Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Depeche Mode After Alan WIlder

While it is an undisputed fact that multi-instrumentalist and production whiz Alan Wilder was the heart and soul of Depeche Mode, and that the electro-pop pioneers largely went awry after his acrimonious departuer in 1995, there are a few instances of inspiration amongst the three albums that the remaining trio of Martin Gore, Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher put out after Wilder flew the coop. These moments might not be the real equivalent of Wilder-engineered classics like "Enjoy the Silence", "Personal Jesus", "Stripped" and "Strangelove", they do provide a sense of how the band has evolved since the late 1990s:

A grinding, murky number that employs hitherto unexplored trip-hop textures, "Barrel of a Gun" mostly works through the guidance of producer Tim Simenon (of Bomb the Bass fame), who adds all manner of processed studio touches and off-kilter instrumentation to the mix. A necessarily despairing crawl through the darkest corners of the band's pscyhe, if only as a means to exorcise the lingering nasty phantoms of the "Songs of Faith and Devotion" era.

IT'S NO GOOD (1997)
Pulsing with some tense, industrial-tinged hip-hop beats and a simmering rhythmic undercurrent, "It's No Good" is arguably the most accessible moment on 1997's "Ultra", the first post-Wilder album. Gahan's vocal performance is at its most assured here, and more confident than it has ever been in the preceding five years.

HOME (1997)
A lavish, grand-scale Martin Gore ballad that is anchored by widescreen, impressionistic string orchestrations, "Home" is a positively heart-wrenching, if a bit calculated, tune that lends a bit of light to the otherwise gloom-filled proceedings of "Ultra".

Almost old-school Depeche Mode in its overall structure, the club-ready, beat-driven "I Feel Loved" is highly reminiscent of the dancier moments of "Black Celebration" and "Music for the Masses". The only track on 2001's "Exciter" that doesn't bear the ambient-techno imprint of producer Mark Bell from IDM pioneers LFO.

An elegant, experimental ballad replete with subdued industrial effects and IDM touches, and arguably Depeche Mode's most melodic moment since "Enjoy the Silence". The single version, remixed slightly by Flood, disitls most of Bell's original production bells and whistles, going for a more straightforward synth-pop approach.

Featuring Gore's most accomplished guitar work in a decade, "Precious" is a conscious throwback to the "Violator" period, employing the same high-register, staccato synth patterns, old-fashioned drum-machine rhythms and slightly dramatic key-change flourishes.

An aggressive castigation of organised religion (much in the vein of 1984's "Blasphemous Rumours"), "John the Revelator" makes brilliant use of analogue synth effects and upfront, heavily industrial cadences, making for the most assertive number on 2005's "Playing the Angel".

The perfect closer to "Playing the Angel", this nocturnal, epic-sized threnody takes some production ideas from the Smashing Pumpkins' 1998 electro-pop showcase "Adore" and makes them uniquely Depeche Mode by incorporating some atmospheric, dark-toned melodic chords into the mix.


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