Posts Tagged ‘Depeche Mode’

Hello, fellow pandemicians. I know you were all stunned by the decision on March 26 to stop the Candidates Tournament for the Men’s World Chess Championship. I certainly was. The games were exciting and one of the Russians got so cranky and insulted so many people that he was briefly trending on Twitter.

How weird is it that the last sporting event on earth was chess? See, I’ve been right all my life.

I hope you’re doing OK, and that you’re getting your facts from the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and not from uncredentialed idiots. Tying garlic around your neck or balloons to your ankles or eating 44 tons of plankton a day will not protect you.

Here in Oregon, I’m working from home, which I don’t like – work is work and home is home, and I prefer that they not meet – but at least I still have work. I have my wife and my dog. I’m learning how to talk to them and not just walk absently past them. I’m planning my July retirement party – we’ll be on Zoom or GoToMeeting, each with our own cake. This is not my idea of a good time, but I do like the idea of my own cake. Assuming anyone will be baking cakes.

It’s my task to distract you and help you find alternatives to chess, so here’s a movie I made starring a bird. Here’s the DJ whose live stream is boosting my morale. If he’s not on the air – his hours are unpredictable – here’s a recording of his show at the Slam! Quarantine Festival. This is whom I want to be when I grow up. That is the correct use of “whom.”

Let’s return to 1989, a year when the only things we had to worry about were invading Panama and finishing the World Series following the Loma Prieta earthquake, and listen to some music you older teenagers paid good money for.

Depeche Mode, Depeche Mode 101 (1989)

This double-record set gives us Depeche Mode on the night they ruled the universe, their 1988 concert at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena before 60,000 mesmerized DeModers. It took the Seattle Mariners 12 years to pull 60,000 fans into the Kingdome – and that was the day in 1989 when they promoted the teenaged Ken Griffey, Jr., from the minors.

It took me a long time to engage Depeche Mode in a committed relationship, which seems counterintuitive given my status as a synth-pop artifact. In fact, I panned Depeche Mode 101 in this blog in 2016: “…the songs don’t budge a centimeter from the studio versions. Sorry, boys, but a concert is more than a crowd screaming with joy because you blew up a firecracker. AC/DC would’ve fired a cannon out of a bagpipe.”

But I wrote that after enduring the third Star Trek reboot, which made me angrier than the Hulk trying to play toilet paper bride during a pandemic. Further spins of 101 gave me a different perspective. Sure, Depeche Mode (a former co-worker innocently called them Pesh de Mode) take few chances on these tracks, but overall the drumming is much more muscular and the songs generate far more revolutions per minute.

The audience eats this stuff up – this is the concert where the show ends with the fans still singing the chorus to “Everything Counts” 30 seconds after the band stopped playing. The effect is electrifying, but to give anti-Depeche Mode voices some space here, I’ll quote another former co-worker: “If I went to a show and the band stopped playing and they expected me to sing, I’d want my money back.”

I give Depeche Mode credit for including in their set list one of their earliest hits, “I Just Can’t Get Enough,” from their salad days playing bright poppity pop-pop-pop. That was when the band still had Vince Clarke, who left early on rather than be vacuumed into the gloom machine envisioned by Martin Gore. Clarke did pretty well for himself, founding Yaz (“Situation”) and Erasure (“Chains of Love,” “Who Needs Love Like That?”). By 1988, “I Just Can’t Get Enough” didn’t sound anything like Depeche Mode, but on their big night they played it, and they played it well.

Yaz Fact! The band was called Yazoo in Clarke’s native England, but in the U.S. they were Yaz in honor of former Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski.

I also give Depeche Mode credit for transforming “Pleasure Little Treasure” – a song with a subtle message: If you’re looking for a reason to live, I’ve got one right here for ya – from filler into a dark, howling rocker.

I love this disc now, but there’s an odd moment when someone in the band asks the audience, “Are you having a good time?” This strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of what they’re selling and why people are buying it. Listening to Depeche Mode, you can have an epiphany. You can have an emotional release. You can have a nervous breakdown. But to have something as light-hearted as a good time, what you have to have is Yaz or Erasure.

