Depeche Mode Press File

1995-1998:Part Two

Photo by Anton Corbijn. Reproduced without permission



Author unknown
Future Music, April 1997

One member left, one suffered a nervous breakdown, another even died for a couple of minutes. But Depeche Mode are back with a harder sound, a top five single and an album that no-one thought they’d ever make…

Drugs, sex, religion, Mart, leather, America, synths, Basildon, Vince, pop, dress, nudity, tours, speedball, God, servant, knees, tattoo, death, industry, metal, stadia, Fletch, master, grainy videos, Alan, haircuts, love, black, strange, Gahan, Just Can’t Get, enough…

Think Depeche Mode and it’s almost guaranteed that a selection of these words will pass through your mind. The recent progress of the band, or lack of it, has been well documented by the national press – not for their music, but for the near death of the lead singer Dave Gahan, the nervous breakdown of keyboardist Andy Fletcher and departure of sound-shaper Alan Wilder. But the story of Depeche Mode is much more than a battle with drugs and rock’n’roll excess…

There’s the fact that they’ve been making successful music for nearly 20 years and have had over 20 hit singles and around 10 hit albums. And in the process of doing this, there’s also the fact that they have had to move with the musical times with the technology available. From the happy realms of monosynth pop, through the dramatic backdrop of polyphony and sampling, to the grungeland of guitar tech rock, Depeche Mode has exceeded everyone’s expectations.

So, setting the drugs aside for a while, sit back and enjoy a relatively normal interview with a band that rarely talks technology, as we retrace their unique story from the perspective of music technology…

Have you found it difficult to settle down in the studio again after such a long time away?

Dave: Yes, but we have done our best work in the last few months. It gets more and more difficult because when you know each other so well, little things become really big things. There is a lot of outside things… everyone’s got families and they’ve got other interests outside of the band so less and less time really gets spent on making music together. I think when things go well it’s really good, but there’s a lot of sitting around and waiting. The roles are very defined: Martin writes the songs and I sing them. We have Tim Simenon working with us on this record and a number of other people playing music, programming and stuff like that. Tim is playing a really big role in it. I wouldn’t say that he replaced Alan because it’s [a] completely different thing, but he fulfils that role. I think Martin is working a little bit harder in pushing himself further and working in the studio because there’s nobody else to do it…

Martin: This record has been really easy for us to make. There is such a easy-going atmosphere in the studio, and the team we are working with are all such nice people. So compared to the pressure of making the last few albums, this is totally enjoyable. I knew Tim before and we actually met quite a lot over the years, but I’ve never spent a lot of time with him, and he’s such a lovely person. It feels like I have discovered a new soul brother. When you have to be in a studio with four or five different people all the time, it always helps if you have that bond with them…

Fletch: It’s been quite easy because Martin has been writing very good songs and, at the end of the day, if you’re working on good songs, it’s much easier. We’ve settled in with a very good team of people, so that’s helped things as well… the atmosphere has been very good.

What was your initial reaction after first listening to Martin’s demos?

D: I really wanted to record them, I really wanted to do the songs. A lot of the lyrical content, the feeling and the melodies really fitted with the way that I was feeling and the stuff I was personally going through. It seemed like it would be a really good thing for me to do at that time, because it was a way of me kind of working through my own personal problems. In retrospect, I wasn’t ready and it was more important for me to take heroin than being in the band, but I think that in the last few months I feel like I’ve done some of my best work. I’ve thrown myself into it, I’ve been working with a vocal coach, Evelyn, and we were also working with her in Los Angeles. We recorded vocals for some of the songs in L.A. . It’s a long process and I’m trying to put all my energy into doing that…

F: There are different demos, it’s not just one. We’ve given him three or four writing periods, so it’s not as if we listened to all the songs in one go. And he’s been playing me songs all the time. We are very happy, because the standard is very good.

Why did you choose Tim Simenon to work with?

M: We all really liked the last Bomb The Bass album and I particularly liked the Gavin Friday album that came out just a couple of months before we started working with Tim. Tim does have a trivia of dance music and he can make 69bpm quite easy and this is quite important to us because we are in such a slow territory. In the past, we had gone much faster than 100bpm, but when I try writing anything faster than that, it always sounds silly to me… it just loses the atmosphere. For me, this record is all about atmosphere.

F: Tim’s name has come up in the past; he’s done remixes for us that we liked. The thing that made us eager to work with him was the team of people that surround him: Dave Clayton, who’s a really good musician. Perhaps with losing Alan we needed someone expert in the field. Q is a really good engineer, very quiet, and with our programmer, Kerry, it’s a good team. It was not as if we were just taking Tim on… it was a whole team of people.

What is, in your opinion, the main difference in work approach between Tim Simenon and Flood?

D: The difference is that Tim has got kind of a little team. We have a programmer, a keyboard player and he uses the same engineer all the time. Flood pretty much works on his own in a very different way. I think Martin really enjoys working with Tim because Tim likes to work in the same sort of process as Martin, so they get on really well. I think Flood’s way was to try a lot more stuff musically and, digging deeper, that sort of going with the same format of just programming everything, every song.

M: One of the main differences is that there is a lot less performance, but that’s also probably dictated by the songs more. There’s a lot less guitar on this record than on the last one, and probably less than on Violator as well. Tim also has a strange set-up and he works with the same team. With Flood, it was just Flood there throwing ideas at us and saying, "We have to try this, get on with this and see if this works," and suggesting things and trying them out. Now there are sometimes two or three different things going on at once… Me and Tim might talk to Dave Clayton, the keyboard player, and say, maybe we should try this on this song and he’d put the headphones on and go out and work for a few hours, while I might be back in the studio trying out something else on a different song. And sometimes, like in New York, we had a set-up that would even enable me to return to writing. They call it parallel working (laughs).

F: I don’t think there is much difference really. Producing is getting on with people, and getting the best out of them. Flood comes from an engineering background, while Tim comes from more of a musician’s background, because he has a group, but generally their approach is still the same. Because all the people in the band are different personalities, you need to have someone to make sure that all the personalities are working together and trying to get the best out of each other.

Did Alan Wilder’s departure affect roles and responsibilities within the band in any way?

