Sunday, August 4, 2013

In case you missed it – Depeche Mode: Construction Time Again and Black Celebration reissue reviews

In case you missed it – Depeche Mode:
Construction Time Again and Black Celebration reissue reviews

Construction Time Again
****1/2 out of 5
Black Celebration
****1/2 out of 5
Rhino/Reprise/Mute Records

If you looked at Depeche Mode’s recorded output as one long & gloomy novel, their first two albums would be the forward and preface, respectively, while Chapter One would begin with 1983’s Construction Time Again. While Speak and Spell and the rather excellent A Broken Frame gave an inkling of what the band may have been capable of, Construction Time Again undoubtedly established the group as pioneers in the emerging synth-rock movement. From this point forward, Depeche Mode’s use of technology, combined with Martin’s Gore’s growing songwriting prowess would influence generations of musicians and DJ’s alike. With Daniel Miller and Gareth Jones in the producer’s chair and then-new member Alan Wilder asserting his talents, the group used the digital sampler as an instrument rather than the exotic and incredibly expensive new toy that it was in 1983.

From the start, Construction Time Again is a much tougher sounding record than their previous two outings. The drum machines are set for pounding, rather than plinking beats, resulting in an album which is primed for the dance floor. Most of the album is quite up tempo – for Depeche Mode that is – but it is the quality of the material mixed with Martin Gore’s questioning (and sometimes sarcastic) lyrics which elevate the tracks from simply being pop-chart fodder.  

The album also takes a few experimental detours which show the band’s fascination with creating sounds and textures not heard before on a pop record. The most successful is the stunning, six-minute Pipeline; a sonic tour de force consisting of percussive sounds – the band literally would bang on glass, metal and wooden objects – that were sampled and then fed into a computer to be manipulated into something otherworldly.

Adding in the hit singles Everything Counts and Love in Itself and Construction Time Again remains not only one of Depeche Mode’s finest albums but one of the finest albums of 1983.
Following the release of their 1984 hit, People Are People and a 1985 hits compilation, the music world was primed for Depeche Mode to break through to the masses. But no one would have predicted that the band would have responded with the cryptic and appropriately titled, Black Celebration.

Pushing their fascination with samplers even further, the album was a sonic masterpiece full of rich textures, beautifully strange sounds and a diverse track listing that ranged from angst-ridden paeans of sexual yearning (Stripped, A Question of Time) to aching ballads (A Question of Lust, the gorgeous World Full of Nothing).

Instead of sounding like the work of a band that is on the precipice of world-wide fame and acceptance the album kicks off with the macabre one-two punch of the title track followed by Fly on the Windscreen. This is not too say that the album wallows in uncertainly, quite the opposite, this is the work of a band that is finally comfortable in their own skin, content to write about the “fringe elements” of society – death, suicide, sexual deviancy, etc. Simply put, when the second song opens with the following lyric, “Death is everywhere…” you know this is not going to be smooth sailing. But Depeche Mode has always mixed the morbid with classic pop song structures.

While the album may have helped some to feel justified in dubbing them, “Depressed Mode”, the sales figures would argue that their music connected in a way that other bands of the early 80’s synth-pop movement did not. By bravely writing about difficult subjects and courting the outsider, Black Celebration remains one of the high-water marks, out of many, in Depeche Mode’s catalog.

Both of the above are part of Rhino Records fantastic reissue campaign which remastered Depeche Mode’s catalog in single and double-disc editions. The sound quality is fantastic without being overly compressed – gone are the tinny sounds of earlier CD versions. If you have the money, the double-disc version is the way to go. The second disc is a DVD which contains a roughly 30 minute documentary on the making of the album from all involved in its creation. The disc also has audio only tracks such as the b-sides from the album’s singles and the entire album itself in 5.1 surround sound. The surround sound versions are stunning and simply a must hear! While stereo albums mixed in surround are something of a mixed bag – a revelation at best, a mild curiosity at worst – these albums are firmly in the former category. After all, who doesn’t want to surround themselves in audio doom & gloom?

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