Stowaway World Cup – Group of 16 – Games 1 & 2

Game 1: Jean-Michel Jarre versus Depeche Mode

The first game after the group stages is a thrilling face-off between two giants, with the winner of Group A taking on the runner-up of Group B.

  1. 3+2. No goal.
  2. 2+1. Goal for most charismatic performer(s). That’s an early goal for Dave Gahan. 0-1.
  3. 6+1. Goal for best song. Enjoy the Silence clinches it. 0-2.
  4. 5+6. No goal.
  5. 6+1. Foul. 2+3. Penalty for Depeche Mode, but no goal.
  6. 5+6. No goal.
  7. 5+4. No goal.
  8. 1+1. No goal.
  9. 3+2. No goal.
  10. 2+1. Foul. 5+5. The referee didn’t see it, whatever happened. Depeche Mode win 0-2, and progress to the quarter finals.

Game 2: Kylie Minogue versus Madonna and Yazoo

The Australian goddess takes on the bizarre supergroup of Madonna and Yazoo.

  1. 3+4. No goal.
  2. 2+2. No goal.
  3. 1+1. No goal.
  4. 1+5. No goal.
  5. 5+3. No goal.
  6. 3+1. No goal.
  7. 4+5. Goal for most hits on UK album chart. Kylie has 30 and Madonna has 28, but it looks as though the reissues bring them to around 27 each. Yazoo‘s 3 could be added on to give them a slight edge, but that seems a bit unfair too. Referee rules no goal.
  8. 3+5. No goal.
  9. 2+3. Goal for highest number of views of a post on this blog. Yazoo to the rescue, with 210 views for the review of Only Yazoo. 0-1.
  10. 6+4. Another last minute goal. Goal for worst performance in previous games. This was added to help the underdog from time to time, but there really isn’t one here. Kylie won every game so far, whereas Madonna and Yazoo lost to Jean-Michel Jarre in the first game of the tournament, so that clinches a win for the supergroup. 0-2.

Stowaway World Cup – The Draw

OK, time for the all-important draw. Pot A consists of the top 8 artists by mentions on this blog:

  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Depeche Mode
  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • Röyksopp
  • Erasure
  • New Order
  • David Bowie
  • Goldfrapp

Pot B consists of the next eight, except that Moby is busy getting vegan tattoos, so won’t be taking part this year. Delerium, Front Line Assembly, and Conjure One are pretty much the same people anyway, so they have formed a single team together.

  • Saint Etienne
  • Kraftwerk
  • Sparks
  • Delerium / Front Line Assembly / Conjure One
  • The Human League
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  • The Future Sound of London
  • The Beloved

Pot C sees a few disqualifications, with Vince Clarke taking part as part of Erasure, and Martin L. Gore playing for Depeche Mode:

  • Air
  • Little Boots
  • Massive Attack
  • Kylie Minogue
  • I Monster
  • William Orbit
  • Ladytron
  • Hot Chip

Finally, Pot D sees Dave Gahan disqualified for being part of Depeche Mode, plus U2 and Coldplay disqualified for not being very good. Yazoo formed a team with Madonna, for no particularly good reason.

  • Madonna and Yazoo
  • The Radiophonic Workshop
  • Leftfield
  • Everything But The Girl
  • Shit Robot
  • Client
  • Enigma
  • Bent

After the draw, the eight groups look like this:

  • Group A: Jean-Michel Jarre, Delerium / Front Line Assembly / Conjure One, Little Boots, Madonna and Yazoo
  • Group B: Depeche Mode, Sparks, Kylie Minogue, Everything But The Girl
  • Group C: Erasure, Saint Etienne, Massive Attack, Shit Robot
  • Group D: Goldfrapp, Kraftwerk, Hot Chip, Bent
  • Group E: Pet Shop Boys, The Beloved, I Monster, Client
  • Group F: Röyksopp, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Air, Enigma
  • Group G: David Bowie, The Human League, Ladytron, Leftfield
  • Group H: New Order, The Future Sound of London, William Orbit, The Radiophonic Workshop

So the first game will be Jean-Michel Jarre versus Madonna and Yazoo, in a couple of days’ time.

Depeche Mode – Ben Hillier Trilogy

Trilogies of albums with a single producer seem to be somewhat en vogue in recent years, and since the release schedule is so much slower for most artists than it used to be, that can mean an ongoing collaboration lasting more than a decade. So it is with Depeche Mode‘s recent trilogy of albums with Ben Hillier.

The story began in late 2004 or early 2005 with the sessions to record Playing the Angel (released 2005). Depeche Mode were back in their stride by now, perhaps the most comfortable they had ever been with who they were. A decade earlier, the end of the Songs of Faith and Devotion tour saw the band in turmoil, with drug and alcohol abuse, Dave Gahan close to death, and the permanent departure of Alan Wilder. Ultra (1997), although undeniably dark in character, saw the first step of their rebirth, and the lighter Exciter (2001) saw them celebrating the pop and dark sides of their past.

