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Black Celebration is the 5th album by UK electronic rock band Depeche Mode who at the time comprised of Dave Gahan on vocals, Martin Gore on keyboards & backing vocals, Andrew Fletcher on keyboards & programming and Alan Wilder on keyboards & electronic drums.
Despite the fact its best recorded chart position was #1 on the Swiss Albums Chart it went Gold in America (by selling over 800 thousand units) but it only reached #90 on the US Billboard 200. The album went Platinum in Germany, Gold in France & Silver in the UK selling over 4 million units globally.
All songs written by Martin Gore unless otherwise stated, all lead vocals sung by Dave Gahan unless otherwise stated.
So whats on Black Celebration then?
1. "Black Celebration - 4:55
This one has a weird old intro, the voice you can hear in the background is producer Daniel Miller apparently impersonating Winston Churchill. This is dark start to a generally odd album from Depeche Modes hardest period in their existance. Its quite a stark track in terms of lyrics and structure, Gore was still drawing inspiration from the Industrial music genre. Its hard to tell exactly how Gahan feels singing these words, he sounds really indifferent.
2. "Fly on the Windscreen - Final" - 5:18
I think Alan Wilder got his grubby little mittens on this track as its drum central and has the feel of "classic" Mode that seemed to follow his arrival in the band. Dave sings almost calmly about death almost as though its a side thought or more a remote possibility than a certainty. When he sings "death is everywhere" you dont feel like he believes that, he has an air of being untouchable. His aloof delivery is pretty much perfect. That synth brass at the end is rather cool too.
3. "A Question of Lust" - 4:20
This track was the 2nd single to be released off the album on April 14, 1986 and featured Martin Gore on lead vocals, with the 1st 2 very dark tracks this sort of feels like it doesnt belong on this album. Gores voice is too happy and relaxed despite the rather unusual subject matter. The best recorded position for this single was #8 in Germany.
4. "Sometimes" - 1:53
With Martin Gore on lead vocals, its another song that feels like it doesnt belong on such a dark album. Its far too light and relaxed despite the lyrics attempt to say otherwise. I really dont like the delayed overtracked vocal, it really doesnt work. This may be a short track but it couldn't have been over soon enough for me.
5. "It Doesn't Matter Two" - 2:50
Martin Gore takes lead vocals again, I quite like the odd choral intro. Gore sounds really great in contrast to the bizarre choral backing & xylophones, its on the edge of a possible dark mood for me. I rather like the line "although it feels good now its only for now", extremely bleak. This is one of those songs Gore writes to take you somewhere to screw up your head but you dont mind going along for the ride at all. Shame its so short.
6. "A Question of Time" - 4:10
This was the 3rd single to be released off the album on August 11, 1986 and its best recorded chart position was #4 in Germany. This single really shows how heavily the Industrial genre was still influencing Gores song writing as it sounds so much like stuff by Ministry, Propaganda or Front 242, it reminds me a lot of Headhunter by Front 242. You can genuinely believe if Dave Gahan decides he's going to corrupt you then theres nothing anyone can do to stop him although having just read the lyrics it sounds like hes trying to save an innocent from that very fate.
7. "Stripped" - 4:16
This was the 1st single released off the album on February 10, 1986, and from the moment the sample of that slowed down motor kicks in I'm loving every second of this track. Without a doubt its my personal favourite on the album (well I know the words to it so it certainly has more influence than the other tracks) and I really do like the imagery of lyrics like "let me hear you make decisions without your televisions, let me me see you speaking just for me" which are truly sublime.
Its little wonder fans love to sing along at concerts, the best recorded chart position was #4 in Germany. Being stripped simply refers to seeing the person behind the facade everyone maintains in their daily life.
8. "Here Is the House" - 4:15
Another typical "classic" Mode song in terms of vocal delivery & chord structure, although it feels like tracks off the 1st 2 albums by the band this is way fans feel the musical route of Depeche Mode developed. Its not exactly an average an song, I quite enjoy the words which refer to how feelings develop within a relationship. I get the feeling the song "Home" developed from this tune.
9. "World Full of Nothing" - 2:50
Yet another track with Martin Gore on lead vocals, I'm wondering if he was developing some sort of obsession with nudity or he'd become a naturist as this is the 2nd track he sings on the album that speaks about being naked. The mixture of piano & clarinet are rather nice. "Though its not love it means something" is a lovely sentiment too.
