Last week I was in Poland, dragged to see Depeche Mode by my girlfriend (on my birthday, no less). I say ‘dragged’ for dramatic effect, but they’re not really a band I’ve ever considered myself a huge fan of. Seeing as I couldn’t even be arsed to take a 30min train ride to Brighton most nights for gigs, heading to Warsaw for a massive stadium gig wasn’t exactly the most enticing proposition. What I seemed to forget, and I think a lot of folk are guilty of this too, is just how good Depeche Mode actually are. Sure they’ve had the big singles over the years but unlike a lot of bands who’ve been around for the same amount of time, they’re still constantly producing new music (this year’s ‘Delta Machine’ LP is worth a listen) and not just milking a never-ending greatest hits tour.
I’ve found myself listening to a lot of Depeche Mode this week at work since we got back from the gig. Not necessarily their biggest albums like ‘Violator’ or ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’; I have found myself gravitating toward their 1997 LP ‘Ultra’. Adhering to my strict belief that the more drugs and turmoil within a band, the better their musical output becomes, ‘Ultra’ is a dark album indeed. It is safe to say that things were not well when the LP was recorded. Keyboardist Alan Wilder had departed in 1995, singer Dave Gahan was undergoing court-appointed rehab following a near fatal overdose in a Los Angeles hotel, main songwriter Martin Gore was battling his alcohol problems and Andy Fletcher was dealing with depression. Real positive stuff by all accounts. Many had written the band off at this stage and their implosion seemed imminent. The fact that they battled through and released (in my opinion) one of their best albums is pretty spectacular. There were 3-4 legitimate banging singles off this album; rather perversely the ode to self-destruction that is lead single ‘Barrel of a Gun’ is one of the highest-charting DM singles of all time.
I definitely recommend this album if you’ve never bothered with Depeche Mode beyond their biggest singles such as ‘Enjoy the Silence’, or ‘Personal Jesus’. It’s a hard album to categorise in that it’s a million miles removed from the synth-pop they’re most famous for. There’s definitely a dark electronic/industrial streak running through it that a lot of acts today are indebted to, yet there’s still a strong melodic undertone that slots right in with the rest of their 30-year musical output. Give it a listen and see what you think.