CD Review of Music for the Masses Collector’s Edition by Depeche Mode

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Music for the Masses Collector’s Edition
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Rhino/Sire
Released: 1987/2006
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Though only a year and a half had passed since their mope-pop masterpiece, Black Celebration, Depeche Mode, in a burst of creativity they’ve come nowhere near matching since, nonetheless managed to put out a new album in 1987: Music for the Masses. It isn’t nearly as dark in tone as its predecessor (few things outside of a Sisters of Mercy album are), but it’s far from light. And, hey, as long as we’re saying what it is and isn’t, it teeters occasionally on the cusp of greatness, but, on the whole, few would say it truly achieves it.

Invariably, Music’s triad of singles are what keeps listeners coming back again and again: “Never Let Me Down Again,” “Strangelove,” and “Behind the Wheel.” “Strangelove” preceded the album by almost five months, helping to build the anticipation for the record; “Never Let Me Down Again,” which ended up opening the album, showed up about a month beforehand, to keep the ball rolling. Both are among the band’s best singles, particularly the latter, which all but explodes from the speakers to kickstart the proceedings. “Behind the Wheel,” it must be said, is best served in its single form, where it was surprisingly but effectively melded with the standard “Route 66”; its omission even from the bonus tracks (more on that travesty in a moment) is glaring.

Songs like “The Things You Said” and “Little 15” hark back to the gloom of Black Celebration, but placed in the midst of such radio-friendly fodder as the above-referenced singles, the flow of the album feels a bit off. Lyrically, “To Have and To Hold” finds poor old Martin Gore rewriting “Somebody,” as frontman Dave Gahan sings lines, “And somewhere / There’s someone who cares / With a heart of gold / To have and to hold.” There are certainly some non-single gems here, however, most notably “Nothing” and “I Want You Now,” the latter featuring the kind of deep breathing that can only come either from within an iron lung or behind a leather mask. The greatest irony, however, is that despite the incredible drama of the mostly-instrumental “Pimpf,” the track brings the disc to an anticlimactic, I’m-still-waiting-for-that-other-shoe ending.

As has become par for the course with their CD/DVD reissue combos, Rhino once again manages to simultaneously excite and repel with their presentation. The exclusive new documentary on the years 1987 – 1988, entitled “Sometimes You Do Need Some New Jokes,” is highly enjoyable, with interviews from – among others – producers Daniel Miller and Dave Bascombe, as well as all the members of the band; it’s interesting stuff, though, for God’s sake, there must be someone in the DM camp who’s willing to tell Dave Gahan that they’ve seen more convincing mustaches on 15-year-old high school students. Including 5.1 and stereo mixes of the album itself on the DVD is nice, but the repellant bit, as ever, involves the audio bonus tracks; obnoxiously, they’re only included on the DVD. It’s one thing to maintain the integrity of the album’s original running order, but it’s quite another to bury the bonus tracks on a predominantly video-oriented medium instead of just putting them on a separate CD. Frankly, it’s a real pisser.

Music for the Masses is an album that, when examined from a historical perspective, finds Depeche Mode sonically straddling the present and the future, simultaneously trying to continue the feel of the album that preceded it while incorporating just enough mainstream sensibilities to capture a larger listening audience. The band did, at least, officially become modern rock gods in America thanks to this disc – by the time they finished touring behind the album, they would be playing the Rose Bowl (an event which would be filmed and released as “101”) – but it would be another three years before they truly found themselves making music for the masses.

~Will Harris