Depeche Mode – Music For The Masses

Calxie #4 – Dr. Feelgood: Albums with medicinal properties.

Have you ever wondered what great artists did in their creative infancy? Before he started painting the ceilings of religious buildings and sculpting big blokes with small penises, did Michelangelo earn his keep doing caricatures of Pope Pius III and selling them to pilgrim tourists? Before Steve Reich screwed beautifully with the DNA of music, did he write jingles for dish soap ads? Who knows, maybe Calgon paid for his first marimba or something? Well, even if either of those were true, we wouldn’t have seen or heard them because they’re uninteresting and insignificant. So why do we still associate Depeche Mode with the annoying fluffy 80’s relic ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’? Vince Clarke, who wrote it before subsequently leaving to churn out further monstrosities with Erasure, surrendered creative control of the band to multi-instrumentalist Martin Gore. Thank God.

Martin Gore, in his own words, had a top-ten list of topics: “Relationships, domination, lust, love, good, evil, incest, sin, religion, immorality.” That’s the spirit! And who would have thought that topics like “domination” and “evil” could make great, near-universal pop music? Great pop music, yes, but also loud. At last proving that synthesizers could fill stadiums and goths’ bedrooms as well as mainstream clubs, Depeche Mode were fast on the way to conquering the world. Opener ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ pounds and pummels through an anxious fret on heroin addiction; ‘Strangelove’ takes co-dependent and self-destructive relationships and turns them into strings of irresistible choruses; ‘I Want You Now’ is one of the most sonically threatening love songs ever written while ‘Pimpf’ actually dares to stray into bizarre monk-like chanting, which would sound comical if it weren’t so musically alluring.

It still sounds staggering and, dare I say, refreshing. Singer Dave Gahan seemed to constantly play the twin role of victim and perpetrator; a vulnerable, yet strangely intimidating force. Alan Wilder’s dense keyboard arrangements deserve as much credit as Gore’s songwriting, more informed by Michael Nyman and Philip Glass than The Human League. They also introduced sounds which other pop bands wouldn’t touch; they would use a sound because it was effective, or even threatening, rather than because it was pretty. One only has to listen to the skin-crawling breathing sound (actually an accordion with no keys in use) on ‘I Want You Now’ – which also samples a porn movie – to realise this. Even so, despite love and sex being an oft-discussed topic on the record, it is a desperately unsexy piece of work, which is why it earns its place in this category for being an anti-aphrodisiac. Even through all the strangely intimate moments found here, trying to get “busy” with someone with this playing would just feel wrong, especially with tracks like the funeral march for under-age love ‘Little 15’ or the aforementioned ‘Pimpf’ which may make you believe you’re about to conceive Damien from The Omen. So, yes, do not use it to woo potential love interests unless you absolutely refrain from physical contact when doing so, or else your libido will be disappearing faster than you can say “viagra”.

‘Music for the Masses’ was supposed to be an ironic title, seeing as, after the shameless/shameful ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, Depeche Mode had become a cult band. However, it was this LP that turned them into one of the biggest bands in the world; by the time the hysteria peaked, they were playing to 60,000 fans in a Pasadena stadium. There’s a very good reason why; it’s a supreme pop album that has informed the sound of Marilyn Manson, The Chemical Brothers and Lady Gaga. It’s also stood the test of time remarkably well and it still sounds immaculate (even more evident on the DVD surround sound package). Who the hell would listen to ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ over this (apart from Karl Pilkington)?

Key track: Nothing
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