Number Ones: #64


  • DEPECHE MODE Stripped (Mute)
  • Week Ending 22nd February 1986
  • 3 Weeks At #1


With the record label-pleasing Singles 81>85 out of the way, Depeche Mode were in no mood to compromise for their next release. It’s Called A Heart was fine, but the band were leaving the pop mainstream behind for good and the clue had been that single’s magnificent B-side, Fly On The Windscreen.

Imagine a whole album like that. Well, when Black Celebration arrived in March 1986, it almost was a whole album like that. In truth – if you see my write-up for it in my Top 100 Albums Of All-Time list – my passion for the record, and the attention I invested in it at the time, was somewhat coloured by the sheer brilliance of its lead single, the record which unceremoniously dumped The Damned from the #1 spot on my chart as soon as it was released.

Stripped is simply immense. The 7″ mix is impressive enough, luring the listener in with its enticing, nursery-rhyme-like couplets (“come with me, into the trees….we’ll lay on the grass and let the hours pass”), all the while driven along by the most unusual beat that sounded as though it was constructed from real machinery (the noise at the very beginning is an actual motorbike starting up). The 12″ mix was something else; breaking down the constituent parts of the rhythm, chucking in bits of the melody here and there, and just building the thing, and building it until you had this monstrous slab of industrial, electronic pop.

There was even room on the 12″ E.P. to make a dub version, Breathing In Fumes, that took the menacing, suffocating aspects of it to an even pervier degree.

It was exactly the kind of record to appeal to me at that moment; intense, unconventional, addictive, other-worldly, and with an undercurrent of tension and anger. Rejecting society’s conventions and all the junk associated with modern life…”let me hear you make decisions without your television” was another perfectly gauche Martin L. Gore lyric. But you felt they meant it, they bought into the lifestyle and worldview they were displaying through their music and image.

The subtitle of a wonderful documentary that accompanied the Deluxe Edition DVD of Black Celebration, hinted at the very real tensions between the band and Mute Records; “The Songs Aren’t Good Enough, There Aren’t Any Singles And Radio 1 Isn’t Going To Play It”. Stripped would prove to be the biggest hit from the project when it peaked on the second week, as Depeche Mode singles invariably would by this stage, at #15 and obviously America was not ever going to embrace such darkly sexual, subversive material.

Thank goodness they did make Black Celebration though, and give Mute executives a panic attack with its defiantly uncompromising and creative genius. To hell with chasing pop hits for the rest of their career.

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