This must have left them in a difficult place, in terms of the style they wanted to hit with the next album, but Playing the Angel finds them still comfortable with their sound. There’s nothing really weak about this album – it hops between exceptional (such as lead single Precious and follow-up A Pain That I’m Used to) and fair (tracks such as I Want it All and Macro may not be the band’s most memorable, but are far from their worst).

After the inevitable tour, they filled their time off with a good but unnecessary compilation, The Best of Depeche Mode – Volume 1, led by the lovely Martyr, an outtake from the previous album, and then some solo work including Gahan’s lovely second album Hourglass, before returning with Sounds of the Universe (2009).

This is where the idea of a producer-based trilogy starts to cause problems. Depeche Mode have always suffered badly from loudness, and all three of these albums are particularly bad examples, which would benefit from remastering despite not being particularly old. So that’s one problem, and the lack of change seems to have impacted creativity somewhat too.

It’s not that Sounds of the Universe is particularly badWrong is a great, beautifully dark, first single, and there are other great tracks on here too, such as Peace and Perfect. It’s just that a lot of it is very average, by Depeche Mode standards. Dave Gahan‘s songwriting contributions are fair at best, and a lot of Martin L. Gore‘s seem a little uninspired. Possibly the finest track of all on here is the Gahan/Gore songwriting collaboration Oh Well, which was inexplicably disposed of on the b-side of Wrong and the bonus disc of the album.

That bonus disc – and the box set of other discs – is this album’s saving grace. This was an age where Depeche Mode remixes were generally of high calibre, and the disc of historic demos is very welcome too. The album was still hugely successful, hitting number 2 in the UK and number 1 in many countries, so it was far from a failure – just perhaps a little disappointing.

Depeche Mode albums seem to take a four-year pattern, with an album (2009) followed by a tour (Tour of the Universe, 2009-2010), a DVD (Tour of the Universe: Barcelona 20/21.11.09, 2010), some side projects (Remixes 2: 81–11, 2011, and the adorable The Light the Dead See by Dave Gahan and Soulsavers, 2012), all of which kept the band more than busy enough before they needed to start work on the final release in the trilogy in 2012.

Delta Machine (2013) is the real disappointment in the trilogy. It’s worthy – there’s more real instrumentation here, and some great moments, including – as always, the lead single Heaven. Final single Should Be Higher is great too. But there’s a lot that isn’t, particularly Angel and Secret to the End, and the overriding impression you get is just how loud everything is. In the charts, Depeche Mode can do very little wrong, so maybe none of this matters particularly, but the final piece of this trilogy was not their best work.

Their fans never seem particularly keen whenever a new album lands, but enough time has passed now that the popular opinion on Delta Machine should have mellowed. Maybe it has, but I have to say, I’m still struggling.

However, this trilogy showed us that Depeche Mode have plenty more to offer the world of music, even if they only do it together once between each Olympics and World Cup. It showed us that they were capable of being very loud, even if that came at the cost of sound quality. And it showed us that maybe they benefit from having a new producer for each album, or perhaps this trilogy coincided with a wane in their creativity. Either way, they definitely still have it, and their time with Ben Hillier produced some of their best material. But it also produced some less notable works too.

See here for another summary of a producer trilogy.

Longest Day

Well, these are interesting times, aren’t they?

For a number of reasons, actually completely unrelated to the reason you might be thinking of, posts have dried up here a bit recently. There was a time, back in the day, when I was able to stay well ahead with writing reviews, and never had any shortage of content. Time passed, and gradually life got busier, and honestly this blog has been limping along for a while now.

So, what now? I may have run out of posts, but I’m not short of ideas, so this blog will definitely return – probably not seven days a week again, but maybe once a week, and probably not for a little while, unless I suddenly find a lot of free time for some reason. For now, while I’m housebound, I’m afraid family duties have to take top priority!

So let me leave you with this, the ninth most played track in my iTunes library: the brilliant Dave Gahan, providing vocals for Soulsavers, on Longest Day. Please take it easy, stay safe, and enjoy the silence!

Depeche Mode – Sounds of the Universe (Bonus Tracks & Remixes)

Depeche Mode don’t release a lot of b-sides, and when they do, they are a little intriguing. On the back of their 2009 comeback single Wrong, they included the jaunty and intriguing Oh Well, and then proceeded to follow it up with a whole album of b-sides and remixes as the second disc of Sounds of the Universe. It appeared ten years ago this week, and we reviewed the first disc exactly five years ago this week.

