All the 12″ singles from depeche mode’s fifth and sixth albums, together at last…

Music for the Masses

Depeche Mode’s weighty singles reissue campaign continues apace with this latest instalment – two 12″ vinyl boxset packages based around the singles taken from their fifth and sixth albums. They both capture the band in transition.

By 1986’s Black Celebration, Depeche were notably reacting against the gentle media mockery that had greeted upbeat, pop-trifle Top 10 hits such as Everything Counts and People Are People. Compared to its predecessor, Some Great Reward, Martin Gore was determined the album had to be “a lot heavier, harder and darker”.

It was. Press-ganged by Mute boss Daniel Miller into aping filmmaker Werner Herzog by recording Black Celebration over an intensive four-month period with no breaks, Depeche produced an album that was suitably insular and claustrophobic. Melodies were out: ambient mood pieces and brooding atmospherics were in. The singles and B-sides on this five-disc set reflect that tendency – as well as an intriguing paradox. Hitting No.4, Black Celebration became the Mode’s highest-charting album to date. It was also the first one not to spawn any UK Top 10 singles.

Black Celebration

Lead single Stripped, featured here via Flood’s stark Highland Mix, was a fantastic play-frame for Dave Gahan’s velvet baritone, but A Question Of Lust and A Question Of Time were gloomy, melancholic throbs, albeit highly seductive ones. 1985 singles Shake The Disease and It’s Called A Heart, included on the deluxe version of the original album, are baffling omissions here.

By 1987’s ironically-titled Music For The Masses, Top 10 hits looked to be a thing of the past as Depeche honed and perfected their new sleek, sophisticated electro-groove. Strangelove, its lead single, features here both in its relatively lightweight original version and in Daniel Miller’s heftier, more portentous album remix.

The seven discs in the Masses boxset house a wealth of resonant material. Gahan’s tremulous vocal is a delight on Never Let Me Down Again, even making up for Gore’s deeply regrettable rhyming of ‘safe as houses’ with ‘wearing the trousers’. The Shep Pettibone and Beatmasters remixes of Behind The Wheel reflect Depeche’s under-celebrated but undeniable influence on early techno.

They were a band on the cusp. Down the road lay the Pasadena Rose Bowl, DA Pennebaker, Violator, world domination, narcotic self-destruction and against-all-the-odds recovery. In many ways, these beautifully packaged reissues capture Depeche Mode’s calm before
the storm.

8/10

Ian Gittins

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