British concerts were to follow later in the year.) The support act was The Sisters Of Mercy.
The Wizards Of Id
""That’s it then," bellows the portly juggler, with some relief, on the train back to civilisation. "Done The Mode. Tick that one off." I’m reassured that it’s not only jaded journalists and the like who find these vast "events" oddly distancing, alienating, clinical and vaguely intimidating. It’s impossible to engage fully with "the music" or even "the image" at such huge centreless gatherings. Generally, you can’t hear much or see much, and, worst of all, there are all these people (indie kids to executives, goths to casuals). The common bond is an amorphous, irony-free flock worship, which fails to relate to any strand of human individuality of which I am aware.
Climbing to the back of the stands as Gahan sings the line "reach out and touch me", 65 times, I try to view the whole palaver as an intriguing pagan ritual wantonly subverting the green belt, but my directorial skills are inadequate. It is a sports centre. Unless given a ball and a pig-thick, six-foot-six defender to run at, I cannot lose myself or succumb to the id in a sports centre. Now surely live music should provide a field day for the id?
None of which, patently, is the fault of Depeche Mode or The Sisters Of Mercy, both of whom, in subtly contrary ways, try their levellest to be perverse pyromaniacs. Both represent something more sinister than "the norm", though the dark energies are necessarily a gentle undercurrent in such an arena. We can, however, take great joy in watching nigh on 30,000 people beatifically mouthing, say, "life is short and love is always over in the morning" (Eldritch) or "I would tell of the things they put me through/The pain I’ve been subjected to/But The Lord Himself would blush…" (Gore). All these sick warped bastards! Living in my city! F***in’ A!
Not strictly true – both bands’ only British appearance this year means Jackie from Leeds and Rob from Stockport are here in their thousands, and we must then afford due reverence to the consistently amusing Sisters and the increasingly cool Mode.
When exactly The Mode metamorphosed from The Nerds From Geeksville into Michael Foucault with a budget on springs is uncertain, but it definitely happened. "Songs Of Faith And Devotion" is that rarest of birds among successes, a beautiful record. I gave them a hard time once and will not do so again.
More songs about kinky sex and doom and being rich, oh, yes please.
But first – if not last and who knows, really, about always – The Sisters, who today are Mr Eldritch, two guitarists (Bruhn and Pearson) and the well-preserved Dr Avalanche.
In daylight, the dry ice is ineffectual and the low bodycount onstage means that the moody, mysterious (etc, etc) Andrew is forced to perform and project. The funny thing is, he does. Admittedly, and indisputably, every step, strut, crouch, glare, sneer and swagger is lifted directly from the David Bowie Mid-Period Guide To Intelligent Rock Star Posturing, but hey, it gets through my taste customs. It also dovetails neatly with the durably "heroic" spirit of such life-is-inordinately-wretched-but-God-am-I-handsome anthems as "Temple Of Love", "Alice", and "Detonation Boulevard". By the time David embarks on "Catpeople" – I’m so sorry, I must stop doing that – by the time Andrew embarks on "More", the mob forget how daft it is to be existential on a running track in SE19 and throw themselves into the abyss of having fun. (Willing suspension of disbelief? With fries? And a beaker of pissy lager? You got it!)
Andrew Eldritch, crowdpleaser, warms to the job. "Ah, a day at the beach," he mocks. "Funny the people who turn up at these things" is apparently guided at a Mr Hussey. "Don’t say I never give you anything – although of course I don’t" is a fine parting shot after an absurdly rockist and boppy "This Corrosion". Will they encore? Indeed they will! Shirt change and all! "We were going to do ‘Comfortably Numb’, but hey, we’re only the support band." What a wag! "Flood" and the severely Iggy-riffing "Vision Thing" – I think it’s "another motherf***er in a motorcade" that gets me hot – are topped by the pièce de resistance. "Enjoy the puppet show." Now if only he’d preceded that by "So long, suckers." Still, there was no way the Sisters should’ve pulled this off. That they did is down to Eldo being clever enough to be this stupid. Well bowled, sir. Possibly the last prima donna to know that "sha na na na", delivered just so, means "I have just finished the prose-poems of Huysmans but now, after a cold shower, I intend to lie naked among animals of the forest."
Slam it through!
And so to The Mode, the four chirpy Basildon boys who switched on to angst and weird religion and rubberwear and tattoos. The other quip that my portly juggler friend manages is: "If, when I get home, the wife and sister are in the same bed again, I swear I’m just gonna… turn the Camcorder on. Ha!" You can see why I have a theory that Depeche are now the totem band of mainstream fetishists.