It opens with Light, which is pretty good. Definitely b-side material, but good nonetheless. It’s a catchy song, but I don’t think anyone would argue that it should have been on an album. The Sun and the Moon and the Stars is nice, though, and sees principle songwriter Martin L. Gore delivering the lead vocal. In many ways, with the bleak electro backing, it sounds like something from his solo back catalogue, and again, I’m not sure it’s really Depeche Mode album material, but it’s a nice song, and it’s always good to get another Gore vocal.

This was, of course, the era when Dave Gahan, coming back from his solo material, was now able to contribute to the songwriting progress as well. So, having contributed three tracks to the main album (Hole to Feed, Come Back, and Miles Away / The Truth Is), there wasn’t quite as much space for Gore’s material. So most of what’s on the second disc is his, and normally with a Gahan vocal.

Ghost is another of these, with a catchy vocal and some wonderfully dark electronic backing. You can tell the quality is high here though – again, while Sounds of the Universe is far from Depeche Mode‘s finest hour, the standard is actually pretty high – and Ghost isn’t quite up there.

But we do get a decent range of Depeche Mode‘s signature sounds here – and one of the less well known of those is Martin L. Gore‘s abstract instrumentals, of which Esque is one. Running at just over two minutes, it’s a pleasant interlude, which tends to be pretty much all they’re ever used for, but it’s a good example of the style.

Let’s face it, though – Oh Well is the reason you’re interested in this bonus disc. Frankly, why this wasn’t on the main album is a bit of a mystery to me – maybe they just didn’t quite feel it fit somehow. This is, though, the first ever songwriting collaboration between Dave Gahan and Martin L. Gore, and it also features a joint vocal from the two of them, alongside some gloriously dirty electronics. It’s brilliant – better, actually, than several of the tracks on the main release.

That’s it for the bonus tracks – the remaining tracks are all remixes, and of an odd selection of tracks. First up, Efdemin turn up for a dubby (but full-vocal) mix of Corrupt. It’s alright, but Depeche Mode remixes are often pretty inscrutable, and this is a good example of that. It’s fairly relaxed, fully of soft beats and vocal samples, and not a huge amount else.

Minilogue‘s Earth mix of In Chains is easier to understand, reworking the opening track from the main album. While it was reasonable as an opening track, it isn’t the best source material that Depeche Mode have ever provided, but this turns out to be a spacey house mix, with huge amounts of reverb and some more dub influence on the vocals, but it bounces along pleasantly for eight minutes or so.

But while some of their remixes may be particularly challenging, others do hit their mark, and you can trust The Orb‘s Thomas Fehlmann to be the first to do that here, with his excellent Flowing Ambient Mix of Little Soul. It retains large chunks of the original, but adds a huge throbbing synth line that just chugs along gently for nine and a half minutes. It’s pure brilliance, of a sort that only seems to happen once in a while with Depeche Mode‘s remixes.

The remaining remixes are good, but don’t really break new ground. SixToes‘ somewhat anarchic string version of Jezebel is enjoyable, and it’s definitely an odd definition of the “remix”, as it’s difficult to figure out exactly who would play this and where, but it’s also very pleasant. Electronic Periodic‘s Dark Drone Mix of Perfect is an odd combination of electro and house, but works well too.

Finally, Caspa turns up to rework lead single Wrong. This is a pretty good glitchy version, although probably not quite up to the standard of some of the versions on the single, such as Trentemøller‘s take. But it closes out a decent collection in appropriate fashion – there’s not much special here, but there’s nothing really bad either.

All in all, the bonus tracks and remixes from Sounds of the Universe are pretty good. There were some better remixes spread across the singles, but this isn’t a bad collection. Both the bonus tracks and the remixes have plenty of sounds from Depeche Mode‘s universe (excuse the pun) to offer, and so it’s definitely worth hearing. Above all, this is where you can find Oh Well.

You can find all of these tracks on Sounds of the Universe (Deluxe), which is still available from major retailers, including the original album and also the demos, which we reviewed previously here.

Chart for stowaways – 2 March 2019

Here are the week’s top singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
  2. Ladytron – Horrorscope
  3. The Beloved – It’s Alright Now
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Flying Totems
  5. The Radiophonic Workshop – Arrival Home
  6. Ladytron – Far from Home
  7. Ladytron – The Animals
  8. Gesaffelstein feat. The Weeknd – Lost In The Fire
  9. The Future Sound of London – My Kingdom
  10. Dave Gahan – Saw Something / Deeper and Deeper

Retro chart for stowaways – 11 October 2003

Fifteen years ago this week!

  1. Dave Gahan – I Need You
  2. Goldfrapp – Strict Machine
  3. Richard X feat. Kelis – Finest Dreams
  4. Kraftwerk – Tour de France 2003
  5. Madonna – Hollywood
  6. Kosheen – All in My Head
  7. Paul van Dyk – Nothing But You
  8. Delerium feat. Jaël – After All
  9. Ladytron – Blue Jeans
  10. Tomcraft – Loneliness