10. "Dressed in Black" - 2:32
Now I like the downbeat chords in the intro of this, Dave sounds like a torch singer (almost like Marc Almond in fact). Now if this the darker side of Depeche Mode then I am more than happy to follow them there, I wonder who the "she" "dressed in black" who is a "picture of the world" refers to, is it someone Martin knew or knows. I think this track is bound for my MP3 player, its another of those great songs where the band screw with your head but you go with them for the ride.
11. "New Dress" - 3:42
This really feels like late Joy Division or early New Order in its chord style and the way Dave sings massively reminds me of New Orders Bernard Sumner. It harkens back to the early days of electronica in the late '70s to early '80s. By the sounds of the lyrics they are talking about random news events, that line "Princess Di is wearing a new dress" is rather bizarre too. I guess its a swipe at the gutter press who write rubbish about nothing but struggle to report important world events.
Bonus tracks on CD are as follows:
12. "Breathing in Fumes" - 6:07
Basically this is a remix of the song "Stripped" if its not immediately obvious from the interspersed motor samples. Its rather monotonous for my liking, too long as well. It ruins what was a good song too by removing most of the vocals from it, the title itself is one of the lines from "Stripped"
13. "But Not Tonight (Extended Remix)" - 5:13
A version of this was released in the US as an A side with "Stripped" as the B side due to its appearance in the movie Modern Girls but it failed to chart. I thought for a moment they were going to start singing "Dont Leave Me This Way" by The Communards with the sudden change in the intro. The structure of this track made me wonder if Vince Clarke had suddenly rejoined the band for 1 track as it feels like the stuff he wrote for the first album.
Even if Dave is singing "I havent felt this alive in years" he doesnt even vaguely sound like he means what he's singing. Theres simply no conviction in his delivery at all.
14. "Black Day" - 2:36
This features Martin Gore on lead vocals and was co-written by Martin Gore, Alan Wilder & Daniel Miller. Basically its a reworking of "Black Celebration" and sounds more like "Sun Arise" by Rolf Harris with all the mouth organs.
Its a bad way to make a fairly good track pretty darn awful. I always thought bonus tracks were supposed to entice you to buy albums but heres this awful thing that would do a pretty decent job of putting me off.
Summing up:- So is Black Celebration any good then? Its certainly got a few good tracks, some tracks with the "classic" Mode sound but its got some oddities and a few downright bog awful tracks too. If you didnt already own the singles on this track I'd say its worth owning.
Personally I'd buy it on the strength of "Dressed in Black" alone, its simply that good. That track manages to lift the other odd & iffy ones to listenable status. Give it a go and decide for yourself would be my best advice.
(this review also appears on Ciao!)
Ah. How do I start? How do I review an album that has served as the musical cornerstone of my life? How do I take a step back, and untangle the music and lyrics so intimately embedded in my every sinew, or the chords and melodies that beat in time with my heart?
This album - Black Celebration - is my musical soul - as part of me as anything physical - at times dark and brooding, at other times hopelessly romantic and positive. How indeed do I do this and still stay impartial and objective?
The answer is that I can't. Not really. It's like trying to find fault with a favourite child. Your eyes light up at anything that makes you proud - no matter how minor, and your tendency is to gloss over the less desirable attributes, and dismiss them as nothing to worry about.
Now that you've been warned, and given some context, I feel I can proceed with rose-tinted spectacles, safe in the knowledge that as educated and enlightened readers, you are thoroughly capable of judging how big of a pinch of salt to take with this review.
Depeche Mode (DM) are one of those seminal and influential bands that have endured despite the rise (and fall) of many imitators, music trends and one hit wonders. In fact, the band, in its current form - David Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher - have been around for most of my adult life. It's hard to believe that November 2011 will see the thirtieth anniversary of their debut album - Speak and Spell - which was released in 1981.
For me, lyrical depth and meaning in songs are as just important as melody. To use an analogy - looks are what attract you, but personality is what keeps you interested. DM have spoken to me and my life experiences more than any other band - not literally it should be said - as unlike David Gahan (the front man) and Martin Gore (the main songwriter until recently) - I haven't dallied with drugs or alcohol, diced with death, or lived the rock n' roll lifestyle (nor would I care to). It's the wider appeal of their lyrics and compositions that, in my view, makes them so accessible.
Their enduring appeal and timeless lyrics (they sang, in 1983 "The grabbing hands, grab all they can, everything counts in large amounts" in reference to corporate greed - eerily relevant in today's austere climate) have ensured a massive following in America, Scandinavia, Europe and the Far East.
