Depeche Mode - Black Celebration (Collectors CD/SACD & DVD)
Click here to read the original review of Black Celebration.
Ever had a fancy to want to watch Dave Gahan's head turn into a cornish pasty? Well, you need do little more than get yourself over to Youtube and type in "The Meaning of Love" to see just that. Look a bit further at the early videos of Depeche Mode and you can see them playing video games whilst annoying a gang of milkmen, tap cash registers like unconvincing keyboards, enjoy perhaps a little to much being dragged around on a chain and generally twat about bashing bits of metal on a boat. It is true to say that their early videos were very bad indeed, so bad in fact that the band have gone to great lengths to see them excluded from any video compilations. This is a shame, as of course the fact they are so awful just adds to the charm. But never before in the history of pop music have more videos consisted of a band whacking pieces of metal with hammers and crowbars and look moody in slo-mo.
But suddenly, something changed. The video for A Question of Time was the first of many to be directed by Dutch photographer and filmmaker Anton Corbijn, the start of a long association that completely revolutionized their image. Whilst their artwork was always superb (Black Celebration sporting another wonderful cover designed by Martyn Atkins) their image on film sorely needed the attention of a master. Shooting mostly in black and white or on grainy film, he did much to change the view in the mind of the public as to what Depeche Mode were all about. The collaboration reached a peak with the promo for Enjoy The Silence, Gahan striding around dressed as a King, surveying his domain from his lowly deckchair.
In recent years, the band have rarely worked with Corbijn, and it shows. The videos from Playing the Angel have mostly been drab and uninspiring, particularly the promo for Precious, a CG laden piece of nonsense at complete opposites with the theme and nature of the song. However, the video for Suffer Well, which saw Corbijn behind the lens once more, is wonderful - full of humour, style, and great ideas. He has now moved into film direction, his debut feature a biopic of Ian Curtis, due to be released this year. In his work with Depeche Mode, he has produced an excellent catalogue of images and ideas, very much of their time but always interesting and a million miles away from the videos of their contemporaries.
The original album now does sound rather dated, the sound rather mushy at times, particularly on the first three tracks where there is an obvious hiss and the occasional moment where the music sounds rather sodden and swampy. Thankfully, this has been addressed in this re-mastered version, but gladly rather than totally clean everything up they have kept the essence of the sound intact. The end result is cleaner but by no means brighter. This is still a dark, claustrophobic album, where there is little relief and little that you could call pop music.
The opening three tracks are as stunning as ever, from the brooding, sinister unwinding of the title number into one of their finest hours, Fly on the Windscreen. The vocal packs more punch here, Martin Gore’s backing sounding stronger and simply magnificent. Elsewhere, Stripped is also noticeably improved, sounding louder and cleaner, the drums and percussion given more punch and less clatter. The standout track though has to be Here Is The House, a hugely underrated song which has really been given the treatment it deserves on this release. The lines of music intertwine, lapping over each other pushing this song to greater heights.
As always, this album still fizzles out on both sides at the fourth track, such is the strength of those first three songs on either side. The keyboard on New Dress sounds meatier, but it is still a rather lackluster song. And no amount of studio trickery can ever re-master some of the lyrics, which are at times poor (World Full of Nothing in particular). That said though, this album must have been a real challenge and they have certainly done well to improve the sound without taking it from the period to which it belongs.
The 5.1 / DTS Mix
Sadly, this is somewhat of a disappointment. To be fully appreciated, it has to played astonishingly loud, as at times various tracks seem rather muted and lacking punch. Also, everything sounds more clipped and less smooth than on the CD version. Stripped should have sounded wonderful but comes across rather dull and at times slightly out of tune. Question of Time loses all its pace, and becomes rather leaden.
Much has been made of the capabilities of a 5.1 mix, and sounds do whizz across the room and surprise you by popping out behind you, but that is not entirely the point. I was hoping for something more expansive, not keyboards popping out of a speaker just because they can. The vocals flying around the room on It Doesn’t Matter may sound impressive but they do nothing to improve the song.
A plethora of extra songs have been added, including the two singles that precede this album, the fantastic Shake the Disease and the not so fantastic Its Called A Heart. One of these songs is well crafted, with a fine vocal from Gahan and some truly meaningful lyrics from Gore, whilst the other sounds like it was knocked out in a couple of hours with the words written on the back of a beer mat. The flip-sides to both these songs are also included, where the reverse happens - Shake the Disease gets the bonkers Flexible, whilst Heart gets the original version of Fly on the Windscreen.
Sadly, Breathing in Fumes is not mixed in 5.1, something I hoped for, but I guess after the poor mix of the album I should not be too sorry. Also included are a number of live tracks, which are in 5.1, all of which sound adequate.
Depeche Mode 1985 - 86: The Songs Are Not Good Enough, There Are Not Any Singles & It'll Never Get Played On The Radio
All the short films included to date have been superb, and this one is no exception. All the key players are interviewed, and are open and candid about the experience of working on this album and being involved with the band. Its Called A Heart gets a good kicking, Wilder in particular expressing his disappointment that they even recorded it. There are also plenty of archive clips and lots of home video recordings, showing the band working in the studio and on tour. These really are something, showing the band relaxed, happy, showing off to the camera and totally at ease with themselves and each other.
The highlight of the film though have to be the contributions of Daniel Miller and Gareth Jones, who attempt to explain the complexities of recording such an album. They speak at length of the pressures involved, and again come across well in the archive clips. Sometimes these short films have a tendency to be a little back-slappy (in particularly their German record company boss has proclaimed each album to be the most important, something that is becoming rather tiresome), but it does not stop these being a fascinating insight into how these albums were put together.
Another good release, despite being let down by the 5.1 mix. It doesn't quite hit the heights of Violator or Music For The Masses, but is still good value and a must for anyone remotely interested in Depeche Mode.