CD Review of A Broken Frame by Depeche Mode

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A Broken Frame
starstarhalf starno starno star Label: Sire/Rhino/Mute/Reprise
Released: 2006
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First, some kind words: with A Broken Frame, Depeche Mode redeemed themselves for that abomination of an album cover that graces Speak & Spell, their 1982 debut. In fact, the cover for A Broken Frame, that luscious cover, is an actual photograph; all this time, I thought it was a painting. Huh. Sadly, the music contained within the album is not on par with the cover. But given the circumstances – their chief songwriter, Vince Clarke, left the band, putting part-time songsmith Martin Gore front and center for the dreaded sophomore album – it’s a miracle they even finished A Broken Frame, never mind survived the album and went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world.

There is a reason that the title of the short film that appears on the bonus DVD for the re-release of A Broken Frame is titled “The Beginning of Their So-Called Dark Phase.” The instrumentation is no different than Speak & Spell, save for some percussion upgrades on songs like “Monument,” but there is a stark change in emotional tone. Where Dave Gahan once declared proudly how he just can’t get enough, he’s now whispering about how all he wants to do is see you. Even the bouncy songs, like “The Meaning of Love,” sound hushed and subdued. And heavens to Betsy, what did the public make of “Leave in Silence” with its ghostly backing vocals and feather-light, other-side-of-the-room lead vocal from Gahan? It’s like listening to a song that’s playing in another room than the one you’re standing in. Not even the Germans, who worship Depeche Mode (the band has 22 Top 10 singles in Germany), let any of these songs climb higher than #44 on the pop charts.

All is not lost, however. “Nothing to Fear” is a nifty little instrumental that serves as the blueprint of sorts to several future Depeche songs (“Behind the Wheel,” “Halo” and “A Question of Time” among them), and “The Sun and the Rainfall” has a nice, Kraftwerk-ian vibe to it (think “The Model”). The foundation for the band’s massive success can be found here, though in its most primitive form. A Broken Frame is found wanting in the wake of the superb work the band produced in the time since; it’s notable for historical purposes, but by no means a requirement for the collection.

Special Features: Same as the other Depeche reissue jobs. The DVD contains a great short film, a handful of live tracks and B-sides, and a 5.1 Surround Sound mix of the album. But the CD itself has no extra tracks, meaning there are no new additions to the iTunes library.

~David Medsker