That said, it's a quirk of their universal, global appeal that they have always done better outside the UK than within it, and as such, here in England, they are still to achieve the respect and recognition they have enjoyed abroad. In stark contrast to their "arena" band status here in England, in many parts of the world these guys still sell out whole stadia.
BLACK CELEBRATION - OVERVIEW
Black Celebration, was released in the UK on the Mute label in March 1986. This was their fifth studio album, and it signalled their graduation from purveyors of slightly cheesy, poppy electronica to a darker, fuller, more complex and gothic sound. The original album is available from most e-tailers for around £8.00 but you can pick up a good second hand copy from eBay for much less.
This "standard" version is the subject of this review. There is a minor difference in the US and UK releases. There is an extra track called "But Not Tonight" on the US version, which is a very upbeat number that probably added to lighten the mood a bit - we all know how much the Americans love a Hollywood ending. 8^)
In 2007, almost 20 years to the day from the original album release, DM announced a re-mastered Collectors Edition of the album, with the original track listing on the CD, but with a bonus DVD chock full of goodies. These include a short film, the complete album repeated in DTS 5.1 Surround Sound, three live tracks from their 1986 tour date in Birmingham, and eight additional tracks, as well as new fold-out packaging, artwork and inserts. Unfortunately, this excellent version of the album is currently out of stock at most e-tailers, with no news as to when it will be available again.
THE STANDOUT SONGS
I have decided not to do a track by track review, but have, instead picked out my standout tracks. The full album listing is set out later below.
+ Black Celebration
The title track is the first song on the album, and starts with a lengthy intro of synths, overlaid with various industrial goings-on in the background, before Dave Gahan plaintively croons the opening lines. Shortly after, a pounding, insistent beat kicks in and takes the song to another level. Martin Gore's slightly higher pitched voice adds an ethereal quality to the chorus and backing vocals, which get more and more insistent throughout, as Gahan pleads for sympathy and forgiveness from the listener, demanding her to "take me in your arms, forgetting all I couldn't do today."
+ A Question of Lust
This is one of my all-time favourite DM songs. It's a haunting, delicate paen to the frailty of relationships, love and lust. From the opening statement "Fragile, like a baby in your arms, be gentle with me, I'd never willingly do you harm" to the urgent chorus "It's a question of lust, it's a question of trust, it's a question of not letting what we've built up crumble to dust" - this is a lyrical, melodical and technical tour de force that plucks on the heartstrings with the intensity of a slightly deranged harpist. One of their very best.
+ A Question of Time
In contrast to the other "Question" on this album, this track is a bit of a bulldozer. From an unassuming beginning akin to a clarion call, the driving bass and drum kick in like a supercharger on a souped up Chevy. The song is addressed to a young person - I usually assume it must be a girl - warning of corruption, deceit and the danger of being led astray "I can see them now, hanging around to mess you up to strip you down, and have their fun, with my little one". It's an ever so slightly sleazy track, which gives you an uneasy feeling that the narrator may not be all that he seems, especially when he confides that "I know my kind, what goes on in our minds".
Without doubt the most industrial sounding and anthemic of the songs on this album. It has a catchy, pounding beat with so much going on it begs several listens to get through the layered complexity of its arrangements. Gahan's vocal's are superb, adding real depth of emotion to an already well textured composition.
The theme this time is materialism, the sway technology and external media have on our decision making and their effect on the quality of our lives. This is made clear, in my view, by the chorus "Let me see you stripped down to the bone. Let me see you make decisions without your televisions, let me hear you speaking just for me." The band's extensive use of sampling every day sounds is really evident here, with the motor sounds starting up at the start of the track being sampled from a motorcycle.
+ Here is the House (HITH)
Stripped goes straight into HITH, the link being the clever use of a ticking clock. This is an altogether more positive and upbeat track, and probably the lightest on the album. It's a personal favourite of mine, with lyrics I can relate to, such as "And I feel your warmth and it feels like home...let's stay home its cold outside, and I have so much to confide to you - with or without words, I'll confide everything...".
On the surface this seems like a straightforward ballad - an ode to love and comfort if you would - but DM are never that obvious. Although it works as such, there is to me - an undercurrent of regret and a tinge of sadness that's more evident in the musical arrangement than in the lyrics. An under-rated classic.
+ New Dress
It's not exactly a musical masterpiece, but I really like this song for the political statement it makes about the priorities and influence of the media back in the 80's - which is a theme as relevant today as it was when "Princess Di [was] wearing a new dress". Here's a taster "In black townships, fires rage, prospects better, Premier says, Princess Di is wearing a new dress". By concentrating on the frivolities, we can conveniently forget the bigger issues of the day, which, in most cases we don't have the stomach to deal with because they are "too big" or "too depressing".
