Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Favorite Album - The Drioux's Contribution

My Favourite Album:
by Andrew Edwards

I have always been a Depeche Mode fan. Since their early days, when I was in grade school, I found their moody analogue electronics utterly captivating, and their propensity for aggressive minor keys and odd chord changes fascinating. I found Dave Gahan's powerful, nuanced baritone transfixing, and not just a little bit because he was always singing about naughty things. Here is a band that was more casual about S&M than anything heard on the radio at the time, and - though I'm admittedly not into that - I delighted in the subversion. 

When Violator came out in 1990, I was a sophomore in high school. Personal Jesus was the first single, and I was scandalized. At the time, I was a dedicated church-going boy, and this song was comparing a sex worker to the son of god. Utterly. Scandalized. But it was so groovy. And it was in a triple meter. And the production sounded so good. 

And then there was Enjoy The Silence. I don't think a single song has ever had a greater impact on me than this one. From the simplicity of the melodies, the motivic lead guitar line, and that chord change at the end of the chorus, this song burned itself into my brain. So much so that the first orchestral piece I ever wrote was based on a melodic fragment from this song, used as a cantus firmus. It's safe to say that - were I to be on Desert Island Discs - this is the top of my desert island list. 

Apart from these two singles (and the equally stunning follow-ups, World in my Eyes and Policy of Truth) this album plays through beautifully as a coherent whole. 

The opening words of the album - the opening line of World in my Eyes - are, "Let me take you on a trip/Around the world and back/And you won't have to move/You just sit still..." which pretty much sums up the experience of listening to the album. With, of course, the caveat that going around the world with Depeche Mode will probably involve more of the seedy underbelly than most travelogues would. World in my Eyes begins sparsely, with an aggressive syncopated bass line and a driving drum track. Gahan starts with a quiet pleading, and slowly, more and more lines pile on, vocal harmonies, soaring pads, and then the chorus. Dark, dramatic, and terse. Plunging down and then slamming back into the groove. Structurally interesting and harmonically adventurous. A perfect way to open an album. And then, there's track 2... 

Sweetest Perfection actually scared me. As a teenager. The brushed snare in 12/8 is unspeakably cool, and functions as such a strong opening. Martin Gore takes a turn singing - his higher warbling voice always creepier than Gahan's - and you get the feeling that we are in the basement of the dungeon. Dark harmonies - including the weird bass octave vocal doubling - swooping guitars (a new thing for this principally electronic band) and a terrifying soundscape support a song that must be about something best left unspoken. A beautiful string arrangement for the bridge, and then the drums really kick in. A serious, slow, sensual groove which builds to a wall of swirling noise. Such a strange bold choice for a second track.

Personal Jesus kicks in at Track 3, and immediately makes an impression. It's the third song on the album, and the second in a triple meter. So cool. Blues guitar line in a Depeche Mode song - check. Sexy subject matter - check. Borderline blasphemous religious allusions - check. This may have been the beginning of the end of my relationship with god. Reach out and touch faith. Again, a powerful, very short, chorus. I was obsessed with the bridge - which is basically Martin Gore breathing heavily in time with the drums - for many years. When I discovered a remix that was almost exclusively that, I bent heaven and earth to find it. It almost sounds quaint now, but at the time, this song sounded like nothing else that had ever been on the radio. And the dancey ambient coda at the end is so cool. Being a fan of tight structures, I'm not usually hip to this kind of aimless wandering away from the central idea of a song, but in this case, it's so well constructed that it works perfectly.

Halo. If only I had been Catholic. "You wear guilt/Like shackles on your feet/Like a halo in reverse." Again - like World in my Eyes, this song begins with a motivic lead bass line over gently pulsing percussion. After the first verse, it fills out with a driving drum part and a gentle saw-wave line. Those bass piano stabs! This all leads to a glorious chorus - the first really melodic chorus we've heard thus far. And it's even in a major key for the first 2/3rds of it! This is really the first even remotely happy song on the record - "And when our worlds they fall apart/When the walls come tumbling in/Though we may deserve it/It will be worth it." This is happy in Martin Gore's universe. And it laid the clear foundation for my later time as a skirt-wearing goth kid. 

Waiting for the Night is a careful creepy ballad. Back when we had tapes and albums, this was the last song on the first side. It's moody and stark, and - after the doom and gloom of the rest of this "side" - it comes as a breath of fresh air. Spooky, lonely, night air. Beautifully produced and elegant as hell, it is the sorbet that cleanses the palate before you flip the tape over and are immediately swept up in the gloriousness that is Enjoy The Silence.

Enjoy The Silence. I hold this up as an example of the perfect pop song. I really can't overstate how immaculately crafted, produced, and performed it is. When this came out, I was so closeted as to be hanging out in the back of the closet behind, like, my great-grandmother's fur coat. Something about this song comforted me, gave me hope. It spoke to me on some subconscious level that it still does, every time I hear it. I will say no more about a song about not saying any more.

"Enjoy the silence....*piiiiinnnnnggggggggg*"

There is a short instrumental piece here which just further saturates the album in mood.

Policy of Truth is the easily the most traditionally radio-friendly tune on the album. It's a song about how lying is good. "You'll see your problems multiply/If you continually decide/To faithfully pursue/A policy of truth." Again, so beautifully subversive and sexy. Great punchy little bridge. The synth saxophones may have been a misstep, but it doesn't detract from what is an otherwise perfect little pop song. The hook after the chorus is fantastic. "Never again is what you swore/The time before."

Blue Dress is a really pervy song. Martin Gore has said so. We're back to triple metres for the end of the record. Slow, sexy groove. Almost the happiest sound we've heard so far. "Put it on/And stand before my eyes/Put it on/Please don't question why..." Cool Fairlight-esque piano lines. Gore's boyish warble returns. As before, this one starts simpler and more subtle, and then layers on waves of swirling noise by the end. It is here that we realize that Enjoy The Silence and Policy of Truth are the absolutely climaxes of the album. These last two tracks wind it down - the spooky afterglow, if you will. 

Clean is another terrifying and atmospheric tune. With a stomping triple meter, and more strange vocal manipulations, this song builds to an ambient climax full of strange noises and amazing textures. This is the first hint of some of their later gospel predilections, with Dave Gahan almost giving a sermon of redemption. Epic, cinematic strings pile on at the end, trailing out to silence.

As Mr. Gore wrote in Enjoy the Silence, "Words are very/Unnecessary", and I often feel that way about this record. So go forth, ignoring everything I just wrote, and enjoy this brilliant album for yourself.

The Drioux is a film composer and professor of music composition in Chicago. 

(Click here for my contribution.)

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