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Ultra is the 9th album by Depeche Mode (who at the time comprised of Dave Gahan on lead vocals, Andrew Fletcher on synthesizers, samplers, backing vocals & Martin Gore on guitar, synthesizers, samplers, backing vocals and it was released by Mute Records on 14 April 1997.
The albums highest recorded position was #1 on both the German & UK Albums Chart where it made Gold status selling in excess of 500 thousand units in Germany & over 175 thousand units in the UK however its biggest purchase base was the US where despite only reaching #5 on the Billboard 200 it sold in excess of 850 thousand units also reaching Gold status. In total the record went Gold in 7 different countries, even going double Gold in Italy.
Dave was actually dead before this album was recorded having suffered heart failure for 2 minutes after a drug overdose so this was the album that very almost never happened. After the departure of Alan Wilder Depeche Mode were back to being a trio for the first time in over 15 years.
All tracks written by Martin Gore, all lead vocals by Dave Gahan unless otherwise stated.
So whats on Ultra then?
1. "Barrel of a Gun" - 5:35
This was the first single released off the album on February 3rd 1997 & its best recorded position was #1 on the Swedish Singles Chart. This has quite an old school synthy opening before the heavy drums kick in, to be honest this is the band sticking with their idea of a hard rock style sound with a little bit of an Industrial feel.
Victor Indrizzo does a great job on percussion, the synth lines feel like they came off Pretty Hate Machine (An album by Industrial band Nine Nails) & I'm sure Martin Gore would be happy to hear me comparing this track to that album. A bit too heavy for my liking, I bet the Germans absolutely love this track.
No shock that it did so well in Sweden either. "Whatever I've done, I keep staring down the barrel of a gun", yeah that'd be the fatal overdose you actually managed to survive calling your name Dave. I'd say this track is at least 2 minutes too long as I was kicking my heels getting very bored waiting for this to be over.
2. "The Love Thieves" - 6:34
Another synthy but Industrial style intro that gives way to a lovely clean guitar line, Daves voice set on laid back and lyrics set on mellow but possibly dark. This rather feels like "World In My Eyes" but a lot more minimal and relaxed. Dave sings the almost biblical lyrics like a litany of misfortune, there are some biblical themes
I love the line "but pay for their vices", boy did this band ever do that and in spades. I could see this one being used in a movie to be honest, its quite anthemic. I rather like it in that dark song taking me to places I've never been before way. Its only real fault, its overly long for the sake of it like its predecessor.
3. "Home" - 5:42
This was the 3rd single released off the album on June 16th 1997 & its best recorded position was #10 on the Swedish Singles Chart. I have to vote this as my favourite song on the album, it already has a place on my MP3 player forever. With great lead vocals by Martin Gore (for a change but he does a great job) this has a rather heavy triphop type drum intro then those amazing vocals kick in, I highly doubt Dave could hit half the notes Martin reaches here.
The vocal delivery feels almost like dub poetry, I think even the great Benjamin Zephania would be jealous of Martins performance here. The strings behind him give a perfect counterpoint especially the way they build gently & complement the vocals. You are SO playing this at my funeral when I die, the wah wah guitar at the end will slay them.
4. "It's No Good" - 5:58
This was the 2nd single released off the album on March 31st 1997 & its best recorded position was #1 on the Swedish Singles Chart & the US Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. A fairly plain Industrial intro, I get now that Martin Gore was trying to make a more Industrial feeling album but there are many bands who have done it longer and can do it better than Depeche Mode though I am sure Martin wont mind me comparing this track to headhunter by Front 242 mainly due to Victor Indrizzo making an outstanding contribution with his percussion track.
This also has the feel of very early Cabaret Voltaire, another comparison Martin will be happy to hear no doubt. The vocals are nothing to write home about, at best this is a mediocre track. And shock horror, yes I think this one is also too long by about 2 minutes at least as well.
5. "Uselink" - 2:21
The standard "Dave's bathroom break" instrumental featuring Daniel Miller playing the Roland System700 (a big modular analog synthesizer system), hence the rather old school classic synth feel. When you use old kit you get an old sound, it rather reminds me too much of stuff done by Japan. Its not awful but its not brilliant either. It might grow on me.
