DEPECHE MODE Bigger, better and back on track

Words by Jason Curtis

Following 1993's platinum selling, No. 1 album, 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion', 'Ultra' was recorded and produced in New York, Los Angeles and London during the last year by Tim Simenon. The album stands as a personal and artistic triumph from a band that lived through their darkest hour during its creation. Depeche Mode - singer Dave Gahan, songwriter Martin Gore and "backbone" Andy Fletcher - have survived personal and professional upheavals, including the departure of Alan Wilder and Gahan's much publicised drugs busts and rehabilitation, to make the most diverse, engaging and exhilarating album of their 17 years together.

After the exhaustive Devotional tour, the band spent time apart in preparation for recording the new album. "After three years of living on top of each other, toward the end things got a bit tense if we were all in the same room together, but not to the point of fightingyet. We did however manage to do it for fourteen months. We didnt get to separate hotels but it was on the cards".

Depeche Mode holds many awards and accolades, in particular over the past ten years. They are to-date the only English band to have been truly successful worldwide, especially in America. This is a feat that more current bands, the likes of OASIS, with their huge following, seemed to struggle with. Daves opinion is one of, "I think a band like OASIS, it all happened all to fast for them. In America it didnt happen over-night. We started in 1980 and from there it took a good five or six years and gradually our audiences grew to the point that we could play stadiums the size of the Hollywood Bowl" (75 000 people in one night). "It was a slow progression, I mean this is our tenth album weve just released and I dont know about anyone else, but it can be so overwhelming to the point that you have to practice that, to be able to take everything in. I would hate to be in the position that you are named as being the biggest band in the world, thats a real tall order to live up to".

With every new album that the band releases, Depeche Mode seem to become more inventive and daring. One wonders what their secret to longevity and enduring popularity is. "We've, we've kind of stumbled through, you know and we've played our game. Thats one of the reasons weve survived. I think once you start to analyse what it is you do, you loose interest. If you analyse and discuss what you do, any of the risk factor is gone. The minute you are talking about it, any element of excitement or naivety is taken away. Ultimately you make the music for yourself but is nice to turn people on. You hope that people are going to like it. I think also that you manage to move yourself somehow. There is always going to be someone out there that agrees with you. We are all fairly unique and that in itself is also some basic emotion that reaches people".

"The recording of Ultra began, in about October last year, so we took about thirteen or fourteen months. That hasnt been solidly in the studio. We have always worked in a similar sort of way of about a six week recording session. From there I get another writing session which takes about two months, from there we go back in and finish off whatever is left" ,states Martin.

Including the hit singles 'Barrel Of A Gun' and 'It's No Good', 'Ultra' unveils a sophisticated sound scape that draws influence from contemporary dance, gospel, blues and even country sources. In the words of Dave: "I think it's true to say there's elements of every kind of music in Depeche Mode, and that's what's unique about us. We don't limit ourselves to one area. We listen to styles that compliment that song and take it to that place rather than sticking to a format. Barrel Of A Gun for me is more figurative speaking, its not having much choice to make decisions. I think we are all born with genetic lineage, which means we can stray form it, but we can only stray slightly. There is also your whole social background. We all have certain cages were inthats what the song is about. I didnt have too many choices when I was in the position I was in, so its not particularly about death. The rest of them are though" [laughs].

Once more Martin Gore turns his pen to matters of the frailties in human relationships ('It's No Good', 'Useless'), predetermined fate ('Barrel Of A Gun'), alienation ('Sister Of Night') and redemption ('Home'), he has created broad and evocative songs for Gahan to fully dramatise. With Tim Simenon at the controls, the brooding and sensual dance aesthetic that Gore's original demos first brought to mind has been fully realised."He really helped us out, because the way the songs were written and demoed they lent themselves to a dance direction, but not dance in a disco sense", Martin explains. Even so, fired by a restless imagination, the band also step out on a limb for the intriguing, Martin Denny-esque 'Jazz Thieves', the blues drenched 'Freestate' and the gospel noir of 'The Bottom Line'."A lot of people are far too narrow minded in what they listen to", considers Gore. "There's been a lot of really interesting music that's happened over the last hundred, as opposed to the last five to eight years."

Depeche Mode's broadness of musical vision is reflected in the choice of collaborators who appear on 'Ultra': Jaki Liebziet, drummer with German experimental pioneers CAN, former LIVING COLOUR/TACKHEAD bassist Doug Wimbish and pedal steel guitarist supreme B.J. Cole. As Tim Simenon enthuses, Martin's an amazing songwriter and I want people to take their hat off to him.Dave considers his vocal performances on 'Ultra' to be the best of his career, they really take you to a place. Wherever that place may be, and they take you on a journey, tell you a story and you listen, you know, it draws you in. 'Sister Of Night', for me personally, is one of the best vocals I've ever produced.As he sings on the album's closing track 'Insight', "I'm talking to you now/The fire still burns." Lesser bands may have crumbled by now, but Depeche Mode is firmly, defiantly back in business.

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