Where To Start With... Depeche Mode
Of the many, many synth-pop acts that emerged and produced huge hits during the 1980s, from Eurythmics and Yazoo to Soft Cell and Human League, only a handful have survived intact and continued to enjoy commercial and critical success to this day. Pet Shop Boys and Duran Duran could certainly claim their stake in this category, as could Simple Minds and A-ha, but perhaps the group that has retained the most devoted following out of all of these is Depeche Mode.
Apart from anything else, Depeche Mode was the group that launched the career of Vince Clarke, one of the driving forces behind the band's 1981 debut album Speak and Spell and an artist whose pioneering synthesiser work would dominate much of the early 80s in groups like Yazoo, The Assembly and Erasure, not to mention the many copyists that arrived in their wake.
But it's a testament to Depeche Mode's creative strength in depth that following Clarke's departure in 1982, the band not only survived but continued to grow, producing some of the most unique hits of the 1980s, 1990s and beyond.
Last year saw the band embarking on a programme of reissues, re-releasing their entire back-catalogue on vinyl, some of which hadn't been available on the format in decades, but this week sees the band back with a brand new album, their first since 2013's Delta Machine.
Spirit arrives in stores today (you can preview and purchase the album at the top-right of this page) and is the band's 14th studio album, featuring lead-off single 'Where's The Revolution?', which finds frontman Dave Gahan at his most overtly political and expressing his frustration at the current state of affairs (“Who's making your decisions, you or your religion? / Where's the revolution? / Come on, people, you're letting me down”).
It's a theme which populates much of the new album, as on songs like album opener 'Going Backwards' and 'Poorman', but there are more subtle touches elsewhere and this time around they've recruited James Ford as producer, one half of Simian Mobile Disco and best known for his work with bands like Arctic Monkeys and Foals, among many others. The result isn't a huge reinvention in terms of sound, but Ford has teased out the band's best elements and this is another strong offering from one of the most enduring groups the UK has produced over the last four decades.
You can find the video for 'Where's The Revolution?' below, beneath that we've picked out five of the finest moments from Depeche Mode's long and distinguished career...
'Just Can't Get Enough'
Depeche Mode's 1981 debut Speak and Spell was released while founding member Vince Clarke was still very much the band's creative driving force and the album is littered with his distinctive synthesiser work. We could just as easily have picked the equally brilliant 'New Life', the album's opening gambit, but we've gone for this one instead because 'Just Can't Get Enough' was a commercial breakthrough for Depeche Mode and even after all the great songs they've produced over the years, this remains one of the most well-known and best-loved songs.
'Master and Servant'
After Vince Clarke departed following the band's debut, keyboardist Martin Gore took on the majority of the songwriting duties and while he is equally skilled in producing the kind of memorable synth hooks that had made the band's music popular in the first place, by the time of their fourth album, 1984's Some Great Reward, Depeche Mode's sound has taken on a much darker edge and 'Master and Servant' is a perfect case in point.
While Depeche Mode continued to release a string of albums throughout the rest of the 1980s, regularly producing singles that would reach the Top 20 in the UK Singles Chart, the band had failed to reproduce quite the same level of commercial success as they achieved in their earlier years and by the end of that decade the band had begun to feel that their sound needed a bit of a refresh. For their seventh album, 1990s' Violator, the band turned to producer Mark 'Flood' Ellis to help change things up a little and the result is a much harder-edged sound. 'Personal Jesus' was the album's lead-off single and set the tone for album that produced two of the band's most enduring songs.
'Enjoy The Silence'
Normally with a band that has been around for as long as Depeche Mode we try to pick just one track from each of their albums, but in this case choosing just one from Violator would have meant leaving out one of their all-time greatest tracks and in the end we just couldn't choose between 'Personal Jesus' and this, which is still one of their best-known tunes. 'Enjoy The Silence' has a very different feel to the brash, stomping glam-rock of 'Personal Jesus', but it could have been more different still; the song began life as a slow ballad, but producer Flood suggested they should lift the tempo and the end result was something very different from its initial form, but it proved to bee successful choice and the song remains one of the biggest hits, as well as an essential inclusion in the band's live shows.
Most of the tracks on our list are from Depeche Mode's earlier career during their first decade in the 1980s, but they've continued to produce the hits into the 90s and beyond. Our final pick is taken from their 2005 album Playing the Angel and if nothing else illustrates the band's longevity, still able to create distinctive tunes after 25 years in the game and still sounding fresh without needing to totally reinvent their sound.