So why don’t they suck? They sure used to. It could be that today’s white rock messiahs (Cobain, Rose, you name it) look so excruciatingly drab, as aloof and possessed as David Jason. By comparison, Gahan (now as overwhelmingly narcissistic onstage as they come – and they do) and Gore (Shirley Temple in Bacofoil) seem genuinely freaky. Gahan is a splendid showman – his much-improved dancing (and, for that matter, hair) are so unapologetic as to be very nearly sexy, and his repeated mic stand abuse is exemplary. Only an overt penchant for "Hello Lon-dern!" and "Awwwlraaat!" mar his footfall. "Yeah!" and "Wooh!" visit us a lot, too – rather spoiling the suspenseful section of the quite wonderful "Rush", a pity.
He has to move this much, as The Mode otherwise resemble "Thunderbirds" behind consoles, recalling Eldritch’s acid comment. Gahan’s physicality counters the technology. Gore does loosen up, claiming the spotlight (and a string quartet) for "Judas" and a glowing "One Caress" (he has a fine voice). The filmic tricks are sleek, although of course U2 have upped the stakes on this aspect of stadium rock.
What really impresses is their new-found range – techno to rockabilly, sludge-funk to operetta, they’ve developed beyond all recognition. Whenever this New Age jukebox seems a little too Next or Topshop, some laudably bleak or gorgeously deranged line creeps down the wire of "Behind The Wheel", "World In My Eyes", the tenderly sad "Walking In My Shoes", the bravely braggadocio of "I Feel You" (tragically appended by Gahan’s "Awwraat! Now yer makin’ some f***in’ noise! Yay-ah!"). And Gore’s songwriting has progressed from the laughable "People Are People" (wisely, The Mode concentrate on their maturer golden greats) to the delicious "your favourite mirror… your favourite slave". What woman – forgive me, what person – has done this to him? I would very much like to shake them by the hand.
I do lose patience with Dashing Dave when (during a finale of the exquisitely doleful "In Your Room") he adopts crucifixion pose and mounts the heads of his parishioners, who of course try feverishly to take home slices of the contents of their personal Jesus’ trousers. I expect I still need time to learn to love The Mode this way. I’d gladly proclaim "In Your Room" to be one of the three most immaculate songs I’ve heard this year, but they were once too far bad for me to spread just yet. That they can even serenade the correct window – from this barely conducive platform – is testament to their flowering attractions. Just that hint of dirt and danger, in these times of independent sexual dread and major lame "erotic" overkill, is perhaps enough, what with the id and everything. A gaggle of ids go home satisfied."
Melody Maker, 7th August, 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photo by Phil Nicholls. Reproduced without permission.
"The mind boggles and does triple somersaults… What fracas would ensue when the Essex kids of Depeche Mode’s hardcore following met up with the disaffected, black-clad witches and wizards of The Sisters Of Mercy’s acquaintance? How would the partisan hordes cope with Dub Syndicate’s bass-driven depth charges and Marxman’s future Communist rap?
Well, reality turns out to be both stranger and better than expectations. With an initial atmosphere of a garden fete on a grand scale, Dame Tolerance rules the roost, and the military scale planning and execution makes the multi-cultural bill curse the white homogeneity of XFM and Neil Young In The Park line-ups. The music industry at large might have come to resemble the drowning man waving his bloody stump on Scott Walker’s "Track Seven", yet there are still pockets of resistance where stadiums are not necessarily synonymous with gimmickry and fleeced punters.
Andrew Eldritch is fast becoming one of the last great showmen. With his trademark sunglasses, wry repertoire of putdowns for the unconvinced and Doktor Doom stentorian voice, he’s a fun figure – not a figure of fun – singing songs about drugs and buildings. The new slimmed-down Sisters Of Mercy attack rock’n’roll with a savage discipline, embodying its decadence whilst parodying its very essence. The buzzwords sting, the drum machine clatters, ‘More’ and ‘Temple Of Love’ are imbued with orchestral grandeur, and the swirling, scything guitars map out electronic circuits between riffage and showers of notes.
Respect is also due to Depeche Mode for waiting 13 years to muscle in on rock’n’roll territory. Even if they once swore they’d never use guitars, the new-found gothic tendencies and Messianic explorations of the twin tenets of faith and devotion make sense because there’s a brooding economy at work – DM never go too far. And even if the appropriation of Teutonic elements and the heartfelt humanistic socialism of ‘Construction Time Again’ remains their towering peak, both ‘Violator’ and the electronic proto-gospel of ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ (that provide the bedrock for tonight’s communal celebration) prove they could still surpass that watershed.
