Onetwo – Instead

In a parallel universe, Onetwo would have been an enormous electronic supergroup. The duo of Claudia Brücken, formerly of Propaganda, and Paul Humphreys from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and a collaboration with Martin L. Gore of Depeche Mode, really should have been enough alone to guarantee a couple of number one hits. But this is the twenty-first century, and anyone above the age of 25 who who keeps their clothes on is considered “cult”.

So Onetwo‘s brief career began in 2004, with an EP entitled Item, and three years later came the one and only album, Instead. It opens with the glorious two-part The Theory of Everything. A great introduction to the warm synth and simple vocals that characterise the duo, it is however somewhat overshadowed by Sequential, a beautifully evocative piece that must be one of the finest pop songs never to make the charts.

Home (Tonight) continues the theme, and while for the most part this is an album where the tracks work together to form something brilliant, rather than always trying to stand out on their own, there’s plenty to enjoy here too. Similarly Signals, one of just two tracks on here from the original 2004 EP, is another gentle and beautiful song.

The really unexpected moment comes with a cover of Pink Floyd‘s Have a Cigar, which works well and sounds great, but you are left wondering somewhat how on earth it came to be recorded and included here. There’s a certain logic when it mixes into another cover, this time of Cat Power‘s I Don’t Blame You, with Humphreys on lead vocals, a voice barely heard since, but just about recognisable from OMD‘s Souvenir.

Then comes Cloud Nine, definitely the best moment on here – in fact, it’s probably one of the finest songs of the decade, in spite of the opening “shalalalalala” from Brücken. Featuring the writing talents and guitar work of Martin L. Gore, somehow the chords and warm synth sounds come together perfectly. Also worth mentioning is that it features the synth work of friend of this blog Jon Russell, also known as Jonteknik.

If there was any doubt that Onetwo were in fact a synthpop supergroup, Andy McCluskey gets a writing credit on the lovely Anonymous, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a bit of an OMD feel to it, particularly in the chorus. Then Heaven has a bit of an end-of-album feel, even though there’s still plenty to come after it. There’s a pleasant ethereal other-worldliness to it, and while there’s not been anything particularly dark or violent up to this point, it still makes for a welcome change of pace.

It’s always nice to hear singers using their native language, and so it is with Kein Anschluß (which, interestingly, by 2007, was actually a misspelling). I suspect it’s partially intended as a nod to some of the duo’s influences from Brücken’s homeland, with its rhythmic electronic beats and almost Gregorian sounds. It’s easily one of the best songs on here.

After another downtempo moment with The Weakness in Me, you finally have to accept that it’s time for the closing track A Vision in the Sky, a sweet and memorable pop song with a gentle swing pattern and an enormous choral pad backing. This is entirely how this album should end – with something epic and unforgettable. If only it had sold a few more copies.

But ultimately Onetwo‘s downfall was that the seventeen year romantic partnership of Brücken and Humphreys meant an inevitable end to their combined musical career, but the 2006 reformation of the original line-up of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark had already put paid to most of Humphreys’s time commitments. So sadly, we’re left with just one album from Onetwo, completely forgotten but entirely brilliant, Instead.

You can still find Instead at all major retailers.

Depeche Mode – Speak & Spell

This week we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the debut Depeche Mode album, Speak & Spell. Vastly different from anything else the group have ever released – A Broken Frame shares some sonic similarities, but that’s about the only thing you can say – it really shares as much with Vince Clarke‘s later work as it does the artist whose name on it.

So you could probably forgive Depeche Mode fans for disliking this album, but really there’s something rather charming and fascinating about it.

It opens with the hit single New Life, which had hit the chart four months earlier and provided their first major hit. By the time the album came out, all three singles had been released already, so there were never too many surprises here. What is a surprise is just how far the group have come in the subsequent three and a half decades. With Vince Clarke at the helm as the main songwriter here, the focus was very definitely on pop music at this point.

I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead, despite the alarming title, is a short and sweet pop piece which is sufficiently different from its neighbours to guide us through smoothly to the darker PuppetsBoys Say Go! follows, and for many acts might well have been a huge hit single, but for Depeche Mode it’s just an album track. There isn’t a hint of Personal Jesus here.