6. "Useless" - 5:12
This was the 4th single released off the album on October 20th 1997 & its best recorded position was #16 on the German & Swedish Singles Charts. The rather haunting bass line is excellently played by Doug Wimbish, bass and if the track sounds like its got lots of drums thats because both Gota Yashiki & Keith LeBlanc contributed there with Danny Cummings creating extra percussion.
I like the fairly classic feel, Dave sounds like he's never killed himself (several times), synths fill the gaps (especially that rather cool electric piano). After Home this might well be the 2nd best track on the album, it appeals to both old and new fans with a bit of a rocky feel. "You should see how it feels, with your feet on the ground" is Martin Gore trying to tell Dave Gahan something with that line?
7. "Sister of Night" - 6:04
I'm not sure how to describe the intro on this one, I'd guess very heavy Industrial but then Daves voice is so soft and gentle it totally contradicts the intro completely. This tune (post intro) and lyrics feel like Vince Clarke or Alan Wilder had a heavy hand of influence in them. Its quite a fairly laid back tune apart from that annoyingly harsh synth line (someones been listening to too much Skinny Puppy methinks).
If the intro and the break were rethought and rescored this would be a really good tune, it could be as good as Home if some reworking was done on it. It just doesnt suit the heavy bits. I'd wager the lady being referred to as "Sister" in the lyrics is in no way a frateral relation. That soft chorded layout sounds a ton like Duran Durans "The Chauffeur" in an extremely good way too.
8. "Jazz Thieves" - 2:54
Another bathroom break for Dave already with a 2nd instrumental track? And there was me thinking he'd given up the nose candy after offing himself? The trouble with Jazz is stuff can sound rubbish, not have to have an tune or chords and they can get away with it.
Just like they have here. My guess is this track is played on sequencers giving the whole band a chance to relax off stage for a few short moments. I've got to vote this possibly the worst Depeche Mode track of all time.
9. "Freestate" - 6:44
A rather Tangerine Dream style relaxed intro backed by some nice work off Danny Cummings heading the percussion train and I rather like that steel guitar that gives off a Delta Blues vibe backed then confirmed by Dave's vocal delivery. The guitars are really picking up and replacing what might have been an interesting synth line but the guitars give a totally different feel & vibe than synths would have done.
Those drums in the middle give off a rather "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" feel (Come on, I cant have been the only one singing "hoo ha, hoo ha" in my head when I heard them? No? Just me then). I could grow to quite like this I think. Another track that ran too long for my liking, I could have easily done with about a minute less at least. The 40+ second long fadeout did them no favours either.
10. "The Bottom Line" - 4:26
A rather strange double bass intro over some oddly synthesized sounds backed by the muted lead vocals by Martin Gore give an unusual opening. Its backed rather well by an understated pedal steel guitar from BJ Cole (Oh blimey, its "Sleepwalk" by Santo & Johnny!) and Jaki Liebezeit plays a great percussion set. Does Martin Gore like The KLF because this SO reminds me of "Build A Fire" off "The White room" by them. Very cool and oddly enjoyable.
11. "Insight" - 6:26
Hello again Nine Inch Nails! Oh no, this IS still Depeche Mode but I can be forgiven as the Industrial influence is back (although those backing wide chords absolutely REEK of "Autobahn" by Kraftwerk. I like the clean piano and the double tracked vocals of Dave & Martin. Its on the edge of muted but feels like it should be dark (I'm guessing minor 5th chords but I could be wrong, I dont read music - I am going by ear).
I know where I have heard this tune before, its "Mercy in You" from Songs Of Faith & Devotion. Just slightly reworked but it manages to hit the spot ok. Also ignore the time listed for this track because it doesnt run quite that long because after 5 minutes and 11 seconds we then get (drumroll) :-
12. "Junior Painkiller" - 2:11
Woo hoo, a hidden track! And a THIRD instrumental? Martins really been at the Kool Aid for this album, hasn't he? A few too many Lemon Sherberts Mr Gore? A rather Oriental feeling (circa "China" from Vangelis), the flutes & drums are rather cool but this style has frankly been done to death, Its not bad though.