Appearing to be blasphemous whilst fulfilling the functions of a rock’n’roll cartoon is a good ruse. And Depeche Mode inspire so much love purely because they use the voice of Everyman – like a less cryptic REM – to detail hurts, loves, hates, scenarios and aspirations that cut across barriers so everyone can understand. Idealism, not cynicism, rules them, even if they cannot fail to have been slightly tainted by the remorseless big-music machine. These days, Martin Gore has outgrown leather skirts and the mantle of ‘bad boy’ has fallen on Dave Gahan, who has metamorphosed into a long-haired Californian biker.
Like the Keith Carradine character in Trouble In Mind who comes back home with a quiff and kiss-curl after going AWOL and isn’t initially recognised by his wife, Dave Gahan wants the bigger outside world as opposed to former insularity. He performs with the relish of new-found freedom, pirouettes, has a meaningful relationship with his mic stand and emotes in his ‘older’ voice. Martin Gore sings and plays guitar on some showcase numbers with his ‘choirboy’ voice when he’s not on a podium with Alan Wilder, Andy Fletcher and a bank of keyboards. There’s also a guest string section for one song and real drums for the rocking Los Angeles groove of ‘I Feel You’.
Do Depeche Mode break sweat? What does it matter – the feeling is there and shared like euphoria, and even some sceptics are moved to obeying Gahan’s onstage exhortations.
When ‘World In My Eyes’ mixes the personal with the trans-global; when ‘Personal Jesus’ critiques the Basildon Boys’ position; when ‘Enjoy The Silence’ crystallises melancholy New Order; when you’re ‘Stripped’ down to your bone you know that Depeche Mode give great stadium. Period."
New Musical Express, 7th August, 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photos by Stefan de Batselier. Reproduced without permission.
A Taste Of Rock-Beast Behaviour
A La Mode
"The National Sports Centre in Crystal Palace is an outdoor music venue that is under-used. Not just because the crowd gets to touch (well, through a plastic sheet) the hallowed gravel where Donna Hartley and David Coleman have trod; it’s also the approach routes. You sweep up and down grassy slopes and modernist walkways and the stadium squats in the valley beneath like a huge beetle preparing to scuttle off. Depeche Mode, the new-town dream made flesh, can only flourish here.
The purity of the Basildon quartet’s aesthetic is not quite what it was. Fortunately, the sombre clarity of their sound is not compromised by the intervention of guitars, real drums, and even a string section. Only Dave Gahan’s formula rock-beast behaviour detracts from the tinny grandeur. Depeche Mode have rocked up the tone a lot, but Gahan’s mid-Atlantic yowl does not convince, and there is something incongruous about a man shouting "Yeah! All right! Let’s see those muthafuggin’ hands!" while standing in front of a pile of synthesisers.
The crowd, uniformly attired in newly purchased T-shirts, do not think so, and clap and sing along with plenty of commitment. The celebratory atmosphere might seem to be out of tune with the miserabilist tendencies of latter-day Mode, but there certainly is pleasure to be had from the skill with which this show has been designed. The tools of the group’s trade perch starkly atop square video walls while the nattily self-conscious video imagery of Anton Corbijn flickers beneath. Their old simpler virtues remain even as newer songs reach out for big themes with varying success. The debaucher’s apologia of "Walking In My Shoes" might be unintentionally comic – "the Lord himself would blush!" – but there’s no denying it has a nice tune.
They don’t do quite enough hits – a gothed-up "New Life" would have been fun – but under the moonlight a new suppleness and strength emerges in much of the more recent material. Depeche Mode’s attempts to grow up in public have made them an easy target for ridicule, but at least (unlike, say, the Cure), they have made the effort. Sometimes they try too hard. There is an ugly flash of misogyny in "Stripped", but for a band whose main songwriting talent left more than a decade ago, they are not doing too badly."
The Independent, 8th August, 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
Basildon Boys Show New Life
""Whoa, we’re home!" hollers Depeche Mode’s singer, Dave Gahan, his accent midway between the band’s home town of Basildon and his adopted city of Los Angeles. Dressed in a silver lame jacket and skin-tight black jeans, his hair grown to shoulder-length and minus the bleached highlights of his youth, Gahan is the local boy who returns from a long trip changed beyond all recognition. He left as a teen pop singer, and returns as a grungy, tattooed rock god.
The band’s other three members – Andrew Fletcher, Alan Wilder and songwriter Martin Gore – have been less affected by international superstardom, maintaining their melancholic demeanour; and the stage set at last Saturday’s Crystal Palace show makes fun of this divide.
The first song is played behind huge grey curtains, which drop to reveal a two-tiered stage; Gahan prowling theatrically below, while the others stand still and flick switches on their synthesisers, separated from the singer by a 30-foot bank of video screens.
Tongue-in-cheek it may be, but the divide is a neat expression of Depeche Mode’s contradictions. Back in the early Eighties, they were one of many pretty-boy synth groups; which seemed destined for obscurity when songwriter Vince Clarke left to form Yazoo. Clarke is still churning out Top 10 hits with Erasure, but his shoes have been filled by Martin Gore, whose ludicrous hairstyle concealed a songwriting brain.
