Ultra release party review

Something strange has happened in the firmament of pop. And hell, even by pop's pugnacious standards, this occurence is scalp-scrapingly bizarre. It's Dave Gahan, y'see: there he stands mid-stage, beaming down at the admiring hordes, and he is wearing his standard issue white vest and his arms are covered in their standard issue Los Angeles tattoos and his face is decorated with a touch of eyeliner and a lick of lipstick. And take me to your leader wearing nowt but lacy lederhosen if wavey Davey doesn't look like BRIAN MOLKO'S BLOODY DAD.

Eeeeeeeek! And, indeed shriek away to your heart's content, especially if you are one of the lucky 'few' hundred loitering around the sarf London aircraft hangar otherwise known as Adrenalin Village. For what we have here is an invite-only party to salute the release of La Mode's squillionth album, 'Ultra'. We have photographers lounging around the entrance waiting for a Nick Cave or a Gary Numan or a Neil Tennant to womble past! We have gallons of free booze! And, crucially, we have heard plentiful rumours suggesting that Depeche Mode will choose this very evening to perform live in the UK for the first time in three years.

So everything's fine and dandy, right? Yes indeedy - to a certain extent. Further information leaks reveal that a cool 50,000 pounds has been splashed out on simply staging the live show, and that figure enters the realms of the positively frigid when Depeche Mode eventually play _five_ songs. If this is a publicity exercise to tell the world that, hey, Dave's drug problems are way behind him and he's as-fit-as-a-funky-bunny-thanks-very-much, any bozo brain can tell you that performing five tunes is hardly the most taxing of tasks in the known world. Case unresolved. If it's a 'party' for various chums and cheesies, then the appearance of only one old song, 'Never Let Me Down' hardly represents great, uh, music for the masses. And if tonight gives the majority of the audience their first opportunity to hear 'Ultra' in full-on big-bollocked form, then a grand total of four new album tracks scarcely justifies the costs incurred.

And here comes the absoulte shocker, Kids Of The Side-Splittingly Cynical Generation: the album is neither 'Ultra'-bright nor
'Ultra'-white. In fact, it's 'Ultra'-dark and 'Ultra'-slightly-doomy-to-be-honest-with-you-guv. Tonight they will play 'Barrel Of A Gun', two songs which, being called 'Useless' and 'It's No Good', suggest a rather less-than-cheery thematic link, and a fourth called 'Home', which goes along the lines of, "Here is a song/From the wrong side of town/Where I'm bound/To the ground/By the loneliest sound". Beep, and indeed, beep!

Considering the recent turmoil in the Mode camp, perhaps it's not surprising to discover that Martin Gore has stuck so determinedly to the now-traditional Depeche black and blueprint.

They aren't fast! They aren't fashionable! Ignoring the lyrics, which can occasionally be more hamfisted than a pig clutching a pork pie (does Gahan reeeaallly rhyme 'houses' with 'trousers' at one stirringly guffaw-tastic point?), La Mode remain as resolutely downbeat as ever. The pace is lethargic; the synths are spooky; the vocals are half-groaned, half-moaned and generally a bit, you know, deep. The vibe is vampish, Old Grave-ish and bordering on the utterly relieved at having made it back from 'the edge'.

Then Depeche Mode finish their five-song giglet and march off into the sunset or wherever it is rich rock stars go when they've wobbled on the very brink of oblivion and landed the right way up, and we go to laugh at Gary Numan's hair in the VIP party. Just because we can.

New Musical Express, April 26th 1997

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