Depeche Mode started as a bit of a side attraction in Smash Hits to the more straightforward girl-fodder of Duran and Spandau, with tinkly electro hits like Just Can’t Get Enough and New Life. Dave Gahan, at that time, seemed so much younger than Le Bon or Hadley (2 years younger than Tony, fact fans). But yet for me there was something about the songs of Depeche Mode that didn’t quite sit in the same way as the decadence of Rio or Gold (always believe in your sooooo-ul). Something I could relate to, or grab on to, that attracted me more than the pretty boy pop, although Alan Wilder was plenty pretty enough for me to be getting on with.
Then there was that Martin L. Gore. Your mum warned you about people like that, he didn’t look “quite right”, took to wearing leather dresses and black lipstick, and we all know about people like that thank you very much. My mum actually took down a poster of Gore from my room, and she’d never done that before*. Soon he was luring those young girls who hadn’t fallen for the manly charms of George Michael into the sub-Einsturzende of People are People, then, to the horror of all right thinking parents across the country, “Master and Servant”, bringing S&M overtly into homes that had only just recovered from Relax.
The album from whence it came, Some Great Reward, was argued by Simon Reynolds as one of the most truly subversive records to hit the top 40, because it took industrial-esque, electronic music about S&M, suicide and OTHER DARK STUFF to the largest audience without quite generating the FGTH mock horror of the moral guardians. Because I quite liked DARK STUFF I devoured this album, from the urgency of Something to Do through the frailty of MLG singing Somebody (naked, don’t you know) and finally to breaking my heart (and God’s) with Blasphemous Rumours.
This era launched them into the Championship, if not yet quite the Premiership, and they started to sell out stadia, particularly in the US. Black Celebration continued in the same path (though BLACKER, obviously), and then the album Music for the Masses came along, dared to be not quite so successful, and containing the beguiling single that was Never Let Me Down Again. When it comes on I still want to stand up, for no explicable reason other than it commands my subconscious to do so. It invites you softly in, then donk!, the emptying-out-the-garden-shed synths arrive, with the straight counterpoint of a more traditional electro-piano sound. Much of the early part is eerily fronted by a near monotone of a vocal which drags you inexorably along. It also contains one of the most criticised “naive” MLG lines: “promises me I’ll be safe as houses, as long as I remember who’s wearing the trousers”. Personally when I hear that line I always have a mental picture of Gore with a smirk. It’s pop music, dahling, not Shakespeare.
Finally, the sound expands and throws you out into the arid wilds of Nevada, riding in a black convertible towards Reno, just because it’s far seedier than Vegas. I’m taking a ride with my best friend. I hope he’s left the leather dress at home this time.
*(well there was the AC/DC incident of 1981, but that was a T-shirt, to be fair)