The Best of Depeche Mode, Volume I Label: Sire/Reprise/Mute
If it’s late November, then it must be the Season of the Hit, where record labels will spin their oft-recycled back catalogs into Top 40 gold one last time (well, until the next time, anyway). U2 just released another best-of with the curious 18 Singles (where BE writer John Paulsen rightfully takes the compilation supervisors to task for some dubious choices), and Depeche Mode, clearly with an eye on outdoing the Smiths in the “reissue, repackage, repackage” department, have countered with The Best of Depeche Mode, Volume I. Not including singles boxes and remix compilations (of which there are many), this is the fifth compilation of Depeche Mode material released in the States, and it is by far the most comprehensive and top-shelf of the bunch. Every album in the band’s catalog is represented here…except one, but more on that later.
Perhaps the album’s biggest surprise is the sequencing. Most bands that lean on technology for their sound tend to benefit from a chronological track listing, but The Best of Depeche Mode is literally all over the place, with two mid-period classics (1989’s “Personal Jesus” and 1987’s “Never Let Me Down Again”) serving as the bookends. All other points in the band’s 25-year career fall in between, and while the contributions from the band’s first two albums, Speak & Spell and A Broken Frame, do stand out in their primitiveness, they are only represented by three songs, minimizing the potential damage. In fact, no album is represented by more than two songs, and while that means some longtime fan favorites went by the wayside – fare thee well, “World in My Eyes,” “Somebody” and “Behind the Wheel” – it’s the right call in order to give some love to gems like the Exciter track “Dream On,” the brooding “Walking in My Shoes,” and the great non-album track “Shake the Disease.”
But it must be said: whither, Black Celebration? The band’s bleakest – but arguably best – album, it’s maddening that Black Celebration continues to get the brush-off when examining the band’s career. Keep the bland new single “Martyr,” and replace it with “Stripped” or “A Question of Time,” and that might be enough to push this album to five-star status. In fact, I’ll take it one step further: Black Celebration has outsold six of the band’s 11 albums to date, and all six of those albums are represented here. Where’s the respect? To the album supervisors’ credit (one of which was longtime Depeche producer Daniel Miller), they left off “Policy of Truth,” which remains one of the band’s more overrated hits, and the mix of “Strangelove” included here blows the album version out of the water.
If your exposure to Depeche Mode consists solely of what current day alternative radio plays from the band, i.e. the three big singles from Violator (“Personal Jesus,” Enjoy the Silence,” “Policy of Truth”) and whatever their latest single happens to be (which is usually discarded within weeks and never heard from again), then The Best of Depeche Mode, Volume I is a pitch-perfect place to start. It is not the end-all-be-all of the band’s catalog, of course, but the fact that this one album can save you from buying six other Depeche Mode albums speaks, well, volumes.