M: Alan was almost a control freak and I think that he still is. He tended to really focus on the production and it’s something that didn’t particularly interest me. Obviously, I cared about what was going on and what the end result was like… if I liked what he was doing, then I would let him get on with it, until it came to a point when I really didn’t like something, then I would say I don’t think that would work, maybe try something else. It is sort of something like background producer. Now, I definitely have to be slightly more involved than that. Quite a lot of the time, it’s just me, Tim and the team.

F: I think that Alan was trying to gain control of everything towards the end of the project, and because I wasn’t very well, he was doing that. He was able to take control, and I think I deal with things a bit differently. I don’t think the roles have changed at all… we just replaced Alan with a team of people.

What is the main difference between recording the album in a rented villa in Madrid, as on the last album, and the various studios this time around?

D: In theory, it was a really good idea, but we found that our personalities clashed incredibly when living together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I didn’t mind it so much, but Alan detested it and Fletch had a hard time. I think Fletch has a hard time being anywhere but home, in his home environment, with his things, his friends, his family, his restaurant [Gascogne, London NW8, don’t you know – Ed]. That’s where Fletch is comfortable. I haven’t really had a home base for a long while, so I don’t mind so much, but it’s something that I’m really striving to achieve over the next couple of years.

M: We’ve done a lot of the recording in a very small studio called Eastcote. I think it helped in some ways to create this easy-going atmosphere, because we haven’t gone to the top studios all the time. It’s been very low-key and it’s been something that’s helped us to set a tone for the record. But obviously when it comes to mixing and vocals, we have had to go to bigger studios, so we have done some of it at Sarm West, some of it here at Rak Studios and some at Electric Lady, in New York.

In theory, we loved the idea of renting a villa in Madrid and setting up our own studio. But in practice, it was an absolute disaster. We all hated it there, because it wasn’t really in the centre of Madrid. It was about 30-40 minutes outside. So every time we wanted to go out, we had to get cabs into town. The clubs there are open till really late and you come out really drunk and you’ve got to take a 30-40 minute cab ride home, and the cab drivers never wanted to take us that far. Also living on top of each other became difficult. We never had space from each other, but I think we learned a lesson: it’s far better for us to be living in totally different places and meeting up whenever we have to.

Have you used any new equipment or new ways of recording?

M: We have never worked with a programmer before, we’ve always done it ourselves. I really enjoy having a programmer there, because even though Alan did a lot of it on the last record, you still felt really involved, whereas now it’s much easier to just step back and listen to what’s happening. It’s also a lot quicker working with somebody who knows how to work everything perfectly. He also uses a lot of things off a hard-disk recording which we’ve never used before and which gives you a lot of freedom, so you don’t have to tape everything all the time. We’ve never had outside musicians constantly in the studio with us before. I suppose we had Alan in the past, and Dave Clayton, the musician we are working with now, in a way fulfils Alan’s role, but it’s far easier to manipulate him. If Alan didn’t like something, I am sure he wouldn’t actually play it badly, but if we say to Dave, "Can you try this out for us?" he’ll try it, and he’ll try his hardest to make it work for us. So as I said before, I really enjoy this whole set-up.

Are you planning to have your new songs remixed again by the likes of Brian Eno, William Orbit, Johnny Dollar, Steve Lyon and so on?

M: We’re planning to have a remix, not necessarily by the same people. So far we’ve only sorted one remix and that’s by DJ Shadow. He’s remixing the B-side of the single.

Have you ever considered releasing your own CD-ROM?

D: Yes, we have, and I believe that’s something we’re looking into, but we haven’t actually made any plans yet.

F: It’s enough trouble to make an album, or to make a video, and we don’t do anything without putting 100% into it. We have to concentrate on certain things one at a time. A CD-ROM: we would probably take more time than we have.

Do you find the use of the internet important in respect of what business you are in?

D: I think it’s a great medium: it’s really opened up a lot. I think it’s cool that fans can communicate together on the hot-line. It’s like sending a letter and getting an instant reply.

F: My personal view is that the Internet is a bit exaggerated. The problem with the Internet is that 99% of the stuff that you can get… like the Depeche Mode section… is wrong information. So there is no control and it’s not very accurate and I suppose sooner or later when more controls come in it might be better. But right now I think its usefulness is over-exaggerated.

Do you follow any current music?

M: I have always liked to listen to all kinds of music. I just came back from the record shop and when I analysed what I’ve just bought, none of it is actually current. I got one CD that might have been released during the last three months but the rest of it is really old stuff. It’s not any particular genre of music.

I only listen to slow dance music and anything over about 100bpm is a bit too fast for me, and that’s really slow. The tempo on this album ranges from 69 up to about 100 and that’s my perfect range. But going back to the music I like, I generally like a lot of the trip hop stuff, but it doesn’t generally sum up the certain sort of music.

F: I buy a lot of CDs, but I wouldn’t say I follow trends in current popular music.

What kind of future do you envisage for Depeche Mode?

D: I’m not sure really. I think it’s important to just focus as much as you can on what you’re doing at the moment. It’s impossible for me to predict what is going to happen in the future, it’s not in my hands… thank God (laughs).

F: I feel very optimistic, because the album is going to come, and it’s going to be very good: I am very confident. Long-term-wise, anything can happen, but at the moment we’re getting on well. It’s good fun and we’ve got no pressures. It’s all up to us what we do, for a change. We haven’t got this big schedule, so it’s an optimistic short-term.

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Depeche Mode Live (Sort Of)

Will they or won't they? That's the question on every Depeche Mode fans' pouty lips these days. The answer is yes...and no. The group, whose lead singer, Dave Gahan, fought a very public battle with drugs last year, had killed all tour plans to promote their new record, Ultra, for fear the road to temptation was too well paved for Gahan to handle. But Addicted To Noise got exclusive word yesterday that DM will in fact be playing a select trio of shows in the UK and U.S.

The first show will be an invitation-only private launch party on April 10 in London [at Adrenalin Village] whose guest list will be padded with friends, some fans and radio contest winners. Two similar shows will take place in the U.S. in mid-May in New York and Los Angeles, their first shows on Yankee mainland soil in over four years (their last U.S. appearance was in Hawaii in March 1994).

