Random jukebox – Depeche Mode

Here’s a brilliant song from the early (and suspiciously young looking) Depeche Mode – Get the Balance Right, from 1983:

Advertisements

Dave Gahan – Paper Monsters

It’s surprising in a way how long it took Dave Gahan to release his first solo album. After more than twenty years as Depeche Mode‘s frontman, he must have had a pretty good idea of how to write a hit, but never seemed to have got himself together. Or possibly was too busy with other side projects, such as taking narcotics.

Anyway, Dirty Sticky Floors was the dirty, grungy opening single, a fantastic track, which, if it weren’t for the bass line and of course the vocalist, could have been any contemporary pop-rock crossover act. It was, entirely justifiably, a substantial hit single, breaking the top twenty in the UK and peaking at number 6 in Germany.

But of course he could pull off a single – could he also extend that to a full album? Well, Hold On is pretty promising – not quite as catchy as the opening track, but still a strong and memorable bluesy song.

There does seem to be a bit of a downward spiral happening here though, as the mellow and forgettable A Little Piece follows. It’s pleasant enough; it just never really goes anywhere, and if the album had more like this, then it really wouldn’t be a great debut.

Fortunately, it doesn’t – final single Bottle Living turns up next, lifting the mood. This is, in style, very similar to the opening track, but a lot darker – there’s nothing electronic about this track, it’s rock through and through. Very good rock though. There are still valid criticisms, such as the fact that the lyrics don’t entirely make sense, but that’s alright once in a while.

“I’m back in the room with the two-way door,” isn’t exactly a great opening line either, but Black and Blue Again is a pretty good track otherwise. There’s some nice slide guitar work, and some very clear shades of Depeche Mode at times, but there’s nothing really wrong with that – he did have a clear audience for this release, after all.

This is a thoughtfully structured album, and Stay leads the second half, with strong echoes of Ultra. There are no drums really, more just gentle percussion. It’s a sweet, meandering song, with an ever-present air of grunge hiding in the background.

Then comes second single I Need You, which is, hands down, the best song on here. It’s a deliciously summery love song, and a gentle trippy electronic beat runs all the way through, with very understated guitar work and shimmering synthesisers. It’s really quite brilliant.

Bitter Apple is a bit of an odd song, but it works nicely here among its neighbours, including Hidden Houses. These may not be the best tracks that Gahan has ever recorded, but they should be reasonably high on the list, actually. Goodbye, too, hardly leaves you at the end of the album with an uplifted feeling, but it does round Gahan’s first solo work out comprehensively at least. Paper Monsters may tail off a little at times, but all round, it is an exceptional debut release, and well worth a listen.

You can still find Paper Monsters at all major retailers.

Greatest Hits – Vol. 11

Time for another selection of reviews that you might have missed in the last year or two.

You can also see Vol. 10 here.

Stowaway Heroes – Vince Clarke

One of the most prolific names in music is Vince Clarke. After a couple of excellent false starts including Yazoo and The Assembly, he’s spent most of his career as the knob-twiddling genius responsible for Erasure‘s backing tracks.

Things started out, of course, with Depeche Mode, and we can’t really overlook his sunglasses and designer stubble in their breakthrough hit Just Can’t Get Enough:

Of course, Erasure is where he’s spent most of the last thirty years, and it would be difficult not to give him credit where it’s due for his exquisite performance in the video to Abba‘s Take a Chance on Me:

In recent years, he has branched out, working again with his old bandmate Martin L. Gore as well as half of Orbital, all of Jean-Michel Jarre, and others. From 2Square, his project with Paul Hartnoll, here’s Better Have a Drink to Think:

Genius is an over-used word without a doubt, but it’s absolutely fair to say that Clarke should be one of our stowaway heroes.

Stowaway Awards 2018

After all the excitement of previous years, I’ve decided to tone down the Stowaway Awards a little this year, with just six categories. Here they are, with the full lists of nominees!

Best Track

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
  • Erasure – Be Careful What You Wish for!
  • Gary Numan – My Name is Ruin
  • Goldfrapp – Become the One
  • Kraftwerk – Radioaktivität
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  • Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  • Saint Etienne – Whyteleaf
  • Sparks – Scandinavian Design
  • Yazoo – Only You

We announced the winner already – it’s Depeche Mode.

Best Album

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode – Spirit
  • Erasure – World Be Gone
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  • Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  • Sparks – Hippopotamus

The winner is Depeche Mode.

Best Reissue / Compilation

Nominees:

  • Liza Minnelli – Results
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury: B Sides & Bonus Material
  • Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  • Pet Shop Boys – Release
  • Pet Shop Boys – Yes

The winner is Pet Shop Boys, for Release.