Summing up:- 1 outstandingly brilliant track, a couple that might grow on you and a few that you have to be German (sorry Germans, nothing personal!) to like. It almost makes you wonder if Dave Gahan had stayed dead would the remaining members have continued as Depeche Mode for another outing or not.
In case you cant tell I really dont like this album, I wouldnt buy it again given the chance. It doesnt do a great deal for me and its one of the reviews I wasn't looking forward to (I guess its why I tried to get it over and done so quickly). I think after this the only place you can really hope to go is up.
(this review also appears on Ciao!)
Up until their 1993 album, "Songs of Faith and Devotion" (SOFAD) eighties stalwarts Depeche Mode were a foursome. However, in the four year hiatus between SOFAD and its follow-up, 1997's "Ultra" the band suffered a number of setbacks and nearly disintegrated.
First, long time member Alan Wilder (who had replaced Vince Clarke - latterly of Yazoo and Erasure - after the first album), who was feeling underused and underappreciated, departed to concentrate on "Recoil" - his solo recoding project. Then, charismatic front man David Gahan did his best to hasten his exit from this world after his increasingly severe heroin addiction culminated in a near-fatal overdose in May 1996.
After Gahan's brush with death, it looked highly unlikely that the band would manage to get into a studio together, much less record another album, and it left Martin Gore - the band's chief songwriter and creative force - to contemplate releasing the material he had put together as a solo effort.
Fortunately, Gahan got his act together, and after a successful stint in rehab, the band managed to reconvene as a three-piece ensemble with Andrew Fletcher reprising his role as keyboard and bass player as well as de-facto manager.
Ultra is a creature of circumstance, clearly influenced by the personal crises each of the band members were dealing with. It's genesis lends it a far grungier, industrial and more rock-orientated feel than SOFAD, which had the band experimenting with a softer, more orchestral sound. Gahan's ordeal clearly left its mark on the band and the translation of his experiences into music turned Ultra into something between a confession and a catharsis.
The album, their ninth studio effort released in May 1997, was - unusually but understandably - not followed by a tour, and it wasn't until the following year's greatest hits release ("The Singles 86-98") that the band went on the road again for a brief (by their standards) four month stint.
Despite not being supported by a tour, Ultra was more of a commercial than a critical success, reaching No.1 in the UK album chart and spawning several singles that received widespread airplay. The most successful of these were "Barrel of a Gun" (No.4), "It's No Good" (No.5) and the anthemic "Home" (No.23).
AVAILABILITY & PRICE
The original 1996 release of the album is only available as a digital download (a bargain at £3.00 on Amazon). However, Ultra was re-released as a two-disc Collector's Edition in 2009 with additional content. This new version (which includes various B-sides and mixes that I have not reviewed) is available in CD form for £10.98 - also from Amazon.
> Barrel of a Gun
BOAG, as it is known by fans, was their thirty-first UK single and was released a few months ahead of the album. Given the well-publicised travails of the band and the sense of anticipation generated by the composition of new material, it was met with a combination of excitement and relief. A pounding drum line, reminiscent of a laboured heartbeat, is overlaid by Dave Gahan's distorted vocals.
It has a surreal, slightly blurry quality about it which is punctured by moments of lucidity and clarity - a superb analogy for the drug-induced haze that it is meant to symbolise. It is, by far, the darkest single that Depeche Mode have ever released, which is not surprising given its title and origins. The track immediately grabs you by the short and curlies, demanding your full and undivided attention and doesn't let go until the grating, grungy guitars fade to black.
"A vicious appetite visits me each night and won't be satisfied, won't be denied. An unbearable pain, a beating in my brain that leaves the mark of Cain right here inside..."
The third track on the album was also the third single and is also one of the few Martin Gore led songs to be released as a single by the band. It is an anthemic song with a haunting orchestral string arrangement, often performed by Martin in concert in a simple acoustic version. It's a beautiful, evocative song well suited to his trademark baritone tremolo that is even better live and, as such, a firm fan favourite. The lyrics are open to interpretation, but to me it's all about understanding and knowing that there is one place, or state of mind, in which you are happiest and where you feel like you are at "home".