Depeche Mode developed slowly, moving through simplistic politics ("People Are People"), metal-beating and S&M ("Master And Servant"), and Gothic obsessions with darkness ("Black Celebration", "Leave In Silence"), to their current fascination with sin and religion. The watershed album was 1990’s Violator, which confirmed them as bona fide world stars (in Europe and America, their popularity is on a par with U2), and introduced a rockier element.
The current album, Songs Of Faith And Devotion, is both pompous and impressive, bolstering the band’s electronic sound-base with live drums, electric guitar, gospel singers and even a string quartet; all of which, surprisingly, translates effortlessly to live performance.
Visually and musically, the dynamics of the show are carefully controlled, introducing new elements (backing singers, arty video images, a full-scale mobile light-show) gradually. It is very much in the style of Talking Heads’ famous Stop Making Sense shows.
Indeed, the only incongruity is Gahan himself, twirling his microphone stand and thrusting his pelvis in a display of rapaciousness which makes sense on guitar-toting, sexual rockers like "I Feel You" and "Personal Jesus", but seems bizarre on the confessional "Halo" or the coolly sublime "Enjoy The Silence". The latter, ironically, is marred by Gahan bellowing "Make some noise!" at a crowd already singing along.
The fans are a homogenous bunch: male and female in equal numbers, but almost all in their early twenties and clothed in black; a fact only partly explained by the support band Sisters Of Mercy, Goths in extremis. Depeche Mode are a supremely depressing group, albeit one fronted by an old-fashioned rock egomaniac.
Gahan has a strong voice, but it is at times rather cold and monotonous, and one of the night’s high points occurs on "One Caress", when Martin Gore takes over on vocals. He is accompanied by a string quartet who seem genuinely excited to be there, waving at the audience. Gore’s voice is endearingly vulnerable, and transfixes a stadium full of hyped-up kids into a reverential silence.
Although the set is culled mostly from their last two albums, the band’s dual nature is clear. Their English electro-pop roots are obvious in "Policy Of Truth" and "World In My Eyes", but some of the new songs seem based on a different musical heritage. "Condemnation" sounds like a slave song, all gospel backing vocals and bluesy piano, while "Judas" is almost hymnal.
This new-found soulfulness and eclecticism has its down-side: the dance beats are increasingly non-existent or buried under a mass of instrumentalisation, and Gahan’s posturing is often wildly inappropriate. But ultimately it is the show’s salvation, injecting some fun and hope into the prevailing gloom."
The Observer, 8th August, 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
CONDEMNATION - released September 13, 1993
No reviews currently available
'New' Depeche Mode lacks old exhilaration
Capital Center, Washington - September 12, 1993
The Devotional Tour - Canada, USA and Mexico leg
"As the last full year of media hype has reminded us, the "new" Depeche Mode is as warm and fuzzy as an A.A. Milne character. Quite a feat, when you consider the Mode made their reputation on icebergs of Arctic-cold synthesizers.
So, in spite of the user-friendly nature of the band's latest album, "Songs of Faith and Devotion," I approached the US Air Arena (formerly the Capital Centre) with more than just a hint of skepticism.
Could these pioneers of keyboard squawks and honks successfully transfer their electronic vision to a low-tech environment? The answer is a resoundingly ambiguous kind of.
A venue the size of Merriweather would have been a far more suitable locale for the Mode's synthetic bombast. The cavernous arena echoed the relentless thumping for nearly the entire 100-minute set.
And even though the pace eased as songwriter Martin Gore strummed a guitar through "Walking in My Shoes," I would have given anything for a cut of the Tylenol concession.
As is their wont, Depeche Mode didn't make it any easier for the large audience, concentrating mostly on material from their two most recent albums. Sprinkling favorites from their earlier efforts throughout the set, rather than piling them up at the beginning, would have gone a long way in cutting the computerized chill.
Still, after opening act Matt Johnson and his band The The (yeah, that's what they're called) tore the house down with their blues-based alternative set, the Mode show got under way in dramatic fashion. From pitch blackness came a whirlwind of thunder and lightning effects, and the quartet was silhouetted - against huge curtains that masked the front of the stage.
Lead vocalist David Gahan was in fine form; versatile enough to move convincingly from slow dirges like "Condemnation" to neo-pop exploratories such as "World in My Eyes."
Brilliant versions of "Policy of Truth" and "Masters and Servants" [sic] wiped the floor with the more recent material, and as the driving keyboard riff of the latter tune hung like fog, I rediscovered the intoxicating nature that brought synth-pop its heyday.