Nodisco is a delightfully ironic disco track, and then the ridiculously pop-sounding What’s Your Name? closes Side A. It’s quite bizarre – absolutely nothing else Depeche Mode have ever recorded sounds like this, and yet it reminds me a lot of Yazoo. Not too surprising, until you remember that there were four people in Depeche Mode at this point, and three of them weren’t Vince Clarke.

Side B opens with the brilliant Photographic, perhaps the first moment since New Life that you realise quite how brilliant Depeche Mode are going to become once they get going properly. The more raw version on the Some Bizzare Album from earlier in 1981 is definitely better, but the album take is rather exceptional too.

At the end, it quietly morphs into the first of two Martin L. Gore-penned pieces, Tora! Tora! Tora! I doubt you would have noticed at the time, and maybe I’m pinning my expectations onto it, but it definitely sounds more experimental than anything we heard on Side A. You could probably also argue that Gore wasn’t quite at his best yet in terms of songwriting, although the chorus is great. And Dave Gahan‘s pronunciation of the line “You played a skellington” still amuses me every time I hear it.

Until A Broken Frame appeared barely a year later, the remainder of Gore’s songwriting legacy was represented by the instrumental Big Muff which follows. The lovely and dreary b-side Any Second Now comes next, in a new version, before passing the baton to its a-side, the adorable Just Can’t Get Enough.

For the most part, the singles are the highlights of this release, and the latter two at least have had so much radio airplay over the years that they’re difficult to forget. Debut release Dreaming of Me is less well known, and didn’t actually make it onto the original version of the album, but it got tacked on in a few different countries, so the reissued version includes it right at the end.

In many ways, Speak & Spell is more of a precursor to Depeche Mode‘s career than a debut. Apart from the lineup changes and the evolution of their sound, the artwork is particularly fascinating – the swan wrapped in cling film was heavily obscured for the original 1985 CD release, and is considerably more provocative than anything on the album. The photographer Brian Griffin returned for the cover of their next album, and that one is often cited as one of the finest album sleeves ever. This one is less well understood.

If you can find the double disc version of Speak & Spell, that’s the one you want – if not, forego the extra tracks in favour of less tinny sound, and grab the remastered single disc.

Depeche Mode – Exciter

I wonder if Depeche Mode fans just don’t like the idea of being happy? That’s one possible explanation for why they might not be too fond of Exciter anyway. But it celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this week, and so like it or not, now is a good time to give it a listen.

It opens with the excellent Dream On, an unusual opening single for the trio, as it’s immediately accessible and enjoyable – often they seem to prefer to challenge their fans with something obscure as a first single. It really sets the mood for the album – after a number of increasingly dark and introspective releases, Exciter found Depeche Mode in their happiest state of mind for years, and this is reflected in the music.

Shine is another example of this – it has a slightly dark side in the bridge, but even so it’s hard to imagine something like this being included on Ultra (1997) or Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993). There’s almost more in common with their first two or three albums than anything recent, and that’s very refreshing.

It blends into The Sweetest Condition, which at least borrows some slide guitar from the preceding album, and then When the Body Speaks might be one of the most beautiful songs Depeche Mode have ever recorded, with the gentler strumming allowing Dave Gahan to deliver a much more sensitive vocal than he otherwise might.

Their dark side is still there, as The Dead of Night amply demonstrates, although some might suggest that it isn’t quite as sincere as on previous releases. Perhaps surprisingly, contemporary reviews seem to have picked this track out as one of the highlights from Exciter while much of the album was dismissed as vacuous, but to me that just demonstrates Depeche Mode‘s greatest strength – even with three and a half decades of albums behind them, they are still able to surprise and perplex their listeners. You might not like everything they’ve done, and honestly neither do I, but we have to agree that they’re always interesting.

The short instrumental Lovetheme carries us through to the beautiful and unshakable Freelove, one of many songs which, when they play live, the audience continues to sing long after it’s finished. It’s so serene, in fact, that it’s rather difficult to actually write a review without singing along yourself.

Martin L. Gore turns up in person to deliver the curious Comatose, and then we launch headlong into the brilliant I Feel Loved, a modern disco anthem every bit as good as the one it’s surely almost named after. It’s difficult to understand how anybody could dislike anything this good. Then Gore turns up again on Breathe, before the short and very sweet instrumental Easy Tiger.

I Am You is a surprising penultimate track – it would be easy to dismiss it without much thought, but it’s actually rather catchy and atmospheric, and after that comes Goodnight Lovers, which might be the best song on here. I don’t think Depeche Mode had ever done anything quite like this before, a very gentle, lullaby-like song which would later make a very effective limited edition last single before they went off to their respective solo projects for another three or four years.

