Friday, 14 October 2011

DEPECHE MODE - LEAD ME INTO YOUR DARKNESS - SONGS OF FAITH AND DEVOTION AND 1993

In these days of over hyped, ITunes exlcusive remixes, pre-order everything twelve months before the band have recorded it rubbish, it is funny to think that I first learned that Depeche were about to release a new album by reading a couple of paragraphs in Melody Maker which said that Songs of Faith and Devotion (SOFAD - I'm not writing the full name every time) was coming out in March, preceded by a single called I Feel You and was to be supported by a 180 date 18 month world tour. This was exciting news although not everyone in my halls at Aberdeen University thought that. In fact no-one else seemed mildy bothered. Pah. Clowns. What did they know? SOFAD was about to change everyone's perception of Depeche Mode, even the people whose breakfast I interrupted with my relentless quoting from Melody Maker. 

The first single from the album was I Feel You, which really was something rather different. It was released on 15 February 1993, once again skilfully avoiding the UK number one spot by stopping at number 8. I Feel You was exclusively premiered on Simon Mayo's Radio 1 breakfast show in the January. I taped the song (ask your parents kids) and played it relentlessly for days. What the bloody hell was this? Screeching tyres, a prominent rock sounding guitar, drums? "This is the morning of Allah?" Wow - Depeche Mode had changed. Regardless of all that though, I loved it. This was my first new