Preview – Dave Gahan & Soulsavers

Soulsavers‘ last album, 2012’s The Light the Dead See came as something of a surprise, by (a) being fantastic, and (b) featuring Dave Gahan as vocalist on every track except the opening instrumental. Now they’re back, and Gahan gets a full credit, for Angels & Ghosts. This is All of This and Nothing:

Preview – Tracey Thorn

Tracey Thorn‘s solo material seems to have had its ups and downs, but when it’s up, it’s definitely up. This week sees her first solo compilation, creatively called Solo: Songs and Collaborations 1982-2015, which includes material from all of her solo projects before, during, and after she joined Ben Watt and became Everything But The Girl. There’s a nice array of collaborations too, most famously including Massive Attack, but also Adam F and The Style Council, among others.

As a taster, here’s a live version of Why Does the Wind?

Chart for stowaways – 10 October 2015

Here’s the latest singles chart. Let’s welcome New Order for a long stay back on the charts!

  1. Little Boots – Working Girl
  2. The Future Sound of London – Point of Departure
  3. New Order – Restless
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (I)
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre & Tangerine Dream – Zero Gravity
  6. Everything But The Girl – Before Today
  7. Marsheaux – See You
  8. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Plastic
  9. Little Boots – Better in the Morning
  10. Sarah Cracknell – Nothing Left to Talk About

Depeche Mode – Playing the Angel

In a way you have to respect Depeche Mode for not making things too easy for their listeners – after the gentle electronic blips and blops of Exciter (2001), the noisy start to Playing the Angel (2005) must have come as a surprise to many. But in the light of Sounds of the Universe (2009) and Delta Machine (2013), you could be forgiven for thinking Playing the Angel might be the last of the great Depeche Mode albums.

Released ten years ago this week – so exactly two decades after The Singles 81-85, there is little recognisable from the group who sang Just Can’t Get Enough a couple of decades earlier. Yet at the same time, A Pain That I’m Used To, the first track on the album and second single, is another classic piece of Depeche Mode, with its catchy melody and clever lyrics.

John the Revelator pushes the boundaries somewhat with its slightly daft rhymes (it doesn’t use “escalator”, “imitator”, “Rotavator”, or many of the other options), but interestingly seems to take heavy inspiration from a 1930s gospel blues song, which makes for an interesting mix.

By 2005, Dave Gahan had just unleashed his first solo album Paper Monsters (2003), and his songwriting on Playing the Angel makes for a welcome diversion, as final single Suffer Well turns out to be every bit as good as anything else on here, and the echoes of regular songwriter Martin L. Gore‘s works are very clear. Gore does have a fairly limited range of subjects in his songs, though, as The Sinner in Me demonstrates.

Every so often, though, Depeche Mode come up with something quite extraordinary, and Precious is exactly that. It’s a quiet, understated track by their standards, but it’s a beautifully pulsing piece of music, which really should have been a much larger hit than it was.

So Playing the Angel continues, with the curious Macro giving way to another Gahan-penned piece I Want it All, and then the lovely Nothing’s Impossible, the third and last of Gahan’s works on here. The dark-yet-positive lyric and melancholic delivery make for an exceptional combination. As I said at the start, Depeche Mode always challenge their listeners, and the sound of fans criticising their latest release is a common one, but I suspect most would agree that this album has matured into one of their best.

Then comes Introspectre, one of the trademark short instrumentals that many complained was missing from Delta Machine, mixing into Damaged People, with Martin L. Gore turning up as lead vocalist for just the second time on here (Macro was the first). Despite only being a three-piece (and bearing in mind that nobody ever seems to have entirely established what Andrew Fletcher‘s role in the group is), their switching of songwriters and vocalists makes for a varied mix of output, and therefore can only be applauded.

This leaves just two more songs – the other half of the double a-side single with John the RevelatorLilian, which on the album could easily be missed, but it provides a welcome uptempo moment in the latter stages of the release. Then finally the lovely The Darkest Star, a crescendo which brings the album to a close beautifully.

After two and a half decades of making music, it’s impressive to think that Depeche Mode were still capable of creating an album that was this strong. There aren’t many acts who can make a claim like that.

You can still find Playing the Angel at all major retailers.

Depeche Mode – The Singles 81-85

Thirty years ago this week saw Depeche Mode reach a decisive level of maturity by releasing their first singles collection The Singles 81-85 (also known as Catching up with Depeche Mode in the USA, as their singles catalogue was rather less extensive).

For such a short period of time, it’s a fascinating chronicle, with fifteen singles taking us from the initial minor hit Dreaming of Me (1981) all the way through to It’s Called a Heart (1985). The first track is raw, with boy-band harmonies, crisp snare sounds, and somewhat enigmatic lyrical content, but it’s also great, right from the start.

The follow-up singles were New Life and Just Can’t Get Enough, which saw Dave Gahan starting to find his vocal style and Vince Clarke already finding his inimitable niche for great pop songs.

The hole that was left by Clarke’s departure after the first album Speak and Spell (1981) was filled astonishingly quickly, and See You soon appeared, heralding second album A Broken Frame (1982). The plinky-plonky synths remained, but replacement songwriter Martin L. Gore immediately demonstrated his superior lyrical abilities and dark side, and See You turned out to be rather brilliant.

The other singles from A Broken Frame are less noteworthy, although both of The Meaning of Love and Leave in Silence have their upsides, and then early in 1983 the non-album single Get the Balance Right followed, keeping the mood from the previous album.