"And I thank you for bringing me here, for showing me home, for singing these tears. Finally I've found that I belong. Feels like home, I should have known from my first breath..."
> It's No Good
The second single is a slightly sleazy track, that starts off with distorted ambient noise before a nice bass kicks in, accompanied by soaring keyboards and Gahan's vocals. The video to the song features the band as a low-rent lounge act dressed in seventies style glitter and spandex and serves as a pretty good visual interpretation of the song. The lyrics speak of a man convinced - perhaps even obsessed - with the idea that a particular woman is the one for him and it's only a matter of time before she realises she has little choice in the matter (the title of the song alludes to this, implying that resistance to his obvious charms is useless...)
"I'm going to take my time, I have all the time in the world to make you mine - it is written in the stars above..."
I would describe this song as the softer, mellower cousin to BOAG. A rock-influenced track with more of a pop twist than its grungier relative, Useless is guitar, rather than bass-led and as such, provides more atmosphere and scope for subtlety. Gahan leads on vocals with Gore providing the harmonies later in the song. The lyrics suggest that the singer is talking to himself, berating, criticising and trying to come to terms with how useless he feels.
"All my useless advice, all my hanging around, all your cutting down to size, all my bringing you down..."
> The Bottom Line
From quiet beginnings - with its soft, subtle intro and Martin Gore's understated vocals - this track grows and grows, drawing you in bit by bit as the lyrics take hold ad the backing track builds in sound and intensity. It is a see-sawing track accompanied by a myriad of different sounds and textures, from twanging guitars to soaring strings. This is one of my favourite songs - featuring an outstandingly expressive vocal performance from Gore and interesting, compelling lyrics. The meaning of the song itself is ambiguous and could fit many subjects - religion, sex, drugs - take your pick. However, it is clearly a devotional - I'm just not sure what the devotion is aimed at. An underappreciated but brilliant composition.
"Like a cat dragged in from the rain, who goes straight back out to do it all over again, I'll be back for more..."
The final song is a fitting, introspective yet expressive end to the album. I like to think of it as the band's message to its fans that despite their issues, despite the rough time they had of it, their desire to keep going on, to look to the future and move on is still strong. On an album so indelibly linked to the band's raw emotional state when it was written, Insight provides a positive, uplifting note on which to finish. It has a compelling, repetitive chorus that lends itself brilliantly to live performance, and I was very pleased to hear them perform it when I saw them in concert last night (15th December 2009 at the O2 Arena).
"And the spirit of love is rising within me, talking to you now, telling you clearly, the fire still burns. I'm talking to you now, the fire still burns, whatever you do now, you've got to give love - the world still turns..."
Most Depeche Mode albums feature relatively short instrumental interludes used to segue between songs. Some of them are quite good and interesting works in of themselves, but most - including the two on Ultra ("Uselink" and "Jazz Thieves) are no more than mildly diverting filler. There is also a "secret" instrumental tagged on to the end of the last track called "Junior Painkiller" - a variation on the B-side ("Painkiller") released with the "Barrel of a Gun" single.
The fact that the band were around at all to produce this album was something of an achievement in of itself. As a fan since their breakthrough Black Celebration album in 1986, to me, Ultra represented a welcome return at a time when the dissolution of Depeche Mode was a real possibility. Given the circumstances, it is fair to say that it was difficult to give an objective assessment of the album due to the palpable relief that it had been recorded at all.
Has it stood the test of time? In retrospect, Ultra smacks of an album that had to be written - of feelings that had to be processed and a closure that had to be reached - before the band could truly move on to achieve some of the creative highs that were marked by their four year purple patch which produced a stunning trifecta of albums (Black Celebration (1986), Music for the Masses (1987) and Violator (1990)).
Taken in isolation, it does not stand up too well with the band's output either before or since. However, whilst it lacked some of the coherence and artistry of Depeche Mode's classic albums, it did produce some memorable tracks - especially "Home". It's No Good, and "Barrel of A Gun".
