* Prices may differ from that shown
Music for the Masses was the 6th studio album by Depeche Mode who at the time comprised of Dave Gahan on lead vocals, Martin Gore on guitar, keyboards & backing vocals, Andrew Fletcher on keyboards and Alan Wilder on keyboards.
The album was released in September of 1987 and its best recorded position was #2 on the German Album Charts with sales of over 450000 units according it Gold record status there, this was only bested in France & the USA where it reached Platinum status despite reaching a lower place in both those countries album charts.
So whats on Music For The Masses then?
1. "Never Let Me Down Again" - 4:47
This was the 2nd single off the album, released August 24, 1987. Its best recorded chart postion was #2 on the French Singles Chart. I like the piano & pitchbend synth intro, Daves vocal draws you in as well as what hes singing as far as a relationship with a friend that might not be all it seems. This track to be honest reminds me a lot of the bands much earlier work too. Good but not brilliant, much better with headphones though.
2. "The Things You Said" - 4:02
With Martin Gore on lead vocals. I certainly like the opening with its "breathy" open chords, the synth brass is very cool too as is the layered vocal. Again this also reminds me of the earlier stuff, its almost as if Alan Wilder was bringing back some of the Vince Clarke style as this feels so much like Clarkes later Yazoo & Erasure sound.
3. "Strangelove" - 4:56
This was the 1st single off the album released on April 13, 1987. Its best recorded chart position was #1 on the US Dance Chart. Its quite a relaxed and mellow tune but certainly fairly dance orientated, to be honest it feels a bit more like a film theme (I'm probably thinking of "The Living Daylights" by A-ha which this really reminds me of), its a pretty cool little melody though that wouldnt have been out of place in the early days of electro & break dancing.
4. "Sacred" - 4:47
The chanting at the start is rather weird but the vocals are styled very well, I'm not sure about the drums (too excessive to match the song to be honest) which feel like an after thought. I think if the drums and the heavy bass synth line were replaced with something else this would be a much better song.
5. "Little 15" - 4:18
This was the 4th single off the album released on 16 May 1988. Its best recorded chart position was #15 on the German Singles Chart. Its a fairly minimal tune & equally minimal delivery by Dave in the vocals, I dont really think theres enough substance to this track to form much of an opinion.
It reminds me of "Little Soul" on the Sounds Of The Universe album, it may well even be where that track developed from as they feel extremely similar.
6. "Behind the Wheel" - 5:18
This was the 3rd single off the album released on December 28, 1987. Its best recorded chart position was #3 on the US Dance Chart. "And tonight Matthew I'm going to be Boris Blank from Yello" which is exactly what I thought listening to the intro of this, it sounds like about 90% of Yello's back catalogue.
Its also too similar to Strangelove with its lyrics & theme, also a bit too close to Little 15 as well. It seems new ideas were at a premium when this was written. That layered vocal rather nicely fucks with your head in a good way though in a "come here and play in the dark with us" way that DM have been exceptionally good at. After about 6 or 7 listens I think I'll probably end up loving this though.
7. "I Want You Now" - 3:44
With Martin Gore on lead vocals, I like the gasps (an accordion not playing any notes) and the moans (some girls in the studio apparently), this is Martin Gore at his creative best doing his Pied Piper bit taking us on one of those journeys where we dont feel 100% safe but we're going to follow him anyway that Dave Gahan is better known for but Martin is safer to trust as he probably isnt going to get you killed on the way where Dave might. When he sings "I want you now" your almost certainly going to say "Ok Martin, where to?".
8. "To Have and to Hold" - 2:51
That opening rather reminds me of "The Order Of Death" by Public Image Limited best known from the soundtrack of the movie Hardware, I did actually wonder if we were going to get any lyrics at all. Daves vocal could have been mixed a tad higher to make him more audible over the rather loud music, again those lyrics are nowhere DM havent been before or done better either.
I do have to question how much Dave was on at this period in his life if he was rehashing so many ideas on 1 album and still thinking they were new.