We just saw the third film in the reboot of my favorite TV series: Star Trek: Beyond. Once again, the plot was driven by a bitter middle-aged man who vows to make the universe run red with the blood of vengeance. Haven’t we had enough of this from Donald Trump?

I’m a middle-aged man, and there are things in my life I’m not happy about, but I don’t feel like making humanity pay for my unhappiness. In fact, it’s none of humanity’s business.

So are these films an expression of angst by the middle-aged men who write them? Or, if they’re written by younger men, are these films an attack on their fathers? There’s a lot of male stuff here. To quote an illustrious film critic well-versed in gender issues: “What is going on?”

I don’t know. But I know this: A woman will become president of the United States before Paramount allows a woman to write a Star Trek movie.

Sad.

Random Pan of the Day
Supertramp, Breakfast in America (1979)

I’m so pissed off by Star Trek I don’t feel like making anything a Pick.

Some of the songs on Breakfast in America are pleasant; they could’ve been dashed off by John or Paul while they were down with the flu. Supertramp’s big bad insanely sentimental epic, “Take the Long Way Home,” offers a cascade of ooooohs and aaaaahs around the 4:17 mark. I guess this is where they eased themselves into the hot tub.

Breakfast in America has one of the iconic album jackets of the 1970s. Keep the jacket and recycle the record.

Random Pan of the Day
Depeche Mode, Depeche Mode 101 (1989)
I’m still pissed.

A live album where the songs don’t budge a centimeter from the studio versions. Sorry, boys, but a concert is more than a crowd screaming with joy because you blew up a firecracker. AC/DC would’ve fired a cannon out of a bagpipe.

Random Pan of the Day
Mugstar, anything
Contemporary English prog rockers who go on. And on and on. The Doors in “The End” said everything Mugstar is still stumbling over 40 years later. However, Mugstar has a talent for song names. Two examples: “European Nihilism” and “Children of the Gravy.”

 

Q: What happened to the end of 1986 Week?
A: It collided with the weekend. Party!

Q: Aren’t you too old to party?
A: You’re never too old to party. You might have to party at 12 frames per second instead of 24, but you’re never too old to party.

Q: Well, how would you rate 1986? What kind of year was it musically?
A: It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls of independent means.

Q: Since you were writing about 1986, why didn’t you mention The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead? It’s supposed to be their best album.
A: I’ll end with them. Sort of. Like it’s any of your business anyway.

Q: Looking at your tag cloud, I see that the biggest name is Bruce Springsteen. You mention him a lot, but you don’t write about him very much.
A: You have to form a question in the form of a question. Don’t be a sports journalist.

Q: Right. Bruce – WTF?
A: Springsteen has been around so long and recorded so much that it’s impossible not to notice him. He’s a handy measuring stick. Dylan has been around even longer and has recorded even more, but he doesn’t have the same impact on our culture. Bruce has remained relevant, or at least topical. Bob has not. Plus I don’t like Dylan’s voice. But to answer your question, I don’t know what I could add to the existing mountain of Springsteen music journalism that would make a difference or sound original by even one gram. So I’ll go on referring to him and trying not to refer to Dylan. Or Donovan.

Q: How are you getting along in the novel-writing sector?
A: I’ve written 15,000 words.

Q: Is that a big number?
A: If I keep them, yes. If not, no.

Q: Would you say that writing a novel is an iffy proposition?
A: I’d say I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Q: What did you listen to today? Sweatin’ to the Oldies?
A: Today I listened to M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011). The radio hit, “Midnight City,” sounds like vintage Depeche Mode. I’m still wading through the rest of this two-disc set. This French band is kinda arty, like Arcade Fire but without the beat. I might have to counter with Oingo Boingo. I might spend this week listening to M83, blink-182, Haircut 100, Matchbox Twenty, Heaven 17, Maroon 5, The Dave Clark Five, The Bobby Fuller Four, 3 Doors Down, and Fun Boy 3.

Q: Fun Boy 3?
A: I bet I’ll be able to dispense with some of these guys in a song or two!