That's not to say I welcome the mid-'80s style back with open arms. Instead, I questioned whether or not a "new" Depeche Mode was even necessary.
The band's storied past definitely deserves wider recognition in their live set. For those who were around in the Mode's glory days, we can't help being sorry to witness the digression from pioneers to simply being one of the crowd.
The old Depeche Mode expanded pop fans' taste. The new Depeche Mode, I'm sad to say, is expanding their pop fan base."
J. Doug Gill
Baltimore Sun, 13th September, 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
Depeche Mode's Sound Of Obsession and Risk
Meadowlands, East Rutherford, N.J. - September 21, 1993
The Devotional Tour - Canada, USA and Mexico leg
"Without its sound, Depeche Mode's show on Tuesday night at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., could have been a typical party-style concert. The audience was on its feet, often dancing; the English band's lead singer, David Gahan, was twitching his hips like Mick Jagger, shaking his shoulder-length hair like Bono of U2, whirling his microphone stand and throwing his hands in the air to cue shouts and sing-alongs. The crowd squealed when Mr. Gahan tossed off his jacket and, later, his shirt.
But the rock-star preening made an odd match with the songs. Martin Gore, Depeche Mode's songwriter, specializes in dark introspection and minor keys; Alan Wilder, who arranges the songs, fills them with foreboding, reverberant sounds that turn declarations of love into something unsettling. For Depeche Mode, love is no idyll; its transcendence comes with a fearful, annihilating obsession. The concert opened with "Higher Love" - with Mr. Gahan intoning, "I surrender heart and soul" - and concluded, before encores, with "In Your Room," in which the singer promised to be "your favorite slave." Behind him, video screens showed shadowy embraces by nearly nude figures wearing leather cuffs.
Mr. Gore's songs are steeped in pop tradition; at times, they hint at Motown (the pumping bass line in "Policy of Truth") or Phil Spector (the reverberations and castanet-like percussion in "A Question of Lust"), though they also have undercurrents of the latest electronic dance rhythms. Yet the songs have a penitential tone. They are hymns to guilty consciences and death-defying risks; they promise not release but the consolation of shared confessions. In "Personal Jesus," one of the encores, the singer offers to be "someone to hear your prayers/someone who's there."
For most of the 1980's, Depeche Mode in concert was a purely electronic band, performing its music with synthesizers and prerecorded tapes. Most of its new show is the same; Mr. Gore, Mr. Wilder and Andrew Fletcher stand at keyboards on a high platform, gazing down as Mr. Gahan works the crowd.
But the major surprise occurs about halfway through the show. Mr. Gore descends from above with an electric guitar; Mr. Wilder sits down to pound out a beat on a drum kit, and Mr. Gahan sings "I Feel You," a single from Depeche Mode's current album, "Songs of Faith and Devotion". The video screens show close-ups, prerecorded but in synch with the music, of the musicians with their instruments, emphasizing that Depeche Mode has moved from the electronic to the physical.
Depeche Mode is still trying to balance its introspection with the demands of public performances; this time around, Mr. Gahan's sex-symbol act seemed less hokey than it has on previous tours. But when Mr. Gore stepped down to sing two songs on his own, he just stood with a microphone and sang with a minimum of posing, and the songs became as haunted as they are on Depeche Mode's albums.
Depeche Mode is to perform tonight and tomorrow at Madison Square Garden, and on Saturday at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale."
NY Times, 23rd September, 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
THE LIFE AND LOVES OF DEPECHE MODE
by Michael Fuchs-Gambock
i-D, October 1993
Depeche Mode are both loved and hated, usually to extremes. They are one of Britain’s biggest pop exports, but the dedication of their fans is often matched by damnation from the press. We talked to songwriter Martin Gore about life, love, music, and why he wants the band to keep taking chances. Interview by Michael Fuchs-Gambock. Photography by Anton Corbijn.
Dave Gahan is less than a centimetre tall. There are about 15,000 people standing between me and him, and as he launches into the chorus of I Feel You, I decide to find out if I can get close enough to see what he actually looks like in the flesh these days. After heaving through a hundred yards of black-clad shoulders, dodging the wayward flames of raised cigarette lighters, Gahan has increased in size. He’s now nearly an inch tall.
As pop stars get bigger, they tend to get smaller. Further away, that is. If this is true, judging by the indications on this mild Saturday night in Crystal Palace’s football stadium, Depeche Mode are a very large phenomenon indeed. Some 35,000 people, or ‘Devotees’ as the band’s latest T-shirts would have it, have gathered in the twilight for the first UK appearance of the Songs Of Faith And Devotion tour.
Depeche Mode have become a pop paradox: a band whose lyrics concentrate on the introverted individual, on anomie and alienation, but who attract a community of fans who mouth every memorised word in chorus.