Ultimately, Exciter seems to be difficult to dislike. There are moments when you wonder if they’re trying to channel their own past a little too much – particularly the Violator album – but if nothing else it’s very refreshing to see Depeche Mode look on the bright side for once.

If you can still get your hands on the double disc edition of Exciter, this is the one to go for – otherwise the original release is still widely available.

Artist of the Week – Depeche Mode

Trawling through the archives, I found this, the text I put together for Depeche Mode when they were featured as artist of the week on my old radio show Music for the Masses. I’ll apologise right now for any unintentional plagiarism, errors, or particularly rude statements about group members that follow.

Depeche Mode formed from a group of school friends in 1981, and the group was one of the first signings to Daniel Miller‘s Mute Records. Two of the singles from their first album Speak and SpellNew Life and Just Can’t Get Enough reached the top ten, but shortly after the release of the album, principal songwriter Vince Clarke decided to leave the band to pursue other projects. The band pulled together, and Martin Gore took over songwriting duties.

Over the course of the 1980s, Depeche Mode began to pick up a substantial underground following, and travelled much of western Europe recording, and across the world touring. They reached their live pinnacle in 1988, when 75,000 people packed out the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Throughout the 1990s, their following has continued to grow, and the quality of their music has continued to excel. Their 1990 album Violator yielded several substantial hits, and became the first of three number ones in the UK.

The mid-1990s saw them hit traumatic times, as they lost long-standing member Alan Wilder, leaving them with only Martin Gore, singer Dave Gahan, and general dogsbody Martin Fletcher, whose main function in the band seems to be to wax lyrical about their 1986 album Black Celebration.

At this time, Dave Gahan was going through extreme drug problems, and generally it was thought that the band would split up, but somehow they fought against the odds, and came back in 1997 with Ultra, one of their best albums to date.

Their must recent album Exciter was released in 2001, and saw them return to a more upbeat style for the first time in a decade, and after spending last year [2003] immersed in solo projects, they will be returning at the end of October [2004] with a triple CD package of old, new, and previously unreleased remixes.

Depeche Mode – Black Celebration

Black CelebrationDepeche Mode‘s fifth album, was released thirty years ago this week. Things had gone decidedly dark with the preceding album Some Great Reward, a couple of years earlier, and now they would positively celebrate the darkness.

This isn’t honestly one of Depeche Mode‘s albums that I know too well, so there are probably going to be a few surprises here. It opens with the title track, which I’m actually surprised to read was never a single (a live version was on the b-side of A Question of Time, which I suspect is what I’m thinking of). It’s definitely good enough, with a catchy chorus punctuated by curious samples.

Just a few months earlier had come the release of The Singles 81-85, packaging the highlights from their first four albums in one easily digestible package, and one of the b-sides was Fly on the Windscreen, which appears as the second track on Black Celebration. In other circumstances, such an appearance might have seemed a little out of place, but here it fits perfectly. It’s a particularly good song, in especially good form.

It’s finally time for a single, the downtempo A Question of Lust, with Martin L. Gore on vocals. I’ve got a feeling I was nonplussed the first time I heard this, however many years ago that might have been, but now I’m rather fond of it. It is a strange choice for a single, though, so it perhaps isn’t too surprising that it was their worst chart performer since their debut.

The album, meanwhile, was their most successful yet, peaking at number 4, and after the glorious follow-up Music for the Masses only scraped to number 10 a year or so later, Black Celebration managed to hold onto that title for four years.

Sometimes echoes Somebody on the previous album, a piano piece led again by Gore, but ultimately it sounds a bit of a mess, with its extravagant delay, although it ends nicely. Like it or not, it doesn’t last long. The lovely It Doesn’t Matter Two (so named to avoid confusion with It Doesn’t Matter on the preceding album) comes next, closing the first half of the album in particularly stylish manner.

Side B opens with a bang, in the form of third (and, for the most part, final) single A Question of Time. Perhaps for the first time in their career, we see Depeche Mode truly embrace rock music, something they have continued to do ever since. The huge bass line, which used by anybody else might have sounded cheesy, punches out the rhythm of a classic rock track, and the lyrics are brilliantly appropriate. Their chart success was quickly restored.