FULL TRACK LISTING
1. Barrel of a Gun (5:35)
2. The Love Thieves (6:34)
3. Home (5:42)
4. It's No Good (5:58)
5. Uselink (2:21)
6. Useless (5:12)
7. Sister of Night (6:04)
8. Jazz Thieves (2:54)
9. Freestate (6:44)
10. The Bottom Line (4:26)
11. Insight (6:26)
Hidden Track: Junior Painkiller (2:11)
© Hishyeness 2009
An incredible album, where Martin Gore's powerful songwriting and Dave Gahan's baritone found the musical depth from producer Tim Simenon that best reflected their talents. The album carries an electronic grunge thread throughout, and contains lyrics that marry high truth and beauty to primal, almost animalistic urges to great effect.
The album kicks of with a Barrel of a Gun, where grungy riffs almost squelch out of the guitar to great effects to a rapid trip-hop beat. Another highlight is 'It's no good', an urging love song with a slightly disturbing undercurrent of obsession with an epic sweep to the music. 'Useless' is a great, if more conventional rock track. The main weak point on the album is the slightly pointless instrumental 'Junior Painkiller'.
The emotional intensity of the album is placed in context by the difficult personal circumstances of the band of the time, with Gahan hooked on drugs and the various members in conflict. This probably contributes to the power of the record, but it later proved to be somewhat unsustainable and the band backed away from the raw edge to this album in later recordings.
I've already moaned on at great length about Vince Clark and his 'contribution' to Depeche Mode so I shall refrain from doing so again. Or at least, I'll try. Ultra was Depeche Modes follow-up to what is widely considered to be DM's best album, certainly one of their most successful, 'Songs of Faith and Devotion'. However it would be four troubled years before Ultra emerged, by the time it arrived in 1997 Depeche Mode were down to a three piece and lead singer David Gahan had spent some time dead (Literally dead, drugs are not good things for you). Plus the band had been around a fair old chunk of time and are perhaps starting to get a bit old, how does this lot effect their sound? Read on. * Barrel of a Gun * Well if the first tracks anything to go by, it's done no harm at all - if anything it's improved it. Opening with bleeping, ethereal synths, a restrained bass line comes in shortly followed by an insistent drum pattern. A guitar being tortured through a wah wah pedal enters the mix as a distorted Gahan begins singing of his drug addiction (I think so anyway), interspersed throughout the lyrics are slightly unnerving "mmm"'s from both Gahan and songwriter Gore. As the song builds up to a drum break, Gahan's voice starts sounding like it's falling apart as he sings "What do you expect of me, what is it you want, whatever you've planned for me, I'm not the one". A synth does a huge sounding sweep, the drums get even bigger and then it all gets scratched up to turn it into an instrumental section showing off the normal bass line a short and spooky synth riff. When the vocals come back, Gore's joined in providing high pitched on/off accompaniment which makes the song sound like it's being tortured. A distorted guitar playing a simple descending riff takes us into what could be considered the chorus "Whatever I've done, I've been staring down the b
arrel of a gun" which is topped off with another burst of spooky synth. And even though all the song does for an ending is fade out, it still sounds like it's the right way to end the song. I really do need to emphasise that this is a really, really good song. It's so far away from 'Just Can't Get Enough' it's not funny. One of the best songs DM have done, one of the best songs floating round full stop. Fans of Nine Inch Nails later stuff would love this. It's got a cracking video as well. * The Love Thieves * Sadly nowhere near as intense as Barrel of a Gun, The Love Thieves is still an OK song. Opening with a breathy looped percussion sample, a looming, throbbing bass line comes in along with a fractured synth, only for that to be replaced by a sort of slo-mo jazz guitar riff. Then Gahan arrives, singing fairly standard DM love/above (And I don't mean rhyming here, it's about love and religion, sort of compare and contrast). The song sticks to the themes established in the intro, but throws in more pronounced drums and backing vocals. Oh, and there's a rather nice dreamy yet twangy guitar solo to be found as well. Overall though it's fairly slow, slightly mournful and slightly soppy. You have to be in the mood for this song really. * Home * Home may have nice dramatic drumming in places but nothing and I mean NOTHING can excuse the overly soppy vocal (Well sung in the main though I have to admit) performed and written by Gore. It gets almost Disneyish at times "And I thank you for bringing me here, for showing me home, for singing these tears, finally I've found that I belong". Sounds like that bleeding mouse trying to get to America (That wasn't Disney, was it, but you get the idea). Musically it's lush strings and a mildly simmering synth bass part. Nothing overly bad, but I just find it to soppy. * It's No Good * Anothe
