Depeche Mode – Music For The Masses (1987): Review

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Produced by Depeche Mode and David Bascombe
Label – Mute

In a 1987 interview for Belgian TV, chief songwriter Martin Gore corrected the host, suggesting that his band weren’t one of the best known pop acts in Europe, but merely a cult band that couldn’t release a single that would reach any higher than number 16 in the U.K. charts. His view was probably partly skewed by the fact that the band weren’t recognized across the Atlantic. “Music For The Masses”, the ironically titled sixth long player by the Basildon four piece would change that, and within a year the band would be playing sell out shows to hundreds of thousands of fans across the nation. Their alternative leanings had become popularized by a teenage American audience, intrigued by Gore’s cross dressing, S&M tendencies, and sexually charged atmospherics. The album forms the natural bridge between the deeply dark, often troubling “Black Celebration”, and their commercial zenith, “Violator.” Whilst “Black Celebration” laid the foundations for their electronic goth leanings, it lacked a sizeable hit to stir the crowd. “Music For The Masses” would be a game changer, and to just watch in awe as the 65,000+ fans at the Pasadena Bowl concert form a sea of waving arms to the carnally gyrating Dave Gahan singing “Never Let Me Down Again”, one realizes the band’s intentions are far beyond the cult status Gore had previously asserted. This record is firmly rooted with the intention of filling stadiums, with muscular rhythms, more organic instrumentation, but most importantly a driving pop sensibility that had been slightly muddied on the previous collection.

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Mainly recorded at Studio Guillaume Tell in Paris, and without the services of Mute Records Daniel Miller at the production helm, “Music For The Masses” is strictly directed by Martin Gore. Fellow musicians Alan Wilder and Andy Fletcher were asked to only provide additional noises and textures. Gahan has confirmed that his role was to simply add lead vocals, and cannot recall any creative input to the recording sessions. The subject matter for the songs is largely ambiguous, and in many cases can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways. Gore will tell you that the superb “Never Let Me Down Again” is about a plane flight with a friend, but really, it feels far more portentous, eerie, and defies his simplified reasoning. Musically, it’s a chugging, relentless cacophony of gargantuan beats and a naggingly insistent melody that refuses to go away. “Strangelove” is almost as good, slightly gentler in tempo, but rooted by a cool groove. “Behind The Wheel”, with it’s driving rhythms, loosely mirrors Chicago house, which would become increasingly popular at the end of the decade. Take out the distinctive vocal, and musically you could mistake it for New Order. Sadly, the remainder never lives up to its spectacular billing. Too many sluggishly paced, soul less ballads fail to raise the level of connect. Particularly guilty of a feeling of nihilistic wallowing are the Martin Gore weedily sung dirges, of which the panting and grunting sexual frolics of “I Want You Now” is by far the worst example of cheap sex posing as high art. The closer, “Pimpf” is an attempt at Wagnerian styled synthesized majesty, but for this listener it’s a lesson in pompous synthetic posturing.

Reasonable and yet unconvincing, “Music For The Masses” delves into the dark, secret corners of synthpop, and will appeal to any listener that appreciates existentialism, has a bedroom bound pale complexion, and a miserable childhood.

6/10

Track Rating
1 – Never Let Me Down Again (9)
2 – The Things You Said (6)
3 – Strangelove (8)
4 – Sacred (6)
5 – Little 15 (6)
6 – Behind The Wheel (7)
7 – I Want You Now (4)
8 – To Have And To Hold (5)
9 – Nothing (6)
10 – Pimpf (6)

Depeche Mode – A Broken Frame (1982): Review

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18 responses to “Depeche Mode – Music For The Masses (1987): Review

  1. A band that I’ve always wanted to like more than I do. Or maybe expected to like more than I do. It’s more of a passing appreciation.

    • Yeah, they’ve done some great singles and I admire their longevity, but there always seems like there’s always been something indefinable that’s missing for me.

      • The closest I’ve come to figuring out why I don’t like Depeche Mode as much as I feel I ought to – they seem to be keyboard-driven, with a guitar added as a layer. Whereas a group like the cure (whom I adore) would be more guitar-driven, with keyboard added as a layer.
        It’s not the full explanation I’m sure, but it’s part of it (for me at least) I think!

      • That kinda figures. Synth pop is a tough genre to have any longevity in, so I guess some bands have to embrace organic instrumentation in order to develop their sound.

  2. I agree completely with your assessment of To have and to hold and am not as big a fan of this album as some of their others. I always enjoy it while listening but rarely think to put it on. The fact that I’ve never bought it on vinyl is very telling, though 101 was snapped up the first chance I got.

  3. One of my top favorites, a love of about 30 years. This is one I’ve had since back in the day, though Violator is the one that runs through my veins and always will. 🖤❤️

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