Gahan’s bellowed exhortations of "come on!" and "make some fucking noise!" also disrupt the introspective trance that the music creates, while Gahan himself offers the incongruous spectacle of a macho-camp Rock God in leather trousers, tattoos and tresses fronting intense songs about pain and isolation.
It all comes together for the final encore. Gahan, the high priest, allows his fans to sing the last few choruses of Everything Counts acapella, ending the show in an expression of communal celebration: from alienation to togetherness.
This is all good stuff. Depeche Mode are, undoubtedly, part of a modern tradition of Great British Pop. Like other superlative white electronic pop groups – the Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Human League, The Beloved – they have never let their intellectual baggage or pretensions to artiness get in the way of a good tune or a catchy chorus. Like most of these bands, their lyrics exude a painful naivete that’s almost embarrassing in its untutored frankness. This is what has turned a lot of rock press writers off and resulted in the acres of bad reviews they’ve had in the UK over the past 13 years. But it’s this same English gawkiness that appeals to their fans: they find it endearing, they relate to it, as if the lyrics were about their lives.
And this is where Depeche win again. As with New Order, the vagueness of their songs means you can project your own personality into them, replay your feelings and fears over their soundtrack. Their lyrics are a mirror which reflects anything you want to put in front of it. Never Let Me Down, for example, with phrases like "I’m taking a ride with my best friend" and "we’re flying high, watching the world pass us by… never want to come down", could be about taking hallucinogenic drugs. It could be about sub-dom sex. It could, however, just be about a drive in the country with a mate. It’s up to you what you want to think, and Depeche, of course, aren’t saying; they know that being too specific ruins the mystery that’s at the heart of great pop music.
Depeche Mode’s is a career mapped out in a set of beautiful pop ‘moments’ – New Life, Just Can’t Get Enough, Everything Counts, Stripped; each one a soundtrack to a memory, a snapshot of youth past. Up until 1987’s Music For The Masses, it was the singles that counted. The albums were often patchy affairs, rich in ideas and concepts, though cemented with filler. If the story of Depeche Mode is one of suburban lads growing up, it’s also the story of a singles band becoming an albums band: in commercial terms, considering albums are where the real money is, it’s a story of success. (Since their first single, Dreaming Of Me, in 1981, their fame has spread outwards through Europe and the Americas. The last album, Violator, sold over six million copies globally.)
Music For The Masses was a superb record, the one on which the sweeping orchestral arrangements that they have been developing finally gelled. Pure and electronic, the whole thing moved along like a giant, menacing juggernaut of perfectly integrated noise. Any sweetness and light had evaporated, to be replaced by this awesome, brooding thing. 1990’s Violator, their darkest hour, went further, splicing ambient interludes in between the ambiguously threatening songs (it should be noted here that Depeche Mode’s Alan Wilder has recorded two excellent albums under the name Recoil – the first in 1988, years before the current ambient boom). Personal Jesus, the anthemic rock-out hit, marked the start of Depeche’s affair with the guitar riff, one which would continue on this year’s Songs Of Faith And Devotion. Faith And Devotion is perhaps their most daring record: the final step in the three-album journey from uncertainty through darkness to redemption. This time, as well as almost becoming a Rock Band, the group have employed a gospel choir, string section and Irish uillean bagpipes to further deepen their sonic textures.
"I think we started off very closed-minded, we had tunnel vision like most rock musicians have – they think that rock is the only way," admits Martin Gore. "We believed that rock music had stagnated, and computers and electronics were the way forward for music. And gradually we’ve realised that we shouldn’t be as closed-minded as the rock musicians who don’t consider electronic music. We’re more open now, not limiting ourselves through our instrumentation."
Songs like Condemnation and Walking In My Shoes are both melancholy and messianic, truly epic in their proportions. Gahan acts as both sinner and confessor, interpreting Gore’s lyrics with total belief, as if he’d lived them. The album also demonstrates how his voice has matured from the androgynous teenage wisp of the early ’80s to a full-bodied masculine groan.
But the step forward wasn’t taken without trepidation. Even Gore wasn’t sure about using the gospel choir at first. It was their producer, Flood, who also works with U2, who convinced him. "I was very cagey about it – we’ve been going for 13 years now and we’ve never used another musician on any of our records. I always had this theory that if you do it yourselves, it doesn’t matter if you do it badly, you do it more passionately than bringing in outside musicians, because they just come in, they get paid for the day and they do their job, but at the end of the day there’ll be more passion in it if you do it yourself.
"We got the choir in and I was just sitting at the back thinking ‘this isn’t going to work, I don’t know why we’re trying this’, I was really nervous about the whole thing. But the moment they started singing, for me, it lifted the track onto another level, it was just up there somewhere, and so then I decided I shouldn’t be so closed-minded about the whole thing."