The contrasts between the early albums are exceptional. After the plinky plonky pop album and the plinky plonky dark album, in 1983, Depeche Mode discovered sampling. The glorious Construction Time Again only yielded two singles, but both are exemplary – Everything Counts is an eternally great pop song, and Love, in Itself is a darker, more beautiful piece.

The group changed again fundamentally with People Are People, from 1984’s Some Great Reward album, finding themselves a dark industrial sound to accompany reasonably cheery pop songs with grim and grimy lyrics – a compelling contrast. People Are People brought them their first huge American hit, then Master and Servant followed up with a curiously sexual exploration.

One of the nicest things about this compilation was the carefully curated list of comments – two for each song, one positive and one negative. For Blasphemous Rumours, the negative one sees Pet Shop Boys‘ Neil Tennant, heavy with irony, describe “a routine slab of gloom in which God is given a severe ticking off”. I have to disagree, but it’s hard not to like a review like that.

Depeche Mode didn’t have the lengthiest back catalogue in 1985, so including Somebody, the other half of the same double a-side was really the only option they had. Some may question the decision to include it here, but it’s a good song. It’s also pleasing to hear this very different side to the group on this collection.

But viewed as a whole, The Singles 81-85 is a story of a group of young musicians gradually finding their way in the world of music, and by the time you reach the two new exclusive tracks Shake the Disease and It’s Called a Heart, it’s clear that they know their game. Shake the Disease is classic Depeche Mode, and while It’s Called a Heart may be less noteworthy, it’s still a strong pop song.

As an extra treat, the later reissues also provide the essential Some Bizarre version of Photographic and the extended Schizo mix of Just Can’t Get Enough, which round off an exceptional collection. Paired with the later The Singles 86-98 (and the hopefully forthcoming The Singles 01-15 or 16), and you have a couple of slices of music history.

Why not grab both of the existing collections in one box, with The Singles 81-98 box set, still available for a bargain price?

Q Awards 2015 – Nominees

Apologies for the slight delay, but this year Q decided to drag their heels somewhat about releasing their nominations, so this post got a little lost in the meantime. As always, there will no doubt be a slew of additional awards with near-identical names on the night, but for now, here are the nominees for the 2015 Q Awards:

Q Best New Act presented by Orange Amplification

  • Courtney Barnett
  • James Bay
  • The Bohicas
  • Circa Waves
  • Jess Glynne
  • Slaves
  • Soak
  • Songhoy Blues
  • Wolf Alice
  • Years & Years

Q Best Track presented by Absolute Radio

  • Florence + The Machine – What Kind of Man
  • Foals – What Went Down
  • The Libertines – Gunga Din
  • New Order – Restless
  • Mark Ronson – Uptown Funk

Q Best Video

  • Florence + The Machine – Ship to Wreck
  • Foals – What Went Down
  • Miguel – Coffee
  • Muse – Psycho
  • The Weeknd – Can’t Feel My Face

Q Best Album presented by JBL

  • Blur – The Magic Whip
  • Everything Everything – Get to Heaven
  • Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
  • Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday
  • Jamie xx – In Colour

Q Best Live Act presented by The Cavern Club

  • Catfish & The Bottlemen
  • The Libertines
  • Mumford & Sons
  • Royal Blood
  • Ed Sheeran

Q Best Solo Artist presented by Citroën

  • Noel Gallagher
  • Ed Sheeran
  • Sam Smith
  • Taylor Swift
  • Kanye West

Q Best Act in the World Today presented by Queen Bohemian Lager

  • Blur
  • Foals
  • Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
  • Muse
  • Ed Sheeran

Since their album only came out the week these nominations were announced, I’m not sure how much of a chance New Order actually have, but you should definitely vote for them in every available category. Which is just one category – pick whatever you want for everything else. The awards take place next week.

Preview – Jean-Michel Jarre

You may have spotted the six month long promotional period which has just come to an end for Jean-Michel Jarre‘s first new album in eight years, Electronica 1: The Time Machine. Released in horrible piecemeal fashion over a number of months, it’s a fascinating collection of songs, which honestly a lot of the time sounds as though Jarre has sat around letting other artists bask in his glory. But that’s no bad thing at all – here’s the collaboration with Little BootsIf…!

Retro chart for stowaways – 8 October 2005

Here are the top ten singles from a decade ago this week:

  1. Röyksopp – 49 Percent
  2. Andy Bell – Crazy
  3. Sugababes – Push the Button
  4. Goldfrapp – Ooh La La
  5. Liberty X – Song 4 Lovers
  6. Mylo vs. Miami Sound Machine – Doctor Pressure
  7. Röyksopp – Only This Moment
  8. New Order – Waiting for the Sirens’ Call
  9. Basement Jaxx – Do Your Thing
  10. Moby – Dream About Me

The Complete Music for the Masses – 2004-2005

After another year, my radio show Music for the Masses finally came to an end, this time for good. At the time of writing, it’s just a little over a decade since the last show, and honestly I do miss those days. Still, all good things come to an end. As do all not-that-great things, apparently.

Autumn 2004

Winter 2004

Spring 2005

Summer 2005

Incidentally, some of these do still exist, on a multitude of different formats including CD-R and MiniDisc, so as I continue to work through the archives I’ll hopefully be able to add them as future Playlists for stowaways.

See also The Complete Music for the Masses – 1999-2002.