Song Of The Day 9/24/2015: Depeche Mode – “Condemnation”

Stopped Clock Week – I attribute my original dislike of Depeche Mode to a general mistrust of synthesizers I nurtured right around the time they started back in 1981, or whenever it was. Being a pianist of some local renown, my ambivalence towards synths might seem out of character. I personally have only owned two synthesizers in my lifetime: a cheap knockoff from Radio Shack and a Korg Poly–61. Both are probably much more valuable now than they were to me then. Anyway, I was a pianist above all else. If it didn’t have a bench and a ledge on which to place my Big Gulp, it wasn’t worth my time.

The synth-pop tunes that made it to the radio during that time were annoyingly primitive. That’s to be expected when any newish musical form is getting off the ground. But to me, hearing a bunch of songs that featured one-note riffs that anybody could play just didn’t hold my interest. I blame this on the Dave Brubeck songbook I got when I was 13. Many Brubeck songs were not intended to be played by people with only ten fingers. I enjoyed the complexity, the double-up polyphony of Brubeck and was always trying to follow it with my playing. I was a show-off. Synths made it easy for anyone to play, and I didn't want it easy. I found this out the hard way with child-proof caps.

I also felt that the singers in many of those bands were under some unspoken pressure to conform to their industrialized surroundings. Robotics were in play and their voices just fell in line. You can hear this in Phil Oakey’s voice on songs by the Human League (before “Human”). You certainly heard it in Dave Gahan’s voice, although there was this slight hiccup barely detectable by equipment of the time that gave him a grain of texture. He definitely took advantage of that near the end of the ’80s when DM tried the Elvis route. Look, it was an era where the ultimate goal of urban society was to be able to phone it in. So during this time, you had a lot of people who were learning how to use the phone. Except Alison Moyet, who just showed up at your door in person.

I didn’t hear a lot of compositional variance in Dave Gahan’s voice. But Depeche Mode -- or as I swear I remember Henry Rollins calling them, DA MODE -- went on to be monstrously popular with songs which, to me, sounded largely the same. “People Are People” was “Master and Servant” was “Everything Counts” and etc. At least “Just Can’t Get Enough” was in a major key. From the sounds of things like “Personal Jesus” on the Violator album, maybe they were getting a little bored with it too.

I’m not even that nuts about today’s song, from their 1993 album Songs of Faith and Devotion. It’s good soundtrack fodder. I’m always vulnerable to a song that includes the rhythmic element of of foot-stomping and people slapping themselves over their exposed stomachs, which is what the drum line in “Condemnation” sounds like. Furthermore, I’m as likely to get suckered in by faux-gospel as not, and Martin Gore’s piano chords here are just the kind of projectile balm I might not lunge to avoid.

“I might not lunge to avoid Depeche Mode.” I’m giving them so many killer blurbs for the box set here.

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