Depeche Mode hasn’t run smoothly; they have faced near-fatal drug abuse, illnesses and personnel upheavals
“Russia was going into the Ukraine and Crimea, and there was a whole spate of black people getting killed in America by police. It just seemed like everywhere you looked, the world was combusting.”
Given that Depeche Mode’s profile rose in 1980s England against a background of IRA attacks, economic recession, racial divide and Thatcherism, why is their current response their most political? And a petty man with the nuclear codes doesn’t sound like a good combination.”
Us and U2, we’re both survivors
Given their political stance – which was obvious if you had spent any time absorbing songs such as Everything Counts and Pipeline – they were the wrong choice for the US far-right figurehead Richard Spencer to declare “the official band of the alt-right” in February (to which Gahan succinctly responded by calling him “a c**t”). “You know you’re in dangerous territory when you start doing social commentary, but fortunately most of the reviews we’ve seen so far have been good. Although the trio of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher are older, wiser and sober-er, they are still riding the crest since Violator delivered not only their enduring singles Enjoy the Silence and Personal Jesus, but also their consequent breakthrough in parts of the world few bands could reach. Fun fact: for the Past 30 years, each of Depeche Mode’s albums has reached the top 10 in the US. If it had been universally slated, I think we would have been quite upset.”
There are easy links to be made with the album’s message and the Trump/Brexit effect, especially as both Gore and lead singer Dave Gahan are long-time US residents. “I think things were bad in the 1980s, but I wasn’t as scared as I am now,” says Gore. Let’s hope the wall doesn’t go up. But that would have required either clairvoyance or an expedited writing-recording-releasing process. Released in March, Spirit’s chart success (matched in Ireland where only Drake and Ed Sheeran kept them off the top spot) wasn’t a done deal for the trio. This unbroken record continues with Spirit, the 14th album in their 37 years together. He’s a very petty man. Nialler9’s New Irish Music: Touts, Interskalactic, Bitch Falcon & more
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“Because this album is more political than we’ve ever been, I was more nervous about the reviews,” the 55-year-old says. This is especially true as they are venturing into newish pastures by tackling the hot political issues of the day, from the album’s ominous opener Going Backwards to its corporate critique of Poorman, as well as the call-to-arms lead single of Where’s the Revolution. “Even back in 2015, I was watching the horrors of Syria unfold on a daily basis and that was disheartening. In fact, Gore was lamenting the dismal state of the world well before these outcomes came to pass. But that’s not the only reason they were an odd pick for that extremist title. “I honestly believe that we have a mad man in the White House. As were climate change deniers, though now it’s even worse,” he says. I’m so pleased that the American system seems to have worked to stop him repealing Obamacare and implementing the Muslim ban; I’m hoping it will work on the others too. Meeting the band’s songwriter, Martin Gore, in a hotel suite in London, where he exhibits a kind permasmile at odds with the band’s sombre sound, he says a thumbs-up wasn’t taken for granted this time around.
Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
‘We’re not the sort of band who sits down and discusses our plans too much,’ Gore says
But who needs accolades when there are fans to entertain? In it, Josh Tillman serenades us by singing, “Where did they find these goons they elected to rule them/What makes these clowns they idolise so remarkable”, with footage of a younger Trump to hammer the point home. “People spoke about us and U2 in the same sentence, which is fine. He helped shape our image, and that helped us to be taken more seriously. The musical change is attributed to Gore, who took over songwriting duties and led the group in a darker direction with singles such as Master and Servant and Shake the Disease. “Anton wouldn’t work with us before, but it was no coincidence that once we found our footing with Black Celebration in 1986, he became involved and he’s been heavily involved ever since. “When people ask if this will be our last album, I always say I don’t know – and I’ve been saying that since 1986. In keeping with the spirit, Jenkinson supplied the free download with the track sheet music and stems too, in order to encourage “sound makers irrespective of what kind of music they make, where they live, their background, their age” to reinterpret the song.
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Like Depeche Mode, the folk singer’s new album is a comment on the state of the human race in 2017, made tangible with the video for lead and title track Pure Comedy. Snoop Dogg – Lavender
In the rapper’s recent video for Lavender, Snoop holds a gun to the head of a wispy-haired clown called Ronald Klump. But that’s not all the bands have in common now; there’s the longevity too. “He wrote to me: ‘Does this look like the official band of the alt-right?’” He lets out a generous laugh, tickled at the thought. But it was Anton Corbjin, the photographer and director, who gave the group their mature, sometimes fetishistic aesthetic. Cunning as it was, it didn’t get past President Donald Trump, who blasted Snoop’s “failing career” on Twitter. I mean, the first album was so pop.”
At that point, Corbjin was known for his groundbreaking work with U2, demonstrating the importance of strong visuals that still define the band to this day. However, in case that sounded a little too wet, he clarified that direct action was also needed, saying that it wasn’t “a substitute for progressive political action but as a complement to it”. So it doesn’t seem like we should call it a day. “Us and U2, we’re both survivors,” Gore says. Even though we come from the same era, we never really felt that our music was that similar, so that meant there was never really a big rivalry.”
Yet the course of Depeche Mode hasn’t run smoothly; they have faced near-fatal drug abuse (Gahan), illnesses (Gore’s seizures) and personnel upheavals (Alan Wilder leaving in 1995). Personal issues aside, they were also less fortunate than suggested by their 100 million sales in meriting industry acclaim. While the album is one of the first to tackle these tumultuous times, the Brexit/Trump backlash is already spawning a rise in protest songs, including these politically charged numbers:
Franz Ferdinand – Demagogue
Released as part of the 30 Days 30 Songs campaign to collate anti-Trump songs, Demagogue could only refer to one particular person, with lyrics such as “those pussy-grabbing fingers won’t let go of me now” and “it feels so good to be dumb”. It’s a good time to be in Depeche Mode.”
The times they are a-changin’ Modern protest music
Spirit follows in music’s great tradition of soundtracking social discord. “Just after Richard Spencer made that comment, someone sent me a picture of the band in one of our 1980s bad garb days,” says Gore, recalling their years at the mercy of terrible shirts and bouffant haircuts. Squarepusher – MIDI Sans Frontières
Last year’s post-referendum release from London electro star Tom Jenkinson was a response to the UK’s isolationism. “We’re not the sort of band who sits down and discusses our plans too much,” he says. After that, the trio have yet to discuss the band’s direction. A winter visit is most likely, according to Gore. Because we had to jettison our pure pop past. An example is their nomination but ultimate exclusion from this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. That would have been considered a mean retort, if angering the US president enough to merit a tweet wasn’t a badge of honour among anti-Trumpers. One hopes that the Scotsmen’s next release might tackle subjects closer to home, now that the chain reaction to article 50 has begun. But at the same time, I don’t regret it, because at least it was novel.”
Novel is right; during their early years, these Basildon boys were the polar opposite to the sultry electronic rock act that we now associate with Gahan, Gore and Fletcher (co-founder Vince Clarke quit during the release of their debut album Speak & Spell, going on to form Yazoo, Erasure and later with Gore, VCMG). While Ireland hasn’t been announced as part of Depeche Mode’s extensive summer European tour, they hope to make it over in the 12 months they will spend touring Spirit. Regret
“You’ll always get a laugh from me when someone brings out an old picture of us in the 1980s. “Right now we seem to be riding the crest of a wave: the album is doing well, the shows are selling out.