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Mode do Music for the Masses
Music For The Masses - Depeche Mode
Member Name: Hishyeness
Music For The Masses - Depeche Mode
Date: 06/08/09, updated on 06/08/09 (134 review reads)
Advantages: Some great tracks. Hangs together as a coherent whole.
Disadvantages: Some of the songs lack lyrical depth.
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
Summary: One of their best studio albums