9. "Nothing" - 4:18
Very reminiscent of "New Life" in its opening, again like Vince Clarke had come back to visit so I think Alan Wilder got his grubby hands all over this one in terms of musical direction."I'm not trying to tell you anything you didnt know when you woke up today", well thanks for that Dave as its mostly old news anyway like the rest of this album.
10. "Pimpf" - 3:56 (5:25)
I quite like the plain piano intro which feels more like a demo just recorded on the fly as if whoever was playing wasn't expecting to be recorded. The kettle drums do add a rather Wagnerian feel to this track whose title was named after the members of one of the Hitler Youth organizations but it was a tad too minimal at the start for my liking, the choir style delivery of the title is the only vocal so its not quite an instrumental. The cacophanous buildup was a tad overbearing as a playout though.
"Interlude #1 - Mission Impossible" (hidden instrumental track) - 0:37
Rather like an early Beatles experimental track off Sgt Pepper, I'm not sure what they were trying but its weird.
11. "Agent Orange" - 5:05
That rather bassy reverb half reminded me of helicopters which I assume is what they were hoping for with a song named after the herbicide used in the Vietnam War. It does have a feel of Apocalypse Now about it as well as bits of The Killing Fields. I'm guessing David Sylvian would love this. I'm not 100% sure but I wont say I hate it, its definately too long though.
12. "Never Let Me Down Again (Aggro Mix)" - 4:55
We've officially given up being Depeche Mode & taken a job pretending to be Front 242. Or Propaganda. Or Nine Inch Nails. No doubt Martin Gore headed the mixing of this as he is the freak for Industrial Music. Come back when you've decided to be Depeche Mode again lads, the job of being Trent Reznor is already taken.
13. "To Have and to Hold (Spanish Taster)" - 2:34
How to make a song that sounded a bit like a 60's spy thriller sound even more like a 60's spy thriller, involve a shedload of Spanish influence. Its no worse than the original but I'd probably choose to play that over this unless I was in a 60's mood.
14. "Pleasure, Little Treasure (Glitter Mix)" - 5:36
Very bizarre, lets remix a track whose original version isnt even on this album. What a very odd idea, its very much in the reign of 70's Glam Rock in its style. Not my kind of track at, Dave sounds ok but I just dont care for the tune. It may as well be "20th Century Boy" by T-Rex.
Summing up:- So is Music For The Masses any good? To be honest my truthful answer would have be a resounding no. Its so-so at best and I am probably being over generous at that. If I didnt already own it I wouldnt buy it myself having heard it but it might appeal to other fans with slightly differrent tastes in Mode tunes.
(This review also appears on Ciao!)
If Black Celebration started my love affair with Depeche Mode (DM), then 1987's Music for the Masses (MFTM) marked the consummation of what was to become a lifelong relationship. I was a bright, but nerdy kid, meaning I started university at a the tender age of seventeen. DM's previous effort, the seminal and direction-changing Black Celebration was the musical lifeboat that helped me navigate the jock-infested waters of High School USA.
The release of MFTM on the other hand, coincided with my voyage of self-discovery. Having cut the apron strings and moved on to a college 150 miles from home in upstate New York, I was truly independent for the first time in my life - away from the cosseting and watchful eyes of my parents.
Here, my aim was not merely to survive, but to push on and find out who I was and who I wanted to be. In many ways, the development of DM, and MFTM in particular happened in parallel with my own my life experience. It is a more assured and confident effort from DM, carrying on from where the illustrious previous album left off, but with more of a sense of cohesion and purpose. They toned down their use of industrial sound sampling and experimented more with layered synthesizers.
When MFTM was released, DM were still a four piece ensemble. David Gahan, played the energetic and exhibitionistic front man, Martin Gore was the chief songwriter and creative influence, Andrew Fletcher played keyboard, and Alan Wilder played the other keyboards and dabbled in production (he left in 1995 and wasn't replaced, leaving DM as a threesome).