The three core members of the band (Gahan, Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore) will likely play five or six songs at each event, including several from the new album, with a session drummer filling in for departed member Alan Wilder. A few members of Ultra producer Tim Simenon's production team may also lend some keyboard support for the events. The source swore that these would be the only live performances in support of this album.

Gil Kaufman
Addicted To Noise, 3rd April, 1997

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Note: Depeche Mode played in Los Angeles (at the Shrine Exposition Hall), but they did not play in New York. The concert events were titled Ultra Parties.


Two items reviewing the London 'Ultra' launch party.

Old Grave Of New Dave!

"Something strange has happened in the firmament of pop. And hell, even by pop's pugnacious standards, this occurrence is scalp-scrapingly bizarre. It's Dave Gahan, y'see: there he stands mid-stage, beaming down at the admiring hordes, and he is wearing his standard issue white vest and his arms are covered in their standard issue Los Angeles tattoos and his face is decorated with a touch of eyeliner and a lick of lipstick. And take me to your leader wearing nowt but lacy lederhosen if wavey Davey doesn't look like BRIAN MOLKO'S BLOODY DAD.

Eeeeeeeek! And, indeed shriek away to your heart's content, especially if you are one of the lucky 'few' hundred loitering around the sarf London aircraft hangar otherwise known as Adrenalin Village. For what we have here is an invite-only party to salute the release of La Mode's squillionth album, 'Ultra'. We have photographers lounging around the entrance waiting for a Nick Cave or a Gary Numan or a Neil Tennant to womble past! We have gallons of free booze! And, crucially, we have heard plentiful rumours suggesting that Depeche Mode will choose this very evening to perform live in the UK for the first time in three years.

So everything's fine and dandy, right? Yes indeedy - to a certain extent. Further information leaks reveal that a cool £50,000 has been splashed out on simply staging the show, and that figure enters the realms of the positively frigid when Depeche Mode eventually play five songs. If this is a publicity exercise to tell the world that, hey, Dave's drug problems are way behind him and he's as-fit-as-a-funky-bunny-thanks-very-much, any bozo brain can tell you that performing five tunes is hardly the most taxing of tasks in the known world. Case unresolved. If it's a 'party' for various chums and cheesies, then the appearance of only one old song, 'Never Let Me Down' hardly represents great, uh, music for the masses. And if tonight gives the majority of the audience their first opportunity to hear 'Ultra' in full-on big-bollocked form, then a grand total of four new album tracks scarcely justifies the costs incurred.

And here comes the absolute shocker, Kids Of The Side-Splittingly Cynical Generation: the album is neither 'Ultra'-bright nor 'Ultra'-white. In fact, it's 'Ultra'-dark and 'Ultra'-slightly-doomy-to-be-honest-with-you-guv. Tonight they will play 'Barrel Of A Gun', two songs which, being called 'Useless' and 'It's No Good', suggest a rather less-than-cheery thematic link, and a fourth called 'Home' which goes along the lines of, "Here is a song/From the wrong side of town/Where I'm bound/To the ground/By the loneliest sound". Beep, and indeed, beep!

Considering the recent turmoil in the Mode camp, perhaps it's not surprising to discover that Martin Gore has stuck so determinedly to the now-traditional Depeche black and blueprint.

They aren't fast! They aren't fashionable! Ignoring the lyrics, which can occasionally be more hamfisted than a pig clutching a pork pie (does Gahan reeeaallly rhyme 'houses' with 'trousers' at one stirringly guffaw-tastic point?), La Mode remain as resolutely downbeat as ever.

The pace is lethargic; the synths are spooky; the vocals are half-groaned, half-moaned and generally a bit, you know, deep. The vibe is vampish, Old Grave-ish and bordering on the utterly relieved at having made it back from 'the edge'.

Then Depeche Mode finish their five-song giglet and march off into the sunset or wherever it is rich rock stars go when they've wobbled on the very brink of oblivion and landed the right way up, and we go to laugh at Gary Numan's hair in the VIP party. Just because we can."

Simon Williams
New Musical Express, 26th April, 1997

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

"Better than most, Depeche Mode illustrate the reversal of pop’s glory, from chic to shit, from despair to nowhere. At the heart of their sorry, downward spiral lies the career-threateningly almighty mistake that so often paralyses even the most inspired groups. The curse of credibility.

You can see it happening, right now, in the plight of both Mark Owen and Robbie Williams. Forced out of their natural habitat by a rapacious, moronic media, they both feel the need to "correct" their past identities and to contrive a new, acceptable image. The mistake is twofold: 1) that you, the public, should insist on a false, conservative notion of "credibility" in the first instance, and 2) that Mark and Robbie should look for this by befriending an unsightly bunch of shitpop shovellers and, in the words of a thousand Your Shout writers, "go all indie", a metamorphosis which carries no intrinsic worth at all.

They’ll learn. But it will probably be too late. With Depeche Mode, however, the rot has already set in. To me, they will forever be the electrified thrill, the chief innovators of a new pop, spraying out tunes that buzzed insanely. A major reason to look back in wonder at the years 1981-1985. Over a decade later, they really are no good. As they slither and grovel like rock beasts through tonight’s mini-set, the last nail is spitefully driven in.

This isn’t just some half-baked longing for groups to remain as they were when I was young. It’s just that Dave Gahan has grown up to live all the rock myths that his group, and their cheap, frilly pop used to piss all over. Their, ahem, self-discovery has been represented only in a hideously dark, guttural rock vocabulary and sound, which falls foul to the cliché that confessional and troubled lyricism can only be mirrored by gruesome, twisted music. "Barrel Of A Gun" certainly convinces you that Gahan’s life has been insufferable recently, but it’s impossible to care when that pathos is smothered by polluted slabs of synth-carnage. Electronic music, and especially electro-pop, has yet to fully release itself from the grip of industrial, keyboard-trashing horror. It is this legacy that continues to undermine Depeche Mode; their simplistic assimilation of techno-grunge merely distorts the truth into a crass, black pantomime.

I just can’t take them seriously. Tonight, I just don’t get enough."

