All-Time Albums: #37


DEPECHE MODE Black Celebration

1 Black Celebration 4:58
Fly On The Windscreen – Final 5:19
3 A Question Of Lust 4:22 (UK single, #28)
4 Sometimes 1:54
5 It Doesn’t Matter Two 2:50
A Question Of Time 4:09 (UK single remixed, #17)
Stripped 4:17 (UK single, #15)
8 Here Is The House 4:16
9 World Full Of Nothing 2:48
10 Dressed In Black 2:34
11 New Dress 3:45

Since their debut in 1981, each Depeche Mode long-player had charted higher than the previous one in the UK, a sequence of 10-8-6-5 that continued with the #4 debut of Black Celebration in March 1986.

It arrived on the back of a Top 10 greatest hits exercise Singles 81>85, that itself produced two fresh hits in Shake The Disease and It’s Called A Heart. If the latter’s bopability suggested the band were deviating from their path into ever-darker territory, the single’s flipside Fly On The Windscreen was a more accurate barometer of where they were at. Indeed, it’s said that Mute Records were against Fly On The Windscreen being the A-side that Depeche Mode wanted it to be.

No matter, the track would (in slightly remixed form) become a key part of Black Celebration’s opening suite, a three-song segue that finally said goodbye to any pretensions of trying to fit in with Radio 1, Smash Hits and the Top 40. Judging from the success of first single Stripped, their fanbase approved. The upshot, looking at the bigger picture, was that commercially their fanbase was pretty much all that was left, as the band’s sales in Britain began to slide and American adulation was still in its infancy. For a time during 1986, Depeche Mode looked like outsiders, serious and misunderstood young men making very European music.

Sometimes (if you’ll excuse the pun) it’s difficult to separate the idea of an album with the reality of its contents. Depeche Mode’s fifth album is a case in point. It was a huge album for me at the time, delivering on all the possibilities they’d hinted at with the most uncompromising and compelling tracks on their albums from 1983 and 1984. It was all coming together quite brilliantly.

Stripped, especially in 12″ form, was immense. Nobody else in the mainstream was constructing anything like it, rhythms that sounded like engines and generators, banks of monolithic synths, Dave Gahan’s impressively maturing, authoritative vocals….and the lyrics, well…

The problem is that, 30 years down the line, some of the songs aren’t that great. The likes of Sometimes, It Doesn’t Matter and World Full Of Nothing sort of work as part of the whole, as interludes between the fully-formed songs, but the sequencing is downright odd.

As a 14-year old, I was so invested in this album, the sound of the record, the sense of life beyond the safe confines of what I’d known up until then, it probably blinded me to its weaknesses. But oh boy, when it works it works better than almost anything else. Even now.

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