If he had known how successful synth bands would be in the '80s, Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky would have bought Casio stock and cleaned up.
Our reviews of Depeche Mode Rewind: 30 Years At The Edge (published February 19th, 2011), Depeche Mode: Songs Of Faith And Devotion (published February 1st, 2007), and Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression Unauthorized (published June 17th, 2009) are also available.
"Plans made in the nursery/Can change the course of history"—"Shouldn't Have Done That," A Broken Frame
You might say that the real Depeche Mode began with a break-up. When Vince Clarke quit the nascent synth band after a single album (reportedly because they were too successful for his taste), the band capitalized on the tragedy by becoming, well, tragic. Their peppy, processed sound belied a creeping sense of frustration and pain.
This served the band well on their first album dominated by songwriter Martin Gore, A Broken Frame. Clarke's departure almost certainly left the band with a feeling of impending doom. "We have reached a full stop," sings Dave Gahan in the title track, "Leave in Silence" (penned, as are all the tracks, by Gore, some when he was a teenager). "Nothing's going to save us from the big drop." Yet, the song itself is danceable, propulsive, and Gahan sings with a drop of passion.
The tone on the rest of the album is much the same. The synthesizers go beep beep, tap tap. Gahan moans about various kinds of loss (the secret of "My Secret Garden," his toppled "Monument," friends and lovers in general). By the time Gahan announces that he is "Going to lock myself in a cold dark room/Going to shadow myself in a veil of gloom" in "Satellite," you just want to buy the guy a bottle of Xanax.
Apparently, the members of Depeche Mode themselves (Gahan, Gore, and Andrew Fletcher—Alan Wilder joined after A Broken Frame was recorded) don't think much of the album now, viewing it as a transitional and immature work. Maybe they are right. It does sound pretty dated, but that is mostly because the twittering keyboards are such a stereotype of early '80s New Wave.
But now it is a new millennium, and Depeche Mode wants you to buy all their albums over again. It figures. The band has always had a knack for repackaging its material, from the days of 12-inch club mixes to variant UK and USA album edits to collected-singles CD boxed sets. Fans hunt for every variation of every song. (My personal favorite, when I did follow the band in college, was the mash-up of "Behind the Wheel" and the '60s chestnut "Route 66.") Now, the band is releasing its albums in re-mastered editions with bonus material. While the UK gets CD/SACD hybrid versions, us Yanks just get plain old CDs.
The new 2006 release of A Broken Frame consists of a re-constructed version of the original album, plus a bonus DVD. This is one of the Depeche Mode albums that I did not previously own, so I honestly cannot tell you if the remastered disc sounds any different. But my research does indicate that a couple of the songs are shorter. In particular, "Leave in Silence" is the UK album version, not the longer version previously released here in the US. One track (the instrumental "Further Excerpts From My Secret Garden") has been dropped entirely (and moved over to the DVD B-sides section).
The prize for fans of the band is clearly the DVD. (It is also obviously the reason why I am telling you all about this at DVD Verdict.) The entire album has been remixed in Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and PCM Stereo. I'll just give a couple of examples of the differences in the new mix. For "Leave in Silence," the background choral-style vocals are pushed to the rear speakers, while the drum machines stay firmly in the front center. This tends to bring the song's dance-club quality into focus, rather than its dark lyrics. Gahan's vocals on "See You" are overwhelmed by the mix on the CD version, but in DTS, they pop out with force. Still, you won't be listening to the 5.1 mix much, because you can only play it in your DVD player (so much for your car or iPod), and the feature just plays the music with no visuals. Just the album cover. How about some karaoke lyrics—or even just the song title on screen? Anything?
The DVD also includes a new half-hour documentary featuring band members, including Vince Clarke, talking about the history behind the album. Producers and managers and other pals join in. The clips of Gahan on a television show, singing "See You" while holding a chicken, is pretty funny. Julian Temple's grinning music video for "The Meaning of Love" (so awful that the band has hidden it away for decades) is even sillier. Everyone agrees that the album is "too poppy." Martin Gore even calls it the band's "worst album."
If you watch all the footage in this featurette from the live performance, you listen to six live songs (remixed in Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and PCM Stereo) from a 1982 London concert. Again, no visuals other than a static picture. Live, the band sounds pretty much the same as in the studio. Three B-sides are also thrown in here. No alternate or club mixes—something the band is famous for—are included. Neither are the full versions of those wacky music videos.
If you are a casual Depeche Mode fan, you probably already either have A Broken Frame or can pick it up for less than this deluxe set. Hardcore fans are going to buy this anyway. But even hardcore fans are going to be frustrated with their inability to play the 5.1 mixes outside of whatever room their DVD player resides in. Still, if you are having a busload of goths come over for a party, you can pop this in and mope rhythmically in a cloud of clove smoke. Enjoy!
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Scales of Justice
• Remastered Version of Original Album (CD only)
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