Daniel Booth
Melody Maker, 26th April, 1997

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HOME - released June 16, 1997

"MORE maisonette than mansion-sized, this is tidy, moody and not at all offensively pompous. With a bitta jungley feely, naturally. Of course, Dave's deadpan, half passionate vocals [Martin takes the lead vocal on this track - BB] are still choking back a sob like they've nearly , but not quite, forgotten what there is to be upset about, but it also sounds like they've made him stand out in the garden while he does it. So, you know what kind of home we're talking about. Your auntie's.

There's a mix called "The Noodle And The Damage Done." Dave Gahan was in rehab, you know."

Unknown reviewer
Melody Maker, 18th June, 1997

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"MARTIN GORE sings this one (wonder what Dave was doing at the time?) and makes a personable job of it. The menace of self-annihilation is suggested in the words and heartless beats, but then an enormo string arrangement arrives like the Seventh Cavalry and we're all redeemed once more."

Unknown reviewer
New Musical Express, 18th June, 1997

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USELESS - released October 20, 1997

"The fourth single from the chart-topping Ultra album - and the best. It's tense, pensive and torn apart by a filthy bluesy riff."

Unknown reviewer
Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 20th October, 1997

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New singles compilation and possible world tour

Gahan:Going Live?

Depeche Mode are in a London studio recording new tracks with longtime producer Tim Simenon for possible inclusion on a singles compilation, which is due out in October. There is also discussion of a world tour in support of the double album.

Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher are currently looking at doing live dates in Europe and the US.

A new tour would be Depeche Mode's first since 1993's 'Devotional Tour', which almost finished the band and ended with Alan Wilder leaving and Fletcher taking a backseat role in the band.

The singles collection spans the past 12 years and follows 1985's 'The Singles 81-85' compilation. The current studio sessions are the first for Depeche Mode since the release of 'Ultra' last year.

New Musical Express, 28th March, 1998

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ONLY WHEN I LOSE MYSELF - released September 7, 1998

"The Mode preface their latest hits collection and Euro tour with this mournful little ditty, in which Dave Gahan pours his finest opiated Thom Yorke whimper into a cavernous vault of sleaziod trip-hop courtesy of producer Tim Simenon. Less pompous and more vulnerable than much recent Mode fare, it's a low-voltage charmer which grows on repeat hearings. The obligatory big beat and old-skool hip-hop mixes are pretty rank, though."

Unknown reviewer
New Musical Express, 9th September, 1998

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In September 1998 Depeche Mode release their second singles compilation album, titled 'The Singles 86>98', before embarking on the 65-date 'The Singles 86>98' tour.

SINGLES 86>98 (LP) - released September 28, 1998

Basildon Bondage

"Risque, kinky. These are words that only boys brought up in Basildon could find exciting and, sure enough, Depeche Mode's take on perversity and ambivalence was always straight out of Freeman's Eurogoth catalogue.

Cute enough to be Smash Hits stars yet manfully hanging on to their S&M signifiers by the skin of their teeth - a practice they would no doubt intimate was much to their taste, man - they were blessed with mainstream success while remaining a little too recherche for global rock monsterdom. Yet this two-CD collection shows how the grimy alleyways of cult approval opened out into shiny stadium Valhalla, singer Dave Gahan moving from songwriter Martin Gore's personal voyeur to rock star ringleader.

The earliest tracks are still streaked with the dregs of their days as bedsit freaks - the erotic insinuations of 'Stripped', the proudly flashed perversions of 'Strangelove' - yet, you don't sell records in Kansas if you dress like a girl.

By 1990's 'Violator', Depeche Mode had swapped the snakebite-and-superglue gloom of '80s Britain for an altogether more American Gothic. The magnificent Night Of The Hunter leer of 'Personal Jesus', bearing down through the swamp-fog with love-and-hate-tattooed knuckles, is not only the single moment where Gahan sounds authentically seductive, but a perfect combination of their doomy past and swaggering future. 'Policy Of Truth' and 'Enjoy The Silence' swing by on the momentum, yet any band that forces "words are very unnecessary" into a rhyming couplet have you suspecting their stab at brilliance was made with a rusty spoon.

There's a black hole at the centre of these later songs, and it's not the thrilling moral vacuum they'd hope for, either. Compared with the inch-thick scuzz of the industrial crew, the articulate horrors of Nick Cave or Mark Almond's operatic sexuality, Depeche Mode sound like they dial up their redemption and absolution from room service. Gradually infected with the creeping contagion of U2's dilettante smugness - the thin gospel whine of 'Condemnation', the tinfoil-heavy scree of 'I Feel You' - they've earned their rock star dream; the right to make pallid repro music, let the singer half-kill himself with drugs, and still sell out South American stadium hell.

The LP closes with a live version of 'Everything Counts', recorded in Pasadena in 1989. Above a delirious crowd singalong, Gahan is heard whooping, "Let's hear you!" and, "Thank you very much and GOODNIGHT!" like a man born with a spandex soul. All along, lurking behind the dungeon door and the bedsit curtains, Depeche Mode never really enjoyed the silence. All they ever wanted was the applause." (6)

Victoria Segal
New Musical Express, 26th September, 1998

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

Hello Sailors
Some hard drugs, some slinky dresses and some fantastic music.

"When the distinctively fey Just Can't Get Enough brought Depeche Mode to our attention in 1981 nobody could have envisioned the Basildon boys becoming stadium-striding rock warriors by the end of the decade. And certainly no-one would have believed that nice Dave Gahan would be modelling a look Guns N'Roses would have spurned as too rock, while getting involved in all sorts of druggy shenanigans.

Sure enough though, that's what happened, and the lurid tales of debauchery seemed to hold more interest than the development of the music. That's a shame, for as the band's mood blackened, the older and more ridiculous they became, so the music developed hitherto unimaginable depths of darkness. This extra weight means that Depeche Mode's music has become in turn more demanding and ultimately more rewarding over the last 12 years, particularly since 1986 when this compilation picks up from 1985's The Singles '81-'85.

