Depeche Mode - Songs of Faith and Devotion (Collectors CD/SACD & DVD)

For my original review and comments about Songs and Faith and Devotion, please click here.

Review of Songs of Faith and Devotion Live.

You can’t help but admire a producer who can one day work with the likes of U2, assisting Brian Eno, and next turn his hand to producing albums by grebo geniuses Pop Will Eat Itself. Flood (a.k.a. Mark Ellis) has worked with numerous artists, building a library of music full of diversity and some fantastic albums. Recently he has turned his mixing skills to A-ha’s wonderful Analogue and the new album by The Killers. A lot of the artistes who have benefited from his considerable skills might be considered quite a handful, ranging from Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Nick Cave. However, he claims that the time he spent making the Depeche Mode album Songs of Faith and Devotion to be the most difficult of his career. After recording was done, he vowed never to work with them again.

Why? Well, making this record, as shown in the documentary feature that accompanies this release, was fraught to say the least. A disastrous early attempt to produce the album in Madrid saw few results, as no one could make a firm decision what sound they were hoping to achieve. Few wanted to merely replicate their previous album Violator, nor did the creative core want to succumb to the wishes of Dave Gahan, who was smitten with the likes of Janes Addiction and other, more conventional rock bands.

All this therefore makes the end result even more amazing, as it is actually extremely good. However, at the same time, it is a very different album to everything else in their canon, and possibly the one (due to its more organic, “genuine” sound) that has dated the most. It sounds like a product of the early 1990’s, reminiscent very much of a time and a place. It is also the album most likely to alienate fans. I like many others remember being late for the work on the day I Feel You was first played on Radio One, and I can’t say I totally enjoyed the results. However, whilst it is an album full of bluster and missed opportunities (something Mute boss Daniel Miller feels strongly about), it now stands as a symbol of a more aggressive and exciting, rock and roll Depeche Mode, mostly due to Gahan. Best of all, it stands as a monument to the singer, and not as a tombstone.

The Album
Of all the releases so far, this one sounds less "enhanced" by the mastering process. As an album, it sounded pretty good on its release, and to my ears very little has been fiddled with. The track that to me sounded noticeably bright and clearer was Judas, which feels sumptuous on this release - the intro shimmering like the moon on a lake, full of rich music leading into Gore's wonderful vocal. For me it has lifted this song onto a whole new level.

Of the other songs, not much is noticeably different, apart from maybe the absence of a little hiss. This is a shame, as tracks such as I Feel You and Get Right With Me (both fine songs in their own right) cound have done with a little more bite. In Your Room still sounds overblown and saggy, as does Mercy In You. It ends well though with Higher Love, which also sounds tweaked, much to its advantage.

The 5.1 / DTS Mix
This is somewhat of a disappointment, and seems to work less well than it did on the releases from earlier in the year. The crisp electronics of Speak and Spell and Violator sounded great in this format, the bass fat with keyboards full of colour and shine. SOFAD though, whilst well mixed, is lacking somewhat compared to the album before it. I Feel You sounds strangely muted, the guitar low in the mix, whilst Walking In My Shoes sounds stodgy. Condemnation does attempt to redeem things, the claps and bass sounding wonderfully full, Gahan's superlative vocal high and bright in the mix.

The highlight again is the same as on the album - Judas was a revelation to me, a track I have often dismissed transformed into a wonderful experience of sound. The intro is amazing and the electronic outro, pure Wilder, is full of atmosphere and shapes the track. In some ways, it makes you wish Wilder and Flood had been given more space to herd the sound back to a more traditional Depeche standing.

The tracks in this format do sound different, making this a wholly independent listening experience to the album on CD. In Your Room is given more chance to breathe, whilst Get Right With Me is clearer, the gospel singers brought to the fore. Rush has an incredible rush of bass whilst One Caress is delicate, melting away into Higher Love, sending the music and vocal swirling round the room. This mix on the whole is good, but maybe not everything I could have hoped for.

Bonus Tracks
These are sadly not in 5.1, but all sound wonderful. Of them all I rate the Slow Slide mix of Higher Joy the most, whilst Death's Door is also worthy of mention, a forgotten gem. The mixes of the singles are also a welcome inclusion.

Depeche Mode 91-94 - We Were Going To Live Together, Record Together And It Was Going To Be Wonderful
These words are spoken by Alan Wilder, who along with Flood deserves nothing but sympathy in what they went through for the sake of this album. Flood is interviewed extensively and is great, a man who clearly took the punches and treats the interview session as a cathartic experience. He comes across (and undoubtedly is) a thoroughly likeable bloke and it is no wonder that he and Wilder bonded so strongly during the recordings.

However, Flood's contributions aside, this documentary does gloss over a few issues. The tour that accompanied this album is described as debauched but no real evidence is given other than the obvious addictions of Gahan's. No mention is made of Primal Scream's inclusion, and contributions from the band (particularly Fletch) is at a minimum. This whole period I should imagine is still quite painful to remember, and therefore you cannot blame their reluctance, but more detail would help to plug the gaps in what is commonly believed.

Also disappointing is how Wilder's departure is pushed to a brief mention at the close of the film. It seemed to me that more was filmed but not used - in fact, Wilder looks almost emotional at the end as he explains his decision to quit. Reactions from the band, maybe even tributes, would have really helped to clear the waters, but sadly these are lacking. As a huge fan of Wilder's work, I would love to hear more appreciation from others in the band - sure, Gore had the songs, Gahan had the voice, but Alan Wilder's contribution during his tenure in the band was huge and deserves recognition.

Overall
This is another solid release, maybe not reaching the heights of the earlier releases but fine none the less. Whilst less attractive than Violator to those who have not yet experienced the music, it is a lasting testament to a fine album from a band moving out of their comfort zone, exploring new ground.

Cd-wow, at the time of writing, have this album for a steal at £9.99, 50p less if you use the link to the right of the review.

Overall

TDF SILVER

9

out of 10
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