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Depeche Mode Violator'
Exciter (Awaiting Repress)From the beginning of their career Depeche Mode have been at the forefront of remix culture; creating their own classic extended mixes back in the early 80s and over the years amassing a collection of remixers of their songs that pretty much charts the history of cutting edge dance music.
It's rare to find bands capable of keeping their own best qualities to the fore while trying something new each time out, but Depeche Mode demonstrate that balance in full on the marvelous Exciter. Arguably the first album made by the group as a cohesive unit since Violator (and bearing some resemblance to that record in overall title and song names -- compare The Sweetest Condition with The Sweetest Perfection), Exciter finds the trio again balancing pop catchiness with experimental depths. As with Ultra, an outside producer helps focus the end results in new, intriguing directions -- in this case, said producer is Mark Bell, known for his work with Björk but also as part of Warp Records' flagship act LFO, which always acknowledged their own debut to Depeche. Bell's ear for minimal, crisp beats and quick, subtle arrangements and changes suit Martin Gore's songs beautifully. If there are few storming arena-shaking numbers this time out, the exquisite delicacy throughout is addicting, with Gore's guitar providing slippery and stinging leads to the smoky, romantic flow of Exciter. When the Body Speaks is a particular winner, his gentle work and a backing string section combining just right. David Gahan's voice, already audibly benefiting from lessons on Ultra, is even more supple and passionate than before, ranging from the fuller delivery on the snaky charm of Shine to the haunting album-closer, Goodnight Lovers, a romantic lullaby with perfect counterpoint backing vocals. Gore's own singing remains equally fine, as does his lyrical obsessions on, well, obsession -- Breathe, which quotes more Bible names per verse than most preachers, makes for a good example on both fronts. When the band fully crank it up, the results work there too -- The Dead of Night makes for a far superior nod to Gore's glam roots and Depeche's own industrial dance descendants than Songs of Faith and Devotion's Rush did.
- Ned Raggett1. Dream On
3. The Sweetest Condition
4. When The Body Speaks
5. The Dead of Night
9. I Feel Loved
11. Easy Tiger
12. I Am You
13. Goodnight Lovers$19.99180 Gram Audiophile Virgin Vinyl LP - Sealed AWAITING REPRESS Buy Now
ViolatorIn a word, stunning. Perhaps an odd word to use given that Violator continued in the general vein of the previous two studio efforts by Depeche Mode: Martin Gore's upfront lyrical emotional extremism and knack for a catchy hook filtered through Alan Wilder's ear for perfect arrangements, ably assisted by top English producer Flood. Yet the idea that this record would both dominate worldwide charts, while song for song being simply the best, most consistent effort yet from the band could only have been the wildest fantasy before its release. The opening two singles from the album, however, signaled something was up. First was Personal Jesus, at once perversely simplistic, with a stiff, arcane funk/hip-hop beat and basic blues guitar chords, and tremendous, thanks to sharp production touches and David Gahan's echoed, snaky vocals. Then Enjoy the Silence, a nothing-else-remains-but-us ballad pumped up into a huge, dramatic romance/dance number, commanding in its mock orchestral/choir scope. Follow-up single Policy of Truth did just fine as well, a low-key Motown funk number for the modern day with a sharp love/hate lyric to boot. To top it all off, the album itself scored on song after song, from the shuffling beat of Sweetest Perfection (well sung by Gore) and the ethereal Waiting for the Night to the guilt-ridden-and-loving-it Halo building into a string-swept pounder. Clean wraps up Violator on an eerie note, all ominous bass notes and odd atmospherics carrying the song. Goth without ever being stupidly hammy, synth without sounding like the clinical stereotype of synth music, rock without ever sounding like a rock band, Depeche here reach astounding heights indeed.
- Ned Raggett (All Music Guide)1. World In My Eyes
2. Sweetest Perfection
3. Personal Jesus
5. Waiting For The Night
6. Enjoy The Silence
7. Policy Of Truth
8. Blue Dress
9. Clean (Album Version)$19.99180 Gram Audiophile Virgin Vinyl LP - Sealed Buy Now
Playing The AngelFrom the beginning of their career Depeche Mode have been at the forefront of remix culture; creating their own classic extended mixes back in the early 80s and over the years amassing a collection of remixers of their songs that pretty much charts the history of cutting edge dance music.