Gahan has turned what has undoubtedly been a journey of deep personal pain and trauma in towards his art. As songs like Walking In My Shoes and It's No Good have honestly chronicled Gahan plumbing the depths of despair, so the writing of Martin Gore has developed to provide a bleak, expansive canvas that's every bit as persuasive as the words it's there to emphasise. [These comments are a bit misleading, suggesting that Dave has had some hand in the composition of the songs - BB]

That sound, so expertly highlighted in these tunes, is built on a deep sense of melancholia which is naggingly addictive. Even when the lyrical mood is more confident, as on Personal Jesus or Home, the music still gives the impression that emotional collapse and impending disaster are just around the corner. And that fragility is what gives this music its power. Those with a bleak world view may find it a bit much, but the sheer oppressiveness is Depeche Mode's chief calling card. Collectors will be pleased to see that 1988's France-only release Little 15 and a live Everything Counts from 1989 are tacked on the end of this double CD. Why the tunes couldn't have been slotted in chronologically like the rest of the songs is a mystery. But it would be churlish to complain too loudly. This is a timely reminder that when it comes to being miserable bastards, Depeche Mode are state of the art." ****

Howard Johnson
Q, October 1998

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Cleaning Up

Hartwall Arena, Helsinki - September 9, 1998
The Singles 86>98 Tour - European leg

Last time they toured it nearly killed them. Now they're dressing in Bacofoil.

LAST summer, a survey was conducted among Finland's twentysomethings to discover more about their loves, lives, and pastimes. The results, subsequently published on the Internet, painted a rather curious picture. Thirty per cent, for example, deemed being born Finnish as the equivalent of winning the lottery and yet twice that figure also admitted to suffering from low self-esteem. And while a third claimed that neighbouring Sweden harboured a greater number of homosexuals, and a majority asserted that they regularly indulged in open-air sex, only a fraction of those quizzed were able to admit that they were capable of honesty. Such statistics, then, suggest that the good people of Finland are actually a bunch of depressive liars who remain patently incapable of deciding quite what they are. On the other hand, all were fiercely proud of the saunas and everybody agreed that the countryside is awfully pretty.

Those that make the pilgrimage to a dull grey corner of the country's capital to see Depeche Mode play live appear united only in their love for a band typified by unrelenting bleakness. In a vast sports arena that normally plays host to marauding ice hockey teams intent on extreme physical contact, these Mode fans come in all shapes and sizes. Those whose sensible attire suggests that days are spent in the confines of air-conditioned offices take the seats that flank the perimeter, while the more ardent followers converging messily on the main floor represent a breed of humanity rarely seen outside Marilyn Manson conventions. All manner of goth is present here, its skin the colour of skimmed milk, eyeliner black as pure evil.

While Dave Gahan may have been mistaken for many things in his time - the new Keith Richards, the king of rock 'n' roll, dead - he is emphatically not the Second Coming. Finland, however, appears oblivious to this. Because when the singer strolls on stage, his tattooed body hidden under a smart, pin-striped suit, his face overrun with a smile a mile wide, the whole audience erupts in absolute rapture and, in pockets, utter frenzy. As if suddenly dealt a lethal electric shock, 10,000 unhappy, untrustworthy Finns remain in a constant state of exquisite hysteria, the like of which no survey has recorded. Afterwards, the band will claim that the crowd proved far more reserved than the 40,000 Russians who mobbed them a week earlier, effectively confirming that admirers of Depeche Mode have no understanding of restraint whatsoever.

For the next four months, Depeche Mode will tour the world in support of their second hits collection, The Singles 86>98. They will carry out this potentially fraught task with the utmost of care, mindful that the last time they attempted similar, the singer became a junkie, the songwriter a physical and emotional wreck, the keyboardist suffered a nervous breakdown and Alan Wilder, their drummer, walked out after much bickering. Hence, drugs will now be conspicuous by their absence, as will any support band that trades under the name Primal Scream. Bedtime will be strictly adhered to, and if Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher continue to partake of drinks with an alcoholic content, then they shall not flaunt such irresponsible behaviour under the nose of a man who is doing his utmost to behave himself and, this time around, stay alive.

TAKE a look at Dave Gahan today, and it's clear that shampoo has saved him from a fate worse than death. Gone are the ugly tresses that remained unwashed, as his then-wife liked it, to be replaced by a recently cropped style redolent of something he took into the shower not 10 minutes previously. Elsewhere, too, he looks spectacularly healthy, unfairly so, in fact, for one who regularly overdosed on heroin and had to be brought back from the brink of demise by some very conscientious paramedics.

"Mentally and physically, I've never felt better," says the man who found salvation in therapy. "I've finally had time to take stock of my life and put everything into perspective. I've got a couple of failed marriages behind me and a pretty hefty addiction. Something had to change. Thing is, I'd gone down a road where there was no quick turnaround. In many ways I'm glad I went through it, because otherwise I wouldn't feel the way I do now. These days, I realise my life is pretty incredible. Just being able to tour again is a gift. And I feel fine, really I do."

He smiles.

"My girlfriend is more worried than me. But I'll pull through. I have to."

TONIGHT, Matthew, David from Basildon will be Depeche Mode's rejuvenated frontman. And he'll turn in a performance that could well take him all the way to the finals. Upon a very zen stage, the minimal props Feng Shui'd to perfection, the band may lack the visual pyrotechnics that make U2 so consistently dazzling, but a menu of 19 formidable (mostly) hits can hardly fail. Before a subtle screen that morphs close-ups of each band member's face into the torso of a naked woman, Gahan pirouettes with a flourish that further underlines his new lease of life. The crowd love him for it, too.

Despite their proven formula, though, it still seems strange that a band who deal in such oppressive anthems can elicit such joy. Discounting Gore's stage wear - trussed up in Bacofoil, resembling that strange little fellow from Babylon Zoo - there's little humour here, but the effect is riveting nonetheless. There's a moment in the exquisite Condemnation, for instance, in which everyone appears to hold their breath, convinced that the aching delivery is akin to religious rapture. Goosebumps raise, body hair stands to attention, the collective awe palpable. Gore, too, is on magnificent form, his tentative solo spot on A Question Of Lust and Home injecting a little warmth into the band's otherwise black heart.