r song with soppy pretensions, but this time it's all good - as it doesn't combine soppy lyrics with soppy music. Throbbing bass and synths that seem to sweep out of the range of human hearing combine with suitably pacey drumming to provide a backing to Gahan's alternatingly mournful (verse) and determined (chorus) vocals. Haunting and yet slightly romantic, hey, this is probably the closest thing I have to an album full of shag tracks - quite what woman it'd work on I don't know though? I dread to think. * Uselink * This is one of the better tracks on the album, completely soppy free - it's an instrumental. Opening with a juddery synth melody which is shortly joined by a mellow sounding pad being slightly pained. Then you get an evil sounding bass part, combined with drums that phase into a sound that could only be described at huge. Accompanying a few beeps is a melody played by what sounds like a staccato orchestra on helium. Short but very sweet. * Useless * Opening with a really nifty, grinding blues guitar riff which sadly, does not signal the way of things to come. No, it sounds fairly DM by numbers and it sounds fairly soppy (Lyrics aren't soppy though). Happily the nice guitar riff does return occasionally but it's not the most interesting track they've done based on the opening impression. However, for some reason it seems to improve about halfway through without actually changing much - it seems slightly spookier (More synths I think) and more dramatic. As well as generally sounding bigger, there's some effective use of backing vocals. * Sister of Night * Another amazing intro leading into a disappointing song. A synth that twists and grinds over a sea of distortion drops straight into a rather dull song. Moments of twangy guitar, very electronic drums over a sea of not particularly interesting synths. Not much more to say, it's not especially
bad but it's not very interesting. * Jazz Thieves * Now this is more interesting, opening with a groaning bass synth that slowly becomes clearer, another synth wonders around all over the place over a disturbing vibraphone melody. It seems short but it's actually three minutes. Good stuff though. * Freestate * Another interesting piece here, DM head out to the wilder parts of America's westerly region as in addition to their normal synthy fun they've brought in a slide guitar player who twangs all over the verses in addition to atmospheric synths, harsh electric guitar from the Mode themselves and a woodblock. It's a combination that works really well, despite perhaps slightly weak lyrics. However, it all goes to pot in the chorus. Check out these lyrics "Step out of your cage, and onto the stage, it's time to start, playing your part", what makes it worse is that Gore has already rhymed Cage and Stage in Home. I dunno, two bottles of cider and a rhyming dictionary if you ask me. Now personally, I'd like to try a variation on that with my band; two bottles of cider and a rhyming thesaurus. I've yet to find one though. * The Bottom Line * Opening with mutant vibraphones, they're joined by a warped double bass and more normal vibes, it's a warped jazz style picture that DM are painting in the intro. Nice. Lyrics though once again let the song down slightly, the backing continues the nice warped jazz stylings. Come the chorus though there's a strange burst of almost Hawaiian sounding guitars. As the song returns to the warped jazz of the verse, grinding industrialish synths turn up in the background. By the time the song approaches the end it's being lead out by a slightly atonal synth riff. At first I wasn't to keen on this song, but I've had this album for almost a month now and it's starting to grow on me. Perhaps it's becaus
e I'm listening to it late at night, a lot of the album seems to suit late night listening. * Insight * I could make similar comments about Insight as well, it's growing on me, perhaps because I'm listening to it late at night. Opening with a sea of synths, drums, both vocalists and piano join in. There's a strange mix of feelings in this song, it sounds slightly mournful yet also somewhat uplifting. This comes on even before you hear the chorus which is more a more uplifting fuzz bass led affair. The uplifting feeling grows towards the end as a repeating "Gotta give love" vocal backs the main vocal before finally ending the song. * Secret Track * What the hell, I didn't know this was here till it came on just now. Shame as well, because it's good. Opening with a few groaning synths, the main melody (Synth of course) has a strong Arabic flavour to it, sounding somewhat like a drunken sitar. With a few bursts of strings as well, it sounds like it could have been on Book M by the Secret Chiefs 3. Short (under two minutes) but pretty good. Overall, Ultra's a bit of a mixed album. There's plenty of good music about but it's often let down by slightly less than inspired lyrics. When the two come together though on Barrel of a Gun though it shows that Depeche Mode can still produce absolute classic tunes just like they used to. From what I've heard, Exciter, their follow up and current album is also quite mixed, with again the first track 'Dream On' being pretty much the best. Hopefully the next Depeche Mode release will be more consistent, even though I've only been a big fan for just over a month and I've not got all of their albums that I want, I'm still looking forward to it.