Q: Where’s Deadmau5 on your list?
A: I just learned that the 5 should be pronounced as an s. I feel as ridiculous as the day someone busted me for pronouncing R.E.M. as “rem.” Which reminds me of something I read recently. What a way to begin a review: “I don’t ordinarily like to think about sex and R.E.M. at the same time…” I don’t even care what the rest of the sentence is! (Review of the film Fourplay in Portland Mercury, 27 February 2013)

Q: Let’s get back to The Smiths. Are you hating on them?
A: As if. I like half a dozen of their songs very much, but they’re scattered across their four studio albums, so their 1986 disc, The Queen Is Dead, didn’t move me.

I have tons of respect for Johnny Marr, their guitarist, but not much for Morrissey, even if he’s still being treated like a god. If all bands can be explained by The Monkees, then Johnny Marr is Mike Nesmith and Morrissey is Davy Jones.

Nevermind all this Q&A BS. Here’s a real interview for you. In the April 9 Seattle Weekly, Duff McKagan, the original bass player in Guns N’ Roses, interviews Marr. (Marr has a new album, The Messenger. It has some surprisingly strong tracks for a guy whose heyday was in 1986.) The interview is not only fun, it produced this gem:

McKagan: You were sort of the anti-guitar hero. I’m just so fascinated by your guitar style. I try to picture you guys in 1979 or whatever. I don’t know what he was listening to to get that sound.

Marr: Joy Division were rehearsing in the room above my band. They were scary guys just to look at because they wore old man’s clothes. With haircuts like they just came from the second world war. And that was much scarier than looking at someone who looked like the New York Dolls, or one of the Rolling Stones.

A: Everyone have a good week. Sweat to the oldies all you want, but don’t sweat the small stuff.
Q: I didn’t ask a question!
A: Deal.

 

Graceland
Paul Simon
1986

I sold all my records. In 2011 I realized that I hadn’t played one since 2005. Did this cause me to drop a record on my turntable? No, because by then all I had left was a turntable. I’d already sold the rest of my stereo components. I’d never felt the need to replace them.

After turning this over in my mind for another year, I packed up everything (only a dozen LPs but about 250 45s, now called “sevens”) and took it all to a local store, Music Millennium. I hate having anything around that I never use, but many of these discs I bought when they were released, and this was an emotional moment. The store clerk was very kind. You’d think she’d been through this before with other men my age.

I sold the turntable on Craigslist. That left a portable phonograph we occasionally deployed at backyard parties. I sold that on Craigslist, too, to a guy named Adam, who was celebrating the start of his first real job after college. (At Music Millennium, they told me that people 35 and younger were the ones who were keeping vinyl culture alive.) Adam was all smiles when he saw what was waiting for him. He’d brought an album along to test the unit’s sound quality. When he slipped it out of the paper bag and I saw the starkly lit faces of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, both of them dressed in black, I yelled to Special D, “Get in here!”

Bookends,” she breathed.

Bookends

We put Adam’s record on and pulled the trigger. Special D and I were transported back to teenhood by the half-minute of lonely guitar, the Bookends theme, that preceeds “Save the Life of My Child.” At that point we were ready to either adopt Adam or just give him the damn thing, but common sense won out and Adam went home with his new phonograph and I put his money in my wallet.

This brings me to what I consider the best album of 1986, Paul Simon’s Graceland. (The critics at Rolling Stone agree with me, but the readers go with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Live/1975-85. Stupid readers.)

Graceland is remarkable in so many ways that I’m just going to mention four: That the guy who wrote Bookends was still writing like a fiend 20 years later; that it revitalized a career that was already pretty damn vitalized; that the first two cuts, “The Boy in the Bubble” and “Graceland,” as awesome as they are, are just the beginning of the record; and that Graceland is filled with as many quotable lines as a Star Trek episode, as well as lines you can misquote, including the title of this post and a gem thought up by Special D as she walked through the Florida surf at sunrise: “I’ve got diatoms on the soles of my shoes!”

Paul Simon is not on my Top 10 list of favorite artists, but even I can appreciate the achievement that is Graceland.