A Question of Time also saw the first of many collaborations with filmmaker and visual wizard Anton Corbijn, someone whose input seems now to be pretty much integral to Depeche Mode‘s image. Five albums into their career, they were clearly still working out who they were.

Lead single Stripped comes next, a huge anthemic piece with less of a rock feel, but still a noticeable depth, and then we have Here is the House, a pleasant song with more of a pop leaning. Actually, this would have fitted very comfortably on pretty much any of the earlier albums, except the lyrics show a lot of maturity, and they have had a lot of fun with the production. It’s a good song, although ultimately it’s perhaps a little forgettable.

One of the most fascinating things is just how short the songs are. There’s plenty to like, but if you aren’t too keen on something, another song will be along again in a couple of minutes, which is a stark contrast to Some Great RewardWorld Full of Nothing is another one that I’d entirely forgotten, but that is actually rather good.

It would be hard to forget the glorious Dressed in Black, which echoes a 1960s pop song, with the pad backing and curiously daft bass line. Again, if you had to pin down exactly who Depeche Mode have become in the last three decades, this would be a pretty good place to start.

The final track is New Dress, with a verse that many (mainly German) imitators would revisit continually for the next decade. Honestly, I’ve no idea what this is meant to be, or even really what it’s doing here, but somehow it seems entirely appropriate as the closing piece for this album.

Some of its contents might be a little forgettable, but for the most part that’s the worst you can say for them. In the end, Black Celebration is a career-defining moment, and is every bit as brilliant as anything they have released yet.

The 2007 remaster of Black Celebration is the definitive one, still available as a single-disc reissue here.

The Stowaway Awards 2016

Here are the winners of this year’s Stowaways:

Best Track

As announced over the New Year, the winner of this year’s Best Track award was New Order feat. Elly Jackson, with Tutti Frutti.

Best Album

These were the nominees:

  • Camouflage – Greyscale
  • Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – Angels & Ghosts
  • Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  • Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
  • Little Boots – Working Girl
  • Marsheaux – A Broken Frame
  • MG – MG
  • Roísín Murphy – Hairless Toys
  • New Order – Music Complete

The winner is New Order!

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • Air – The Virgin Suicides
  • Delerium – Rarities & B-Sides
  • Erasure – Always – The Very Best Of
  • Everything But The Girl – Walking Wounded
  • Faithless – Faithless 2.0

With an exceptional selection of b-sides, mixes, and rarities, the winner is Everything But The Girl, for the special edition of Walking Wounded.

Best Video

  • Étienne de Crécy – Hashtag My Ass
  • Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – All of This and Nothing
  • Hot Chip – Huarache Lights
  • Leftfield & Sleaford Mods – Head and Shoulders
  • Little Boots – Better in the Morning

The winner is Leftfield.

Best Artist

  • Camouflage
  • Sarah Cracknell
  • Hot Chip
  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • Leftfield
  • Little Boots
  • Marsheaux
  • Roísín Murphy
  • New Order
  • Soulsavers

Winner: Hot Chip.

Best Live Act

Winner: Little Boots.

Best Ambient Track

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre and Lang Lang, for The Train and the River.

Best Remix

Winner: Röyksopp, for The Presets‘ remix of I Had This Thing.

Best Dance Act / Remixer

Winner: Étienne de Crécy.

Outstanding Contribution

  • Erasure
  • Everything But The Girl
  • Hot Chip
  • Leftfield
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Winner: Erasure.

 

Albums chart of the year 2015 for stowaways

It gives us great pleasure to unveil the top albums of 2015! Here’s the chart:

  1. New Order – Music Complete
  2. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
  3. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
  4. Little Boots – Working Girl
  5. The Future Sound of London – Environment Five [released 2014]
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  7. The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
  8. MG – MG
  9. Erlend Øye – Legao [released 2014]
  10. Röyksopp – The Inevitable End [number 1 of 2014]
  11. Étienne de Crécy – Super Discount 3
  12. Pink Floyd – The Endless River [released 2014]
  13. Camouflage – Greyscale
  14. Shit Robot – We Got a Love [released 2014]
  15. MG – MG EP
  16. The Chemical Brothers – Born in the Echoes
  17. Björk – Vulnicura
  18. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses [released 1989]
  19. Delerium – Rarities & B-Sides
  20. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon [released 1973]

Deepest commiserations to Erasure and Madonna, who were only just outside of the top twenty this year! Better luck in 2016!