There are many reasons why I’m so fond of Depeche Mode’s Ultra album. The first reason has to be that this is one that may have never happened if circumstances had changed slightly. Following their Songs of Faith and Devotion tour the band were on the verge of splitting. Lead singer Dave Gahan was heavily addicted to drugs and the others we’re on the verge of mental breakdowns. Shortly afterwards Alan Wilder announced that he was leaving and the end of the band was definitely on the cards. That was almost made certain when Dave Gahan was taken to hospital in America for a drug overdose. He almost died and actually was clinically dead for a couple of minutes while surgeons desperately tried to save him. Not nice is it? A couple of years later the remaining three band members were getting itchy again and decided to very tentatively have a look at some new songs that had been written by Martin Gore. It soon became apparent that they were keen to get back into things and once they were all sure that things had improved in their personal lives work began on ‘Ultra’. 1. Barrel of a Gun The first track and also the first single to be released from the album and this is very different for the band. It still retained some of the rockier element first encountered on the previous album, Songs of Faith and Devotion. It was almost a subliminal message too ‘Whatever I’ve done, I’ve been staring down the Barrel of a Gun’.... Very true indeed and with this song the band were back in the charts (top five in the UK, number one in some European countries). 2. Love Thieves This is more like the calm DM that we all know and love. Dave Gahan’s voice sounds just great on this track and it’s one of my favourites on the album. A very relaxing beat along with some great guitar sounds make this a great song to chill out to. 3. Home As occasionally is the case, Martin Gore take
s the vocal reigns on Home, which was also released as a single – usually the singles have Dave singing. It’s a great song though and has one of the best strings arrangements that DM have ever used. Previously that award would have gone to One Caress (from SOFAD) but Home manages to have a similar feel to Protection by Massive Attack. A very moving song that was definitely worthy as a single although it didn’t chart as well as others. The video is also worthy of a mention and I recommend you check it out. 4. It’s No Good My second favourite song from the album (favourite still to come). This is a song that I didn’t expect DM to make. It’s very poppy whilst still retaining that mean and moody element that the band do so well. It’s catchy it’s raw and the video is brilliant and yes it was released as a single. Check out Dave as an ageing has been rock star performing to only a handful of drunks. ‘Don’t say you’re happy, out there without me, I know you can’t be, ‘cause it’s no good.’. 5. Uselink Well, it’s a throwaway track as it’s only an instrumental and to be honest it doesn’t really add anything to the album. Very simple, almost dull but hey, it can’t all be good. 6. Useless I know that this track is a favourite with many DM fans and I can see why I suppose. It’s quite rocky with a decent and dirty guitar riff on top of what I’d call an angry beat. Strange description but I think that’s about right! The video is very simple and you get the feeling that the band is really trying to get something off their chest here. It’s another single release and is one of the stronger tracks from Ultra. 7. Sister of Night If there is an ‘Enjoy the Silence’ kind of track on Ultra then this is it. It’s got some gorgeous vocals courtesy of Dave and the sliding guitar piece make
s this a very memorable track. It’s yet another track to relax to and it’s a great tune to listen to at night. 8. Jazz Thieves It’s instrumental time again and this is even worse than Uselink. Hard to believe but true I’m afraid. It has some erm, ‘interesting’ sounds in it but other than that there really isn’t much to write about. 9. Freestate This is a really underrated track. I really love this one although it still isn’t my favourite from the album. It’s got some good memorable lyrics, a really moody synth background and the guitar has a hint of Personal Jesus in it. It’s not a song that had potential to be a single but DM have a habit of producing excellent album tracks that can be just as popular as the singles. This is one of those tracks. 10. Bottom Line Martin Gore returns once more on this one to give us a vocal treatment that’s not his normal style. It’s a much lower key to his normal choices and I’m still quite sure that this would have been more suited to Mr.Gahan. Nevertheless Martin does a great job on a song that I feel is lyrically the weakest on the album. It’s got some lovely musical parts though and therefore still is an OK track overall. 11. Insight Well, this leaves us with the final track ‘Insight’ and it’s my favourite on the album. I’m quite sure that many DM fans will be saying: “What? Are you insane?!!!!”. I don’t think I am but at the same time I find it quite hard to explain why I love this particular track so much. Dave and Martin are great on this vocally (Martin providing some great backing vocals later in the song). I know that this is one of those songs that I’d love to hear live, it has a special something in it that I can’t describe. There is one part where the key doesn’t change ‘....the fire still burns’ and at that point it