Occasionally, things drop. Never Let Me Down and In Your Room merely sound gloomy for the sake of a good wallow, but they're most dynamic when the sound veers towards total bombast. Barrel Of A Gun, for one, is pure musical warfare turned up loud and the effect is brilliant. I Feel You, similarly, is an imposing juggernaut, delivered with all the power of something from the Jurassic age. But then, to close the show, they - rather alarmingly - decide to have a laugh, an alien concept in itself. Just Can't Get Enough is Depeche Mode from another era, back when Vince Clarke wrote the songs and the only drugs they'd do were aspirin. It's a happy song, it's fun, and Gahan - in a moment of delicious incongruity - camps up the frivolity with undisguised glee, placing one hand on hip, the other cocked in the air, in a universally recognised pose that suggests beneath the cheerless facade, he remains a little teapot, short and stout.

BACK at the hotel, and the singer immediately heads for the sanctity of his bed.

"I've reached a certain level in life where I can trust myself, but not completely. Until I get through this tour successfully, I've got to watch myself carefully. And to be honest," he laughs, perhaps feeling his 36 years, "I'm so tired after the shows that I'm asleep within five minutes of my head hitting the pillow."

He's turned a new leaf, then. But while this is undoubtedly good news for those around him, the salvation of Dave Gahan from all manner of nasty indulgences has also robbed rock 'n' roll of one of its more colourful characters. After all, when on drugs, he was a figure almost beyond fascination.

"Never mind," he shrugs, smiling darkly, "there'll always be someone to pick up where I left off..." ****

Nick Duerden
Q, November 1998

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photos by Chris Taylor. Reproduced without permission.

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Magic Mode Put Sins Behind Them

Scandinavium, Gothenburg - September 12, 1998
The Singles 86>98 Tour - European leg

"Confirming [the] most remarkable comeback in recent pop history Depeche Mode will play their first British concerts for five years next week in London, Manchester and Birmingham, having returned from their own private hell to produce last year’s excellent Ultra album.

Their Swedish date reiterated their resurgence.

The band, almost wrecked by a combination of drink, drugs and emotional stress during the making of Ultra, now perform sober onstage for the first time in an 18-year career and the results are impressive.

This show, in a giant, shell-like ice hockey stadium, emphasised the band’s rare ability to mix the dark flavours of alternative rock with mainstream pop.

The present tour coincides with a compilation album, The Singles 86-98, and the Gothenburg show focused on hits from this era.

Given the length of time since the band last toured, however, it also represented the first live airing of tracks from Ultra: songs such as It’s No Good, Useless and Barrel Of A Gun were eagerly devoured here.

Like many arena concerts, the show began slowly.

Mid-tempo songs from the late Eighties and early Nineties, such as Question Of Time, World In My Eyes and Policy Of Truth, served as an easy-paced introduction before the band hit their full stride on the Motown-esque strut of Walking In My Shoes, the soul-tinged Condemnation and the bubbling funk-rock of It’s No Good.

With the three core members, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher, backed by a drummer, an extra synthesiser player and two female singers – extravagantly attired in silver dresses and pink feather boas – the music had a richness and warmth not normally associated with electronic pop.

Depeche Mode are living proof that a band do not need loud guitars to enliven a big arena. Much of this is down to vocalist Gahan, who has wrestled with his personal demons and come through fighting.

Sporting newly cropped hair and clean-cut clothes, he worked the crowd with the pluck and punch of an old-fashioned cheerleader.

Alternating the showmanship of Freddie Mercury with the sombre intensity of Kurt Cobain, Gahan is a graceful frontman and athletic dancer.

Prowling the stage, he swung his microphone stand gymnastically and moved suggestively during a soaring, disco-influenced Enjoy The Silence. Guitarist Gore and statuesque synthesiser player Fletcher provided the foil to their singer’s antics.

Gore, the band’s main songwriter, took centre stage on two numbers, Question Of Lust and Home. His sweet, yearning vocals provided a contrast to Gahan’s deep, sonorous phrasing. His guitar playing, inaudible on It’s No Good, came to the fore as the set unfolded.

Opening a series of encores with the piano ballad Somebody, Gore also provided the night with its solitary Brian Adams moment – that part of every stadium show when the lights are dimmed for fans to hold pocket lighters aloft.

Normal service was quickly resumed in a doomy I Feel You and the surprise inclusion of Just Can’t Get Enough. The band’s first top ten hit back in 1981, it was a song which the trio had not played since completing a mammoth American tour at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in 1988.

A positive and upbeat finale, it was the perfect way for the boys from Basildon to stamp a triumphant return."

Adrian Thrills
Daily Mail, 25th September, 1998

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.


Waldbuhne, Berlin - September 18-19, 1998
The Singles 86>98 Tour - European leg

"A whiff of tragicomic self-parody hangs heavy over Depeche Mode’s mammoth outdoor bash on the wooded fringes of Berlin. This 20,000-seater amphitheatre is, after all, where Hitler played warm-up shows for stadium gigs like Nuremberg. Just across the road stands the imposing stone clocktower through which the Fuhrer made his grand entrances to the 1936 Olympics. And behind the stage, above the trees, a vast power station belches smoke into a darkening sky. You know the German word for power station? Kraftwerk. No kidding.

So here we find the Mode, almost 20 years and 40 million albums down the line, playing the second of two sell-out Berlin nights on their monster post-1986 hits roadshow. No longer a quartet, now a trio with a couple of spare musicians. No longer drug-crazed, mentally deranged rock pigs. Still massive in former dictatorships and countries with high suicide rates. Still wearing black.

The angel on our shoulder loves the Mode. After all, they escaped the naffest concrete town in Thatcherite Essex, reinvented chart pop as something sleek and electronic and European and sexually ambivalent, then sold it by the truckload to middle America. They went up against smelly-socked, sweaty-cocked rock on its own terms and won. They spawned the Prodigy and Garbage and unwittingly predicted the techno boom, even if they were heading in the opposite direction when it finally arrived.

The devil on our shoulder, mind you, wonders what they lost along the way. He notes that Dave Gahan’s LA rocker waistcoat and libidinous swagger are pure Michael Hutchence. He witnesses the processed glam rock stomp of "Personal Jesus" and the lumbering synthetic blues of "Barrel Of A Gun", reflecting ruefully how the Mode conquered rock but then allowed rock to colonise them in return. Did they really rewire the pop rule book nearly two decades ago just to end up playing stadium jamborees like this with guitars, drums and spangle-dressed backing singers? Isn’t this a betrayal, or did they want to be Led Zeppelin all along?