Best Artist

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode
  • Erasure
  • Goldfrapp
  • Saint Etienne
  • Sparks

This year’s winner is Sparks.

Best Live Act

Nominees:

  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • múm

The winner is Jean-Michel Jarre.

Outstanding Contribution

Nominees:

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • The Future Sound of London
  • Leftfield
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

The winner: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Grammy Awards 2018

I never really have enough patience to look into the Grammy Awards in too much detail – there are just way too many of them. But it’s always worth a quick skim, particularly this year it seems. So here are some headlines.

Best Dance Recording went to LCD Soundsystem this year for the irritatingly-spelt Tonite, beating Gorillaz‘s Andromeda, and both were also nominated for Best Alternative Music Album for American Dream and Humanz respectively, but lost out to The National.

One of my favourite awards, Best New Age Album this year overlooked a strong nominee for Brian Eno with Reflection and went with Peter Kater instead for Dancing on WaterBest Dance/Electronic Album surprisingly went to Kraftwerk for the sublime box set 3-D The Catalogue over Bonobo‘s Migration.

In a pleasant surprise, Dennis White won Best Remixed Recording for his Latroit Remix of Depeche Mode‘s You Move. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds got a couple of nominations, one in the Best Music Film category for One More Time with Feeling, and once in the Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package category for the work of the art direction on their singles compilation Lovely Creatures, but failed to win in the end. Roger Waters suffered the same fate for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

That’s all I’ve got. There’s a more comprehensive list of winners and nominees on the Billboard website.

The Beloved – Conscience

Most people have probably forgotten The Beloved by now – after all, they only had a couple of hit singles, and they were a long time ago. But hidden, somewhere back in the 1990s, are several extremely good albums, and one of them, Conscience, celebrates its twenty-fifth birthday this week.

Conscience was actually The Beloved‘s third album, following the largely ignored Where it Is (1987) and the hugely successful Happiness (1990). But this was their biggest hit, peaking at number 2 in the UK in early 1993.

The album opens with Spirit, a pleasant but relatively forgettable track with a bit of a gospel feel, which seems to be largely about the trials and tribulations of recording a comeback album. It includes what I think might be The Beloved‘s only example of a key change in the chorus, which maybe wasn’t their wisest move ever.

It didn’t need to be – the top ten hit Sweet Harmony is next. I think indisputably The Beloved‘s finest moment, this was of course the primary reason why this album was so successful. The world had waited a little over two years for their comeback, and then they reappeared with one of the catchiest pop songs of the decade. You can even forgive a extended saxophone solo when the song is this good.

There were actually three singles from Conscience in the UK, plus a couple of overseas and promo releases, and Outerspace Girl was the third of these. A minor summer hit, it easily has all the qualities that it needs, and despite a couple of slightly daft lyrics (“whizzing onwards at warp factor nine”) it’s really rather good.

Lose Yourself in Me is the moment where The Beloved decide to channel Depeche Mode, and while it may not be entirely successful in that regard, it’s still one of the best tracks on here, helped to stand out by the unique sound and mood.

The first weak moment on this album is the longer part-instrumental Paradise Found. I suspect the intention here was to try to recapture some of the mood of their brilliant 1990 remix album Blissed Out, but it doesn’t quite manage it unfortunately, and instead drags a little for its seven minute duration.

The second single was a double a-side of the middle two tracks on the album, led by the beautiful, semi-acoustic song You’ve Got Me Thinking, and backed with the deeper house Celebrate Your Life. Both are fantastic, as is the US-only single Rock to the Rhythm of Love that follows.

Let the Music Take You is a bit questionable, but it’s only the lyrics that are the problem, which are a little on the meaningless side. The general pop-house feel of most of the album continues, and actually it continues to come together rather well.

“Today I woke up smiling,” is the opening lyric on 1000 Years from Today, and it’s very fitting – there’s a glorious early-morning feel to the gentle house beats and rippling piano sounds. It might seem a little dated now, 25 years from its original release, but it still sounds extremely good.

The dreamy feeling continues with the fantastic Dream On, the six and a half minute ethereal piece that closes the album. It’s broad and huge, and a truly wonderful closing track for what really is a great and long-forgotten album.

Conscience is, ironically, one of The Beloved‘s weaker moments for me, and the fact that it’s overflowing with great songs is proof of just how good they were during the decade or so that they were on the charts. For me, a couple of decades on, I still really miss them.

You can find Conscience at all major retailers.