becomes something quite serious, deep and very moody. It’s a classic style of DM track and although it’s not my favourite of all-time it’s definitely my choice from the bunch here. MR.COATES
After DM engineer Alan Wilder left the band at the end of the 'SOFAD' tour, it seemed almost likely that the band would split up, due to frontman Dave Gahan's drug problems and songwriter Martin Gore's problems with seizures on that tour. However, even after their resident techno wizard who beefed the boys up into becoming a dark electro boy band after Vince Clarke's intital cock-up, left, the band hired the production of efforts of Tim (Bomb The Bass) Simenon and his team, and the resultant ensuing album is a mixed affair. First single and opener 'Barrel of a gun' shows that Martin Gore never lost the flare for writing a good tune, no matter who programmed it. Further singles 'It's No Good' and 'Useless' carry on the tradition of mature dark pop, but apart from that, the other 8 tracks are emotional sappy pop, just adult versions of what they did in the early 80's....though, not bad! These type of songs were not DM's forte, only on occasion. It's almost as if the band have lost the ability to party and settled for being synth-crooners, while duping fans with 3 quite rocking singles. Nice promotion, but DM should either liven up on their next album or retire, they're definetly ripe for it. They should also take a note from Alan Wilder's uncommercially succesful Recoil project.
If you have been dead for the past 20 years then you haven't noticed the impact of 70's music onto the 80's and 80's music on the 90's. Now we are in the naughty noughtys and who knows what is next. Depeche mode started out as a pop group fuelled with catchy tunes and new romantic style. Songs like "Master and servent" set the scene for 80's club youth and today are considered to be classics by goths and DJs alike. The follow up album to 1990's Violator had a hard act to follow as Violator is one of the most outstanding albums of the past two decades. The boys had plenty to inspire the new album with Jail Sentances and near death drug overdoses. Not only is ULTRA full to the brim with clever lyrics and astounding musicianship, but it also manages to crossover many boundries. The first single "Barrel of a gun" offers up a sweet meloncollie tune that fits into many catagories. Old DM fans would say that it heads toward the deppressing goth side where new fans may suggest a Nine Inch Nails style of industrial music. The album as a whole is a trip through love and loss. Each and every song will stir most of your dorment emotions. A fantastic acheivement. What's in-store for the naughties? I Can't wait
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Barrel of a Gun
2 Love Thieves
4 It's No Good
7 Sister of Night
8 Jazz Thieves
10 Bottom Line
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Barrel of a Gun [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
2 Love Thieves [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
3 Home [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
4 It's No Good [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
5 Uselink [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
6 Useless [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
7 Sister of Night [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
8 Jazz Thieves [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
9 Freestate [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
10 Bottom Line [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
11 Insight [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound]
12 Barrel of a Gun [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound][Live]
13 It's No Good [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound][Live]
14 Useless [Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound][Live]
15 Painkiller [DVD]
16 Slowblow [DVD]
17 Only When I Lose Myself [DVD]
18 Surrender [DVD]
19 Headstar [DVD]
20 Depeche Mode: 1996-98 (Oh Well, That's the End of the Band...) [A Short