DM ‘Alpha Sixteen’

01 Apr

Depeche Mode Album Review

Miraculous. This band’s debut album was not even recorded in such a short amount of time. This is unheard of from a band of their caliber and especially when you take into account this is an electronic band that meticulously assemble their music like an elaborate sonic collage.

Over some mere weeks the songs were played and recorded in quite an ‘old fashion’ way using only old antiquated equipment including vintage microphones, amplifiers and tapes. The final result is classic. Raw vocals with just plate reverb on harmonies accompanied by saloon style sequenced piano rolls and honky tonk jangling – all under pinned by deep blue piano bass lines including compulsory jazz flurry’s and tangents. Gone are the synthesizer and samplers for the most part. The electronic atmospheres on this record are supplied by what can only be described as a ‘Somebody’ style slow backward tape of weird and wonderful sounds and effects.

In true unique Dépêche Mode styling’s the recordings are not as straight forward as first thought. All songs were recorded in one take during which microphones were placed in, on and around the amplifiers and pianos in various rooms and halls to give that extra ‘je ne ce qua’. Guitars play along with amp valve buzzing while piano strings loose from electro workouts flop and twang about – all full up in the mix. The occasional Moog and Theremin make the ubiquitous appearance as does an effected harmonica filtered to haunting result. The slowest banjo you will ever hear plus gated radio interference magnify Martins 3am rasp vocal on ‘And I Miss You More (Than If I Ever Met You)’ which is destined to be a future Depeche Mode staple. Classic bashing of objects, 1983 style, make up the rhythms on the couple of upbeat tracks and a hob-nail-boot on loose floorboards runs through most on here, all sounding like they were fun to play and record, there is even tin coffee mugs on prison bars if I am not mistaken. Plenty of rolling toms and ping pong balls cut in and out of the mix, abrupt starts and false endings as over dubs and under rehearsed live mixing bring a truly human element to a genuinely heartfelt piece of work. ‘Radio Therapy’-esq, original in all but genre.

Any of these elements the band could have sampled and looped and given us one of the finest Depeche Mode albums to date, instead they have given us one of the finest albums to date.

Blues guitar is the prominent feature of this record. All blue, and all the shades, and all the guitars from the cusp of electronics with amps held together by just dust’n’rust. And the songs of course, as diverse as always, from Dave’s confessional soul searching thirteenth step philosophy to Martins parables of biblical epic proportion – even when he is just musing on the ebb and flow of rivers (or whisky, or groins), one can never be quite sure with Mr. Gore. The dexterity and pure joy of word play has not been this consummative since the quest for ‘The Meaning of Love’ and ‘A Photograph of You’ in 1982 only now the subject matter, as well as the melodies, are meatier and accompanied by a rich sauce of wry knowing that only comes from living on a worldwide stage. It’s ‘Construction Time Again’ again as lyrics are spat, visceral, combining the poetry of ‘Walking in My Shoes’ with the whistle blowing of ‘Shame’, propagating modern parables so impartial the whole world should be embarrassed to look children in the eyes. Martin Needs a Maid.

Anthemic rhetoric that will turn stadium gigs into rally’s and turn audiences into humanitarians, this is compelling stuff.

Out of your head and on to your feet, back to the noise. For the completion of the ‘album’ tapes of various performances and Jazz Funerals were played through an affected PA System with live mixing of levels, EQ and other simple desk manipulation. This ‘all hands on desk’ mix rounded off their recording sessions and the sweat on the knobs and perspiration in the performance right until the end can be heard and felt in this record like no other recording I have heard since British band Blind Faith or the late and great Oscar Peterson. Not bad for any band from any district in any space and time, and this is Depeche Mode…

This is ‘Alpha’, with ‘Omega’ to follow later this year in what is now clearly the end of an era, & a new beginning. This is a new republic with the constitution rewrote for the twenty first century, the Ten Commandments revised after two thousand years of trial and error. This album is hot, melting. It’s languid, and precisely so. Cicada prevail and twilightz perpetual as DM deliver on many of their previous promises… Consequently I’ve a tendency to be satisfied, which normally is an insurmountable task.


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