But bollocks to both angels and devils, we say. Because even if Depeche Mode ever had souls to sell, they have long since been replaced by a sure sense of bombastic spectacle allied to songwriter Martin Gore’s enduring gift for boomingly universal anthems. We surprise ourselves with just how many of these throbbing monoliths we recall by heart, and just how magnificent the melancholy twangs of "Policy Of Truth" or the burly punishment beats of "It’s No Good" sound played through crystal-clear speakers half the size of Finland. New single "Only When I Lose Myself" holds up well too, all pneumatic shudders and weightless bleeps.

Sure, not everyone’s a winner. There are dragging lulls when you yearn for a dash of New Order’s spunky cheek or Marilyn Manson’s confrontational theatre. But when Gahan submerges himself in the mile-wide river of gushing electro-gospel that is "Condemnation", or when Gore croons a tremulously tender "Home", 20,000 spines tingle in unison at the naked vulnerability pouring from the stage.

Gore is back on the mic again for the first encore, "Somebody", an even more heartbroken piano ballad in which he pines for a lover who resembles a passive, docile, obedient Stepford wife. He seems to mean it too. Creepy. Then Gahan gets to play the Wagnerian rock lizard once more on a wheezing, snorting "I Feel You" – Mr Sex Messiah, still rocking the Pasadena Rosebowl inside his head.

But all sins are forgiven with a final, triumphant, bouncy gallop through the Mode’s 1981 toytown techno smash "Just Can’t Get Enough", way off the tour agenda and all the more welcome for being so. It feels like a release, a reward, a reminder of innocent times. Futurist vaudeville with the emotional depth of a microchip? Maybe, but in a torchlit Berlin forest full of arm-waving Eurogoths bent on recreating the totalitarian mass devotion of Queen’s "Radio Gaga" video, it all makes a stirring kind of sense.

Depeche Mode have survived self-destruction and transcended self-parody. They are still with us, and still worth celebrating."

Stephen Dalton
New Musical Express, 3rd October, 1998

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

Wembley Arena, London - September 29-30, 1998
The Singles 86>98 Tour - European leg

"Cited by many electronica artists as an early influence, Depeche Mode began life as chirpy synth-poppers in the early Eighties before moving into superb clangers of scrap metal for their third album. Then they went all industrial, got huuuuuge, and their singer got himself a heroin habit. It’s a soddin’ shame they’re now such pants.

Dave Gahan’s clean now, of course, although with his addiction has gone much of Depeche’s latterday appeal. Indeed, but for the tattoos, he’s again resembling the suburban geek who first wiggled his stuff on "TOTP" all those years ago – complete with snooker player’s mullet and Top Man waistcoat. It’s a sanitised, Sierra-driving Depeche Mode who are out on this "Singles 1986-98" tour, and all the more disappointing for it.

They’ve got groovy gospel backing singers, though, and some massively kitsch "DM" light bulbs that blind with every power chord. And the personal questing is still prevalent on the somewhat glib "Lose Myself" ("Only when I lose myself in someone else/Do I find myself") (sic) and a neo-gothic "Question Of Lust". Some of these songs trawl the darkest recesses of despair, so it’s fairly incongruous to have a prancing, smiling Gahan relaying them so cheerfully.

Those arm-waving to "Walking In My Shoes" recall a load of Blair-ites at a rally, but after some interminable, pseudo-religious dross about redemption and condemnation (err, "Condemnation") it’s a relief to be perked up by "All I Ever Wanted" ["Enjoy The Silence"]. This is vintage Depeche – buoyant, thought-provoking, soulful. That Gahan delivers it while making like a constipated angle-poise lamp suddenly doesn’t matter.

When they follow it with one of their finest, "Personal Jesus", all is nearly forgiven. But they do that obvious there’ll-be-an-encore thing, and come back with some right old cack. Former perv Martin Gore, now in Bacofoil trousers, does an embarrassing ballad ("Somebody"), "Stripped" is skagged-out slop. Only a revelatory "I Feel You" and a triumphant "I Just Can’t Get Enough" [sic] make you wish they hadn’t split a good few years ago."

Carl Loben
Melody Maker, October, 1998

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.


Worcester Centrum, MA - October 27, 1998
The Singles 86>98 Tour - North American leg

"By the end of the night, nearly two hours after Depeche Mode's show began, the stage looked like a disco inferno - all red lights and velvety backdrop, with little white lights bouncing around a big D and a big M at centerstage, the synthesizers percolating, the crowd bopping along and smiling. The song? "Just Can't Get Enough," an old hit written by long-departed ex-leader Vince Clarke, and one it seemed that this long-running version of the band would never play.

Go figure. Depeche Mode, at age 18, must be feeling pretty cocky. It was total glee.

The only thing that might not be quite right in Depeche Mode's world right now are the numbers. At least at the Worcester Centrum last night for the kickoff of their United States tour. The pioneering English synthpop band drew a little over 8,000 fans - fervid fans, it must be noted - which is down a few thousand from their heyday. Yet, the band is on top of things. Singer David Gahan, two years sober and in recovery, the players sharp and the song selection on target.

Seventeen of the show's 19 songs came from the current retrospective double-CD "The Singles 86>98." Rather than faulting DM for sticking to the singles - a conservative and money-making decision, one could argue - we ought to salute them for that body of work. [This comment isn't really fair; after all, it is the 'Singles' Tour - BB] Over the course of their singles, and thus throughout this concert, Depeche Mode showed a wide range of emotion. They demonstrated, once again, how a band need not be limited by instrumental format and how Depeche Mode creates a vast terrain out of synth-based pop.

Actually, singer-synthesist-guitarist Martin Gore is playing more guitar then ever. DM, whose other remaining founding member is keyboardist Andy Fletcher, is also touring with its first live drummer, Christian Eigner. Also aboard, two sumptuous sounding backup singers, Jordan Bailey and Janet Cooke, and keyboardist Peter Gordeno.