MFTM, their sixth studio album, was released to critical acclaim in September 1987, but received a relatively lukewarm reception in the UK. As is the way with DM, they were much more successful outside their home country and, on the back of this album and earlier successes, developed a massive following in the USA, Eastern Europe and the Far East. Hot on the heels of MFTM, the band released a live album - called simply "101" - based on the final and 101st performance of their world tour at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in California before a 60,000 crowd.
The album spawned three singles - Strangelove, Never Let me Down Again and Behind the Wheel, all of which spent a significant time in the charts, but never threatened the top 10. the album is available in two formats - the original 1987 release (£4.98 from Amazon), and a 2006 two disc re-release with several special features and bonus tracks (currently £7.98 from Amazon). This is a review of the original album.
The album lends itself to being listened to from start to finish, as many of the tracks are linked together by various interludes and often segue straight into one another. However, rather than undertake a track by track review, I have excepted some representative highlights.
> Never Let Me Down Again
This pounding, driving, anthem kicks off the album with a real kick and is a firm fan favourite. It is not as lyrically sophisticated as some DM songs, but this hardly distracts from its energy. It's meaning is ambiguous and divides fan opinion - some thing its chock full of drug references, and others think it's about a failed relationship. Either way, it's a cracking song and a tour favourite usually played as part of the encore - it is now tradition for DM fans to wave their arms in a window wiper motion at the end of this song when played live.
"We're flying high, watching the world pass us by. Never want to come down, never want to put my feet back down on the ground."
> The Things You Said
From the high-tempo start of Never Let me Down, things immediately take a much more measured and melancholy feel as Martin Gore leads the vocals. This song holds a great deal of personal meaning for me - it's a simple affair about a man who hears from his friends that he is essentially being made a fool of, and the person who he is seeing isn't quite what she seems to be. Martin's restrained voice - full of a quiet intensity, tinged with disappointment and swimming in sadness - perfectly complements the beautiful melody and simple lyrics.
"I get so carried away, you brought me down to earth. I thought we had something precious. Now I know what it's worth."
This is a brilliant song, which in my entirely subjective view, is about the natural tension between giving everything to a significant other in a relationship, and keeping some of yourself in reserve. It has a catchy backing track, with its layered keyboards adding a fair bit of depth. This is a song that rewards multiple listens.
"There'll be days when I stray, I may appear to be constantly out of reach..."
> Little 15
A poignant, slow and atmospheric track. The strange, almost carnival like instrumental opening is soon accompanied by David Gahan's precise, clipped vocals. The song is about a mature woman looking to a young man to recapture her lost youth. Piano-like synths provide a brief interlude, before the vocals finish out the track with a change of key and an added, desperate earnestness.
"She knows your mind, is not yet in league, with the rest of the world and its little intrigues..."
> Behind the Wheel
This is one of my favourite song on the album, a combination of catchy synths and driving bass, building slowly and then giving way to the subdued vocals. Gahan is pleading, almost begging for the woman he is having a relationship to take control. It's a slightly dark and brooding effort. DM have a sublime mix with this song and the classic Route 66.
"Come, pull my strings, watch me move, I'll do anything. Please."
This song is pure, pounding, rhythmic energy. The lyrics suggest a simple nihilism - life is empty - there is no meaning or purpose to it, there's no point in searching for a purpose, just make the most of what you have. Of course, this puts it firmly at odds with my Christian point of view, but I wasn't a believer back then and this song struck a real chord.
"Sitting target. Sitting praying, and god is saying - nothing."
I have a real, personal connection with this album, mainly because of how well it related to a particular period of my life and my journey of self-discovery. However, If I were capable of being objective, I would probably give it a B+. It takes DM further along the creative path - away from their synth-pop roots - to a more, gothic and grungy sound. This creative shift was further emphasised in their next studio effort - Violator (1989) - which many fans put in their top three albums.
MFTM has dated well, and for a casual listener it offers rich musical reward. If I have a slight criticism, it's that it lacks the lyrical depth of its predecessor (Black Celebration) and some of the polish and charm of its immediate successor. However, for the dedicated fan, it is a legendary and essential part of the DM canon.