So what did I do with the money from the sale of my records? What do you think? I bought CDs!

Random 1986 Sexually Ambiguous Danceable Doofuses of the Day
Book of Love, Book of Love
LA might’ve been Ground Zero for big fluffy danceable-and-forgettable faux-New Wave zero-calorie pop confections. Exhibit A: Book of Love, a group that scored in 1986 with three songs off their debut: “I Touch Roses,” “Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes”), and “Boy” (where the crucial lyric reads, “Boy, uh huh, boy, uh huh/Boy, uh huh, boy, uh huh”). Actually I kinda like that one.

I can only describe them by comparing them with their big fluffy contemporaries. Book of Love is a poor man’s Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, or a funky version of The Spoons. They pick up where Missing Persons left off, though I can’t say what they found that Missing Persons was missing. They borrowed Erasure’s grooves but dropped the histrionics. Bonus: When all three of the women in Book of Love sing together, they come close to Joan Jett!

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
Depeche Mode, Black Celebration (1986)
Yes, I enjoy these guys, but come on. Every song on this disc could’ve been done better by someone else. Depeche Mode bounced back in 1987 with Music for the Masses (featuring “Behind the Wheel” and “Strangelove”).

Get Close
The Pretenders
1986

Pretenders (1980) is the kind of album that runs you over with a cement mixer then shoots you in the head five or six times for insurance. Bracing. Pretenders II (1981) is more of the same at a lesser pitch. Disappointed? Nah – that formula worked just fine for Led Zep I and II. On the Pretenders’ third at bat, Learning to Crawl (1984), they changed course and gave us a pop album with an edge. Though Learning to Crawl came nowhere near the sales of its contemporary, Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982), it’s aged a whole lot better. Keeping Vincent Price off your record always helps.

But by Get Close, Chrissie Hynde’s original bandmates had either overdosed, or were fired and then overdosed, or had simply walked away. The session musicians on Get Close are good but they’re not James Honeyman-Scott, Pete Farndon, or Martin Chambers. Ms. Hynde doesn’t give her best when she’s not pushed by independent talents. Eric Clapton has the same problem. I do, too. There. I just wanted to put myself in the same paragraph with Chrissie Hynde and Eric Clapton.

Get Close is listenable, but it’s not exceptional. And Hynde’s new tendency to produce leisurely, sonically bloated, overly dramatic songs results in “My Baby,” “Hymn to Her,” “Tradition of Love,” and “Light of the Moon,” which is a lot of territory to give to the leisurely, the bloated, and the overly dramatic. This is not, after all, a Yes album.

(I should admit right here that I really like “Tradition of Love” and “Light of the Moon.” I even like the synths-gone-wild Jimi Hendrix cover, “Room Full of Mirrors,” which Hynde turns into a song with big hair and shoulder pads.)

There was a hint of this tendency on Pretenders (“Lovers of Today”), but back then Hynde had a band that swiped like a scimitar. This band swipes like a credit card. Many of The Pretenders’ contemporaries could’ve recorded the songs on Get Close. The letter D alone gives us three candidates in Depeche Mode, Def Leppard, and Duran Duran. Get Close’s one hit, “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” would’ve suited The Bangles just fine.

Special D, in that way she has of concisely cutting to the bone, says Get Close sounds “blurry.” Special D should have her own music blog, but she’d never write more than 10 words per post.

Random 1986 Pick of the Day
Steve Earle, Guitar Town
Mr. Earle is a country Springsteen. Guitar Town, his first album, intersects at times with Nebraska, though Springsteen fans who don’t like Nebraska will be relieved to hear that Guitar Town is much brighter.

I almost like this album. That may read like an insult, but country music normally gives me the hives (and I don’t mean The Hives). Even I can’t resist “Hillbilly Highway,” “Good Old Boy (Gettin’ Tough),” and especially “Fearless Heart.” Mr. Earle’s guitar playing on this album evokes Tom Petty and Mark Knopfler. Those are worthwhile evocations.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
The Housemartins, London 0 Hull 4
The Smiths with sleep apnea.