When Ultra was declared the best Depeche Mode album since Violator, those who said so must have forgotten about Songs of Faith and Devotion. When Exciter was declared the best Depeche Mode album since Violator, those who said so must have also forgotten about Songs of Faith and Devotion, in addition to having found a roundabout way of saying that it was merely better than Ultra. There's no doubt this time: Playing the Angel is both the band's best album since Violator and, more significantly, an album that is near Violator in stature. The biggest clue dropped by the band prior to its release was a quote from Dave Gahan, who said that being in Depeche Mode is better than it has been in 15 years. Some quick math reveals that Gahan was hinting at the Violator era, a time when the band's creativity and popularity peaked synchronously. It also turns out that this is a time as good as any other to be paying attention to the band. Playing the Angel lacks Songs of Faith and Devotion's end-to-end chest-beating, Ultra's grinding murk, and Exciter's desiccated patches. It takes the best qualities from those releases, combines them with a few subtle allusions to Violator -- tiptoeing the border that separates retread from reinvention -- and makes for a highly concentrated set of songs that all but demand to be heard in one uninterrupted shot. Gahan, still riding the confidence he gained as a songwriter from Paper Monsters, his 2003 solo debut, contributes three songs co-written with band associates Christian Eigner and Andrew Phillpott. Though none of them vie to be the album's centerpiece, it's apparent that the move wasn't a concession of desperation on anyone's part. The friendly competition seems to have kicked chief songwriter Martin Gore into high gear; he's in top form. Musically, a lot of analog gear was used, and it's apparent that the arrangements and extra sounds were less fussed over than they have been in the recent past. You get the sense that everything fell into place, as opposed to being forced or aimlessly manipulated. Despite the favoring of older gear, there's no other year in which any of the songs could've been made. Like the best Depeche Mode, almost everything on the album will make an initial wowing impact while remaining layered enough in subtle details to surprise and thrill with repeated listens. It is not the kind of album a 25-year-old band is supposed to make.
- Andy Kellman (All Music Guide)LP 1
1. A Pain That Im Used To
2. John The Revelator
3. Suffer Well
4. The Sinner In Me
7. I Want It All
8. Nothings Impossible
10. Damaged People
12. The Darkest Star$26.99180 Gram Audiophile Virgin Vinyl LP - 2 LPs Sealed Buy Now
Songs of Faith and DevotionIn between Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion, a lot happened: Nirvana rewrote the ideas of what alternative was supposed to be, while Nine Inch Nails hit the airwaves as the most clearly Depeche-influenced new hit band around. In the meantime, the band went through some high-profile arguing as David Gahan turned into a long-haired, leather-clad rocker and pushed for a more guitar-oriented sound. Yet the odd thing about Songs of Faith and Devotion is that it sounds pretty much like a Depeche Mode album, only with some new sonic tricks courtesy of Alan Wilder and co-producer Flood. Perhaps even odder is the fact that it works incredibly well all the same. I Feel You, opening with a screech of feedback, works its live drums well, but when the heavy synth bass kicks in with the wailing backing vocals, even most rockers might find it hard to compete. Martin Gore's lyrical bent, as per the title, ponders relationships through distinctly religious imagery; while the gambit is hardly new, on songs like the centerpiece In Your Room, the combination of personal and spiritual love blends perfectly. Outside musicians appear for the first time, including female backing singers on a couple of tracks, most notably the gospel-flavored Condemnation and the uilleann pipes on Judas, providing a lovely intro to the underrated song (later covered by Tricky). Rush is the biggest misstep, a too obvious sign that Nine Inch Nails was a recording-session favorite to unwind to. But with other numbers such as Walking in My Shoes and The Mercy in You to recommend it, Songs of Faith and Devotion continues the Depeche Mode winning streak.
- Ned Raggett (All Music Guide)1. I Feel You
2. Walking In My Shoes
4. Mercy In You
6. In Your Room
7. Get Right With Me
9. One Caress
10. Higher Love$19.99180 Gram Audiophile Virgin Vinyl LP - Sealed Buy Now
The Sinister UrgePicture Disc
Hard rock's brightest shock rocker avoids the sophomore slump on the fun and energetic The Sinister Urge. Zombie's trademark growl is still in fine form, roaring over the 11 tracks with his unique blend of acid-throated venom. But most interesting are the directions he tries to bring to his familiar sound, which he has been cultivating since the hardcore punk days of White Zombie. Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy) is the most apparent example of this, a song that borders on pop with its groovy handclaps and acoustic guitars. But not to be worried, the chorus kicks back into classic Zombie, complete with sampled crowd chants and his trademark yeah. Going to California has a similar vibe, albeit darker and with a Welcome to My Nightmare-era Alice Cooper showbiz quality to it. But when it comes time to rock out, Zombie is more than ready. Dead Girl Superstar is probably the best of the bunch, raging along at lightning speed and featuring an awesome guest appearance by Slayer guitarist Kerry King. Iron Head is also quite good, matching Zombie's bark with guest singer Ozzy Osbourne's trademark banshee wail over a swaggering beat and chugging riff. And finally there is House of 1000 Corpses, the theme from the film Zombie directed that apparently offended Universal Studios so much that they refused to release it. The song is a nice departure for him, like a Leonard Cohen song filtered through Violator-era Depeche Mode. It is the slow burn of this last track that shows the most promise; after years of making good heavy metal, he finally expands the boundaries of his own sound. Few metal musicians kept their sound fresh for as long as Zombie, and this album is no exception. This may not win any new fans, but anyone who enjoyed his old material will probably find this to be a welcome addition to their collection.
- Bradley Torreano (All Music)1. Sinner's, Inc
2. Demon Speeding
3. Dead Girl Superstar
4. Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy)
5. Iron Head
6. (Go To) California
7. Feel So Numb
8. Transylvanian Transmissions Pt. 1
9. Bring Her Down (To Crippletown)
10. Scum Of The Earth
11. House Of 1000 Corpses/Unholy 3$35.99Vinyl LP Picture Disc - Sealed Buy Now