FULL TRACK LISTING
Never Let Me Down Again (4:47)
The Things You Said (4:02)
Little 15 (4:18)
Behind the Wheel (5:18)
I Want You Now (3:44)
To Have and to Hold (2:51)
Pimpf - Instrumental (3:56)
© Hishyeness 2009
Music for the Masses is the predecessor to Depeche Mode's excellent 1990 release, Violator. Coming in some three years earlier, Andrew Fletcher, Martin Gore, Alan Wilder and David Gahan (Vince Clark and his cheesy synth pop having left the band several years earlier) managed to produce an album that has stood the passing of decades really rather well. It really doesn't sound all that dated (Especially compared to a lot of junk that was released in the 80's). Mortiis must love this to bits. * Never Let Me Down Again * Cheery bunch that they are, the Mode start off with a song about the temptation of drugs and the struggle to stay in control. Luckily though it's a bit of a blinder. Pounding drums, melancholy piano and dramatic vocals play over a droning synth background for the verse, whereas the thicker sounding chorus comes complete with spooked up vibes. But if that wasn't enough for you, stabs of choir "oohs" and an extra vocal, sung by the 'better' (But less interesting sounding) Martin Gore drag the song up to and then finally over a cliff of an ending. * The Things You Said * Cranking the mood down, the lyrics once again seem to point towards drugs. The music consists of a restrained drone that leaves plenty of space for bass and the odd synthy beep or melody. Throughout the song both vocalists in the band are used, seemingly playing two halves of a mind. One half seems open "They know my weaknesses" whereas the other seems paranoid "I never tried to hide them" * Strangelove * I didn't really like this song at first when I heard an MP3 of it, but now I'm quite happy it's on the album. Opening with a loop followed by a few mournful synth chords, the song soon bounces into a fairly happy tune. However when the vocals arrive it all becomes somewhat less cheery, as the lyrics appear to be about that strangest of ways of expressi
ng love, S&M with lines like "Pain will you return it" and "Strangelove, will you give it to me, will you take the pain, I will give to you". More then you first realise about this song. * Sacred * Scared opera singers fleet around the opening of the song, hiding behind yet another drone and a few drum hits. Both vocalists are used once again in the spooky, almost Gregorian sounding intro. When the song proper starts though it's fairly similar in mood to Strangelove and lyrically it's not to far off either, this time lyricist Gore is comparing love to religion. Fair enough. I do wish the whole of the song was more like the excellent intro (Or at least more connected to it) though. * Little 15 * If they had synths in Edwardian times, they may well have made music that sounded not unlike this. You can imagine a load of period drama types taking tea to this, if you try, a lot and imagine them wearing black. Anyway, Little 15 is a muse on what goes on in a relationship between a young girl and an older man with a gradually building backing. Oh and it has an unnecessary second ending, a big orchestral stab. In my opinion the first ending, a simple fade out fits the mood of the song much better. * Behind the Wheel * An intro full of build and promise, consisting of bursts of guitar, pulsing bass, an insistent bass drum and the odd haunting synth. The lyrics move to a popular Depeche Mode topic, sex. This time it's all about letting the woman 'go on top' as it were "Do what you want, I don't care, tonight, I'm in the hands of fate, I hand myself, over on a plate". The musical backing consists of various reworkings of the intro, which is good - trust me. * I Want You Now * It takes a few listens to get over the respirator+sexy groanings that start the song off, because, to be honest - it sounds a little silly. While it does ke
