It’s surprising really, but this is going to be a pretty tough review to write. I don’t honestly know what I’m going to say about this album. But astonishingly, thirty years ago this week saw the release of Depeche Mode‘s third album Construction Time Again.
It only spawned two singles, and the second Love, in Itself is the album’s opener. It’s also one of the strongest tracks on the whole album, kicking proceedings off with a brilliant industrial swell and growing into a great song.
Industrial is, of course, the order of the day. After Vince Clarke departed during the promotion of debut album Speak and Spell, Martin L. Gore had rallied the troops, and when you consider how mediocre some of the lyric writing on the first album had been, he had done a quite incredible job of writing all of the following album A Broken Frame.
Interim single Get the Balance Right had hinted that they might be moving in a darker direction next, and now backed up by previously occasional member Alan Wilder, they travelled to Berlin, and in so doing discovered sampling and the new digital synthesisers which were just appearing on the scene.
More Than a Party is a brilliant and surprising track. The lyric, which might not have been out of place on either of the previous albums, is rendered altogether more bitter by the darker backing sounds. Singer Dave Gahan is vocally so much stronger and more confident than he ever had previously. Depeche Mode were definitely free of their plinky plonk shackles, never to return again.
Pipeline is perhaps the most important track on the whole album. Epitomised by “found sounds” and samples of people banging pipes with hammers, not only does it sound completely different, but it also comes across as completely organic, with its brilliantly socialist lyric.
Lead single Everything Counts is up next. It has a really unusual lyric, at times almost channelling early Heaven 17 more than anything that Depeche Mode have ever done before or since. But on Construction Time Again, it’s a perfect fit – what could be better than to follow a dark track about industry with a pop track about the service sector?
Continuing the theme of not-really-having-a-theme, the next track is Wilder-penned Two Minute Warning, a visceral commentary on environmental issues. It’s almost entirely out of place, and yet fits in perfectly. Not only had Depeche Mode mastered the concept album by this stage; they had also figured out how to make a release a varied and interesting listen.
A bit of wailing synth wind carries us through to Shame, audibly a really interesting track, with lots of sampled banging and bashing and discordant sounds. Lyrically, though, it’s more difficult to get excited unfortunately: this isn’t one of the strongest songs on the album.
Next though is the second Alan Wilder track, The Landscape is Changing. As with much of this album, it bursts in with considerable energy, although in this case it’s a very dark song, another piece about environmental issues – “I don’t care if you’re going nowhere / Just take good care of the world”. It’s great to hear this kind of sentiment on what is, after all, a relatively early and very public forum. I wonder what people made of it at the time? On an album packaged with a picture of a foundry worker about to strike the Matterhorn, it seems a perfect fit.
It’s almost back to the plinky plonk with the next track Told You So. This would have fitted perfectly on Speak and Spell. Except the production brings it to life perfectly, and the critical lyrics also fit pretty well with the rest of the album. It may not quite be up to the standard of everything else, but it is pretty catchy.
It is with subdued banging that the last proper track And Then… commences. Again, tempered by the hints at darkness which Gore seemed to have discovered, and surrounded by deep industrial sounds, it’s a fascinating and compelling combination. I’m not sure what the lyric is actually about, but you can see definite hints of Gore’s later works in here – he touches on faith, sin, and a lot of what would become his favourite topics.
The actual last track is a miniature reprise of Everything Counts, and then the album reaches its end. It’s a transitional work, quite unlike its predecessor A Broken Frame and yet definitely leading towards the releases which would follow. But it doesn’t suffer for that – each track is a brilliant combination of dark lyrics, fairly chirpy melodies still, and fascinating explorations in sound.
Track down the full remastered edition and you’ll also get a package of contemporaneous bonus tracks and alternative versions, including Everything Counts‘s brilliant b-side Work Hard.
The essential version of this album is at Amazon here, and is worth spending extra money on if you find it hard to track down. There’s another Depeche Mode anniversary next week too.