The best part is the chorus, which warns of what happens when we allow newspapers and politicians to spin the truth and shape our perception of the world - "You can't change the world, but you can change the facts, and when you change the facts, you change points of view, if you change points of view you may change a vote, and when you change a vote, you may change the world".
FULL TRACK LISTING
1 Black Celebration (4:57)
2 Fly On The Windscreen (5:19)
3 A Question Of Lust (4:23)
4 Sometimes (1:54)
5 It Doesn't Matter Two (2:51)
6 A Question Of Time (4:09)
7 Stripped (4:17)
8 Here Is The House (4:16)
9 World Full Of Nothing (2:49)
10 Dressed In Black (2:34)
11 New Dress (3:46)
This album is quite rightly a fan favourite, and the songs have endured and dated quite well since their release 20 years ago. Question of Lust, Question of Time and Stripped are staples of DM's tour set lists an are as well received now as they were back then.
There is a lot of meat in this album, but there are one or two fillers that, relatively speaking, let the side down a bit. Weakest amongst these are the minimalist Martin Gore fronted track "World Full of Nothing" and the lilting, meandering, and perhaps a little bland "Dressed in Black" - but that's probably me being hypercritical in the name of objectivity.
Many of the songs have no definitive ending and often segue into the next one, so the album, with its modest running time of around 50 minutes, rewards a single sit-down listen, rather than dipping in and out of single tracks. It is a rich, textured and complex album that rewards repeated exposure, and in this fan's view - amongst the finest in DM's extensive back catalogue.
© Hishyeness 2009 - some parts of this review (particularly the background of the band) have been reworked from my ciao.co.uk review of the new DM "Sounds of the Universe" album.
Black Celebration is a fascinating album for those who follow Depeche Mode as a band. It represents a turning point in the bands movement from somewhat plinkety-plonk electro pop into a darker territory that provided some of the most amazing songs of the late 80s and early 90s.
The strong point of the album is certainly the emotional quality of some of the lyrics, especially the passionate delivery of Question of lust or the urgent and slightly filmic quality of Question of Time. Musically it is not quite so strong as later albums but there are some stand-out tracks such as the pulsing and grinding fly on the windscreen and Black Celebration itself, a song which is a wonderful twist on celebrating life but embracing its harshness as well as its joys.
For me, this is the beginning of the real Depeche Mode contribution to music culture, but not the top pick album
This is certainly one of Depeche Modes finer albums of the Eighties. The classic DM electro sound, combined with views and comments on politics and todays society. The album, as the name suggests, is certainly on the darker side of the usual sound, but the lyrics more than add an extra dimension to the album. The album starts with the big single 'Black Celebration'. This is an excellent track, setting the tone for the rest of the tracks. The highlights for me are 'Question of Lust' and 'New Dress'. QoL is more of a ballad than anything else, and really shows the band can do serious love songs. New Dress is a political piece, critising those who are full of hot air about the state of the world bit aren't prepared to actually change anything. This album marked a change in the band, moving in more rock like tones from the early plinky-plonk keyboard songs. A superb transfer album, which still manages to combine all the aspects of the bands musical tastes.
Black celebration marked a new direction in music for Depeche Mode. The subject matter is far more serious, incorporating strong views on religion, politics and the darker aspects of life. The music reflects these views well and is more intense than any of their previous albums. Some other Depeche Mode albums are a collection of individual tracks whereas Black Celebration is almost single piece of music broken into chapters. It was the first non-commercial album for the group and paved the way to far more diverse music for the band. This of large attaction to myself and I liked the different style. Although it is probably their most moody and dark release, I find it a very emotional and beautiful piece of work. I find it easy to let the album run through without the need to skip or programme individual tracks. I would very definitly recommend this album. It would appeal to those people who like modern moody music. Although Depeche Mode are catagorised as a pop band this album is definitly not typical pop. They still use the keyboards and drum machines but there is also a lot of early experimenting with sounds. It makes for a very unusual sound even these days.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Black Celebration
2 Fly On The Windscreen (Final)
3 Question Of Lust
5 It Doesn't Matter
6 Question Of Time
8 Here Is The House
9 World Full Of Nothing
10 Dressed In Black
11 New Dress
12 But Not Tonight
13 Breathing In Fumes
14 Black Day