ep going throughout the song though and doesn't sound so bad with other things going on. Other things mainly being Depeche Mode doing a Ladysmith Black Mamthingy impression. A pretty good one as well! * To Have and to Hold * Opening with the sort of foreign radio you get when you plug a cheap guitar into a powerful amp (It can't just be me that's had that happen), the song itself tends to plod a bit never really seeming to do anything. It's short and fits in OK on the album but on it's own it's not up to much. * Nothing * Finally picking up the pace again, synths bubble away while Gahan sounds at his mournful best as Gore "ooh ooh"'s underneath him. Lyrically it's somewhat vague, but I feel it's trying to get across the "no reply from god" thing and it does feature the quality line "What am I trying to do, what am I trying to say, I'm not trying to tell you anything you didn't know when you woke up today", during which clever use of drums gives the song a good insistent feel. * Pimpf * Originally this would have been the ending track on the album and it is suitably epic. Opening with a piano arpeggio full of sorrow, bells and kettle drums, an extra piano comes in for extra drama followed by an evil sounding male choir, more bells, strings, an equally evil female choir and then it's all over in a crash of kettle drums. But before the next track arrives, there's synth sounding piano and pan pipes (!) complete with what sounds like someone playing basketball holding a china cup and saucer. It probably wasn't, that would be impractical, but you'll have to trust me, that IS what it sounds like. -= Here be bonus tracks =- Not sure why my copy has them, no idea at all. * Agent Orange * Rapidly pulsing synth fade in and out as a bass drum and an effected bass line spar
sely fill out the soundscape. As the song progresses we're treated to a piano riff, a few industrialish clangy noises and a synth/vibe duet. Progress a bit further and a twangy guitar joins in before the song ends in a sea of morse code. * Never Let Me Down Again (Aggro Mix) * I really don't want to write anything about this, it just takes a few elements from the original and sticks them over a very repetitive bass line. Very boring, the first bad track on the album. * To Have and to Hold (Spanish Taster) * A bit better this one, the vocals arrive all chopped up and all over the place, with the song hanging on a new synth riff. However, it's not based on a great song so it's not really up to all that much. The second bad track on the album. * Pleasure, Little Treasure (Glitter Mix) * Bleah, it sounds a bit like Vince Clark came back to the band and brought an acoustic guitar with him. Cheesy synth lines and vocals, it does pick up slightly in the middle but it's really not worth the effort of restraining your hand from hifi remote. The third bad track on the album. Well there you go, Music for the Masses in just under 1200 words. It's not as good as Violator, but then it would be one hell of an album if it was. It also isn't as immediately appealing as Violator, which I fell in love with the first time I heard it. It took a good few lessons before I really appreciated this album, however - it is well worth the effort, despite the mainly dodgy bonus tracks. If you do get this version of the album (Presuming there actually is another) just pretend it stops at Agent Orange.
Music For The Masses (1987) was a key turnaround for DM, marking a departure from the plinky-synth pop of the early 80s, which was listenable in small does, and the bleakness of 1986's Black Celebration, which could hardly be described as a party record. MFTM is, compared to anything produced previously, far more accessible: Strangelove and Behind The Wheel are benchmarks for modern electronica, and whilst the mood is still far from optimistic ('Never Let Me Down Again', 'Nothing') it's certainly fairly listenable. 'Nothing' and 'Never Let Me Down Again' are, alongside 'Strangelove' the album's strongest tracks, and are amongst Depeche Mode's best work. The album heavy on the synths and electronica, and for this reason Depeche Mode are probably for most people an acquired taste. For the curious listeners, it's probably best to pick up a copy of 'The Singles 1986-1998' album to sample what's on offer first. DM fans, and fans of Erasure, New Order and the like have no excuse to ignore this however.
Depeche Mode have released some fantastic albums and this has to be one of their best. This is the last studio album before the amazing Violator and hints of real talent start to shine through here. It's not as solid or well written as Violator but some of their best songs can be found. "Never let me down again","Things you said" and "Strangelove" to name a few. On the CD there is the bonus of a few re-mixes which helps to make this a fairly desirable album. This is the album which helped to bring the band much more into the public eye and if you listen to it you will understand why. It's by no means their best effort but there are some truly classic Depeche Mode tracks to be found here.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Never Let Me Down Again
2 Things You Said
5 Little 15
6 Behind The Wheel
7 I Want You Now
8 To Have And To Hold