A Depeche Mode show at its best, makes you feel as if you're in some strange, wonderful zone between a disco and a cathedral. There was the stately beginning of "A Question Of Time" and "World In My Eyes," a kick upward toward optimism and dance-floor delight with "Never Let Me Down Again," and then the chilling slide guitar of "Walking In My Shoes," as various Depeche Moders, on the backing video, appeared as Elvis, Sgt. Pepper, and David Bowie. The new "Only When I Lose Myself" was a deep and soulful ballad, "A Question Of Lust" a slinky, yet somber musing. "Condemnation" verged on heavenly; "Barrel Of A Gun" was coiled, terse - all tension and no release.

Gore likes allowing opposites to clash, addressing issues of spirituality and carnality. He likes cerebral music with a beat, but he does not like beats for no purpose. Depeche Mode may be the godfathers of techno music, but they are slaves not to the rhythm but to the melody and emotion. Gahan, to his credit, has cut back on his prancing and showboating. For the first time, it seems he's grasping the seriousness of the serious songs and letting them speak through him without cheerleading. For the lighter songs, his mikestand antics don't detract.

Depeche Mode live has always seemed somewhat at odds with Depeche Mode in the studio. The two sounds and styles are closer now. They've kept the sense of grace and beauty, while turning up the energy and buoyancy a notch. It's a neat trick, and one they've not always mastered in the past. The show hit its peak near the end of the regular set with "Enjoy The Silence" and "Personal Jesus," with the lights-up singalong refrain of "reach out and touch faith" feeling not in the least hokey, but sincere and right."

Jim Sullivan
The Boston Globe, 28th October, 1998

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Madison Square Garden, New York - October 28-29, 1998
The Singles 86>98 Tour - North American leg

"Unlike so many of their contemporaries, Depeche Mode have somehow managed to escape the lethal branding as has-beens and are still riding the wave of their success nearly twenty years into the game. Chalk it up to Martin Gore's stellar songwriting along with Dave Gahan's high-energy and well-preserved looks.

With Gahan's heroin fiasco behind them, the band recently embarked on their first U.S. tour in five years. And though the tour is in support of a new double greatest hits album - a move some has-beens have been known to make - tonight's show sold out the Garden so quickly that another one had to be added, proof enough that the masses are still there for Depeche Mode's music.

With a backdrop of red velvet curtains, a large bay window acted as a movie screen lodged between an immense "D" and "M," which were trimmed with flashing light bulbs. The classic-meets-modern set was designed, appropriately enough, by Anton Corbijn, the photo/videographer who helped define so many successful bands in the Eighties.

One by one, out came the remaining three original members of the band: keyboardist Andy Fletcher first, then the still-platinum blond guitarist/ keyboardist/songwriter/band nucleus Gore, who looked like a miniature space oddity in a shiny silver ensemble. Last, a refreshed and youthful Gahan sauntered out and lapped up the adulation the capacity crowd was bestowing. Still sporting super-tight black garb, Gahan looked as though he had stepped right out of 1988's "Strangelove" video.

The band ripped through hit after hit, with the visuals varied to fit the mood of each song. From "A Question of Time" and "World In My Eyes" to "Policy of Truth" and "Never Let Me Down," the lighting was tweaked to demarcate the songs, from deep red to white splintering off a disco ball to black and white choppy films projected on the screen.

On "Walking In My Shoes" the film showed the band members meandering down a runway in various costumes, including Gore in a Sergeant Pepper's fuschia suit, Gahan with an afro wig and a boa and Fletcher in a white Elvis suit. Gore took over vocals on the ballad "A Question of Lust" and stood in front of a larger-than-life, riveting close-up of his face on the screen.

Next came the back-to-back hits "Enjoy the Silence," which featured Gahan doing an uncharacteristic funky chicken while pointing at Gore during the latter's guitar solos, and "Personal Jesus," which caused the entire audience to stretch their arms in an attempt to "reach out and touch faith."

The first song of the double-encore was the calmest moment of the entire set. Gore walked out, for the first time without an instrument, stood still with his eyes closed and delivered "Somebody" accompanied only by a pianist. The audience raised lighters and swayed back and forth while Gore sang "I want somebody who makes me see things in a different light/All the things I detest I will almost like [sic]."

With the return of the other band members the energy zipped right up again, as they delivered the classic "Stripped." Another early hit topped off the show and it was easy to think this band could go another twenty years as Gahan held out the microphone, aware of the irony, and the audience chanted, "just can't get enough, just can't get enough...."

Liza Ghorbani
Rolling Stone, 29th October, 1998

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

Depeche 'Mope' At Spectrum

First Union Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA - November 1, 1998
The Singles 86>98 Tour - North American leg

In an age in which alienation is an aesthetic and irony is a medium, the show-biz motto might as well be: One More Time Please, With Less Feeling.

Depeche Mode obliged that request to play it again bland at the First Union Spectrum on Sunday night as it flogged its dead-horse collection of hits, Singles 86>98.

In the '80s, Depeche Mode's doomy synth pablum served as comfort food for depressed teenagers.

In the '90s, the British band provided the sound track for black-clad dance-club dwellers who performed their orchestral maneuvers in the dark, staving off the horrible truth that the '80s had, in fact, ended some time ago.

Really, the best thing you can say about Depeche Mode's music is that the videos are great.

So it was probably no coincidence that the most powerful numbers of the evening, "Personal Jesus'' and "I Feel You,'' were also the most striking visually.

Maybe it was the soul-sister back-up singers in the purple feather boas and white satin hot pants. Or maybe it was the bordello-red crushed-velvet backdrop and giant letters D and M, illuminated Las Vegas-style.

Or maybe it was Martin Gore, sporting his trademark blond bird's nest of hair and spitting out dirty-water guitar riffs. But somewhere in there, the right balance of smoke and mirrors was achieved, seeming to send the near-capacity crowd into a collective fit of ecstasy.

The biggest news was how chipper singer David Gahan seemed. After spending the better part of the early '90s in a downered daze of drug addiction, failed marriage and attempted suicide, the freshly shorn singer seemed positively giddy, flopping around the stage like an arthritic Lord of the Dance.

As a singer, he has long claimed the territory in between the notes, but at least his rump-shaking and mike-stand twirling lent some levity to the band's humorless material. By contrast, the rest of DM looked and played like the mayors of Mope Town."

By Jonathan Valania
The Inquirer, 3rd November, 1998

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

On to 1999-2002