Depeche Mode have been clever about their career. They’ve constantly strived to avoid descending into self-parody. "With every album we push ourselves to do things differently," insists Gore. Examples abound: the adoption of industrial noise in 1983 on Construction Time Again, when, influenced by contemporary and industrial metal-bashing groups like Einsturzende Neubauten, Test Department and SPK, they went around the streets tape-recording building site noises for use as samples. The flirtation with edge sexuality and tainted religion which started on 1984’s Some Great Reward. The recent embracing of rock guitars (perhaps prompted by harder labelmates Nitzer Ebb and the screaming tekno-metal of Ministry?).
The image overhauls and costume changes are part of it too, though the band would rather play those down. "I really think that too much emphasis is put on image and I don’t like that," says Gore. "We wear a lot of black because we feel comfortable wearing black." But certainly, they are now taking more control over how they are seen. They are only photographed by one man, Dutch auteur Anton Corbijn (who – again – also works for U2). He directs their videos and art-directs their record sleeves, too. It’s as if they were so pissed off at being portrayed as fools in leather skirts by the music press, they decided to grab back their image and recreate it for themselves.
"In 1981, when Speak And Spell, our first album, came out, we were 18 years old; we were young, we were naïve, we didn’t have a clue! From one day to the next, we were being thrust on TV, we were being put into the press, and at that time we thought we should do every interview that came along, and we didn’t particularly care about our image; we were just kids, y’know?" Gore confirms. "It took us a long time to get to grips with what was actually happening, how to take control of our image and the things that we put out to the world."
In Germany, the music press has just woken up to the fact that Depeche haven’t been a teen-pop sensation for a very long time, and are suddenly treating Dave Gahan as if he was Keith Richards or some other raddled rock roué: "They’re writing these stories at the moment that Dave has AIDS or he’s dying or he’s on heavy drugs, and it’s so funny because it doesn’t actually do us any harm, it sells more records," Gore laughs. "Anyone reading it must think ‘that sounds really interesting, I’ve got to go and buy that’!"
Perhaps it’s not surprising that unlikely stories abound. Depeche have developed some sort of bunker mentality – it’s them against the world (or rather, the media). In interviews they have tended to close themselves off, keep their guards up, be vague about specifics and hesitant to commit to anything, mainly because they hate the idea of their lives being scrutinised. Naturally, cynical pundits have asked whether they’ve got something to hide. Unsubstantiated tales of on-the-road excess have been compounded by Gahan’s confessions about his alcohol and relationship problems. The interview situation is never one they’ve felt comfortable with, as Gahan admitted to the Melody Maker a couple of years back. Even here, ensconced in the cosy confines of a London hotel, Martin Gore is holding a lot back. Chatty, cheery, but impeccably circumspect.
One thing he is direct about is that Depeche Mode are in no way the ‘godfathers of techno’. This story has long since passed into the realm of media cliché. True, their supple, undulating rhythms came direct from Kraftwerk and were blueprinted during Britain’s last genuine groundswell of technologically-led music in the early ’80s. Certainly, remixes by American maestros like Francois Kevorkian and Shep Pettibone have (in the States at least) gained them an audience in dance clubs. But despite their stated love of "any club which serves alcohol" and sightings of Martin Gore at London’s industrial-techno mecca, Hardclub, Depeche Mode do not belong to dance music in the way that, say, The Beloved do. Their roots and intentions are elsewhere.
"The dance aspect is not that important," says Gore. "Half of every album is slow, atmospheric ballads. We’ve been labelled a dance band throughout our whole career, and I find that very funny, because I would like to see somebody dance to half our records – you can’t do it!" he laughs. "I like to dance and I like dance music; we always try to use interesting people to do remixes of singles, but to me it’s not the most important thing." As if by way of illustration, the remixes of the first single of 1993, I Feel You, were completed by Brian Eno. His ambient textures and weather-static noises accentuate the brooding emotion in what is perhaps the most successful remodelling of a pop song this year.
Songs Of Faith And Devotion was three years coming. After finishing the Violator tour, the band took a year off. Gahan got divorced and remarried, moved to Los Angeles, and started listening to Neil Young, Jane’s Addiction and Soundgarden. Wilder produced another Recoil solo album, Bloodline, using the vocals of Moby and Curve’s Toni Halliday amongst others. Gore chilled out. "I had a daughter in that year off, and that had a really positive effect on me. The new album has a very uplifting feel to it and I’m sure that is due to my daughter. You see a life being born and growing, it’s just wonderful, it moves you."
He also indulged himself in his record collection. "I’m not passionate about anything other than music. I bore my friends to death with music! I often invite friends to come and stay with me, and I get drunk and I play them every one of my favourite records. At the end of the night, everybody is crawling to bed, and I’m still left saying, ‘But you have to listen to this one!’"
Did those boozy hi-fi sessions show up in Songs Of Faith And Devotion? "We don’t analyse things a lot; I think that’s the best way. People who analyse a lot come to conclusions before they make the first step, and that’s wrong. You should do things more naturally. Things that we listen to just come out in our music subtly. Personal Jesus, when we recorded that, it wasn’t until we finished it I realised the obvious influences that were there. I’ve always liked glam rock, and there were obvious connotations of glam rock in there. But also I really like blues music, and I realised after we’d finished it that the main riff was pure John Lee Hooker.
"Over the last few years, I’ve listened to a lot of gospel music, but it wasn’t a conscious decision to ‘go more gospel’ on this album, it’s just something that came out naturally because it’s what I listen to. Blues and gospel are probably my two main influences, but also thrown in the bag is glam rock, dance music… I like virtually every sort of music, everything except jazz. I don’t like jazz, I’ve tried, but I don’t get it!"
It turns out that the genesis of Depeche Mode is in this thirst for musical discovery, the quest for tunes. "When I was ten or 11, I discovered my mother’s old rock’n’roll singles in the cupboard, stuff like Elvis, Chuck Berry, Del Shannon, and I played those records over and over again, and I realised then that that was the only thing I was really interested in, and it went on from there," Gore recalls. "We formed a band as a hobby. If we hadn’t become successful, I’m sure I’d just be doing a job somewhere but playing a gig somewhere every Saturday night because that’s what I believe in."
The exact opposite of Andrew Fletcher, the non-musician who appears on stage but plays nothing, acting as the band’s business ‘sorter’. "Andy should have been a sportsman. He’s so funny. He pulls the rest of us back down to earth, because he comes in as a layman, he knows nothing!" Gore laughs raucously. "I think the last record he bought was Mr Blue Sky by ELO! If the rest of us get carried away, if we’re all sitting around the computer or something going ‘oh that’s really great’, he’ll come in and go ‘that’s terrible, I don’t get that’! He’s no worse at music than your average fan, so if he doesn’t get it, no-one’s going to get it."
Dave Gahan has said that Songs Of Faith And Devotion is all about trying to take people to a higher level, above the depression and detritus of contemporary society. Do you agree?
"The world is always in a sorry state. I don’t think you can change that through music, but you can lift people and you can make people think. A lot of people find our music depressing and moody, but they’ve missed the point. Our music always offers something uplifting. I am a positive person and I hate negative music. What is the point of negative music?
"Our music is not happy music, our music is realistic. The realism is that it’s not going to be happy all the time, it’s going to be depressing, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel."
Does this yearning for the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ explain your interest in religious imagery, which has become more marked as the albums go by?
"I have a fascination with religion, but I’ve never found a religion to follow. I really like the idea of belief. I want to believe. But I’ve never found something to believe in. Maybe it’s very naïve, but the only religion for me is love. I believe in love. So that’s why the songs touch on love, sex and religion; for me they’re the same thing."
How does this translate into lyrics?
"I don’t have a solution, I’m still searching. My confusion is put out in the music. As I say, the only answers I have are love and sex. I don’t sit down and write a song and say ‘this is the message I want to give to the people’. I don’t even know why I write songs, I don’t know what I want to say, but I do want to move people."
The songs you write veer wildly between optimism and pessimism. One minute you are offering doom, the next minute hope.
"On the new album, I say ‘I will have faith in man’. Because if you don’t have faith in man, give up. But at the same time, I realise man has an inherent evilness, and things like the Third Reich and the Nazis fascinate me because they make you realise how evil man can be. Especially the average man – he can be so evil. But you have to believe that he will come through.
"Two or three years ago when the Wall came down and there was an end to communism, it looked like the world was suddenly going to be a happy place. It looked like we were all getting on. But then you get Yugoslavia… it will always happen; man is inherently evil, but you have to have faith in him.
"I actually think that the world never changes. If you think that everything’s going well, it’s not; in part of the world things will be going bad. In a way, it’s like music. Sometimes I look at the charts and I think the charts have just gone downhill so much, they are so crap, what is happening? And Andy, the layman, once said to me, ‘Well, when was music really good, then?’ And I said, ‘When I was growing up, 1972, 1973 – Gary Glitter, The Sweet, that was an excellent time.’ But then we got the chart for 1972 and we looked back – and it was crap then! It was crap then, it’s crap now – the world doesn’t change!"
But Depeche Mode have changed a lot. Developed. Achieved. Matured. But it would be wrong to say that, after 13 years, they have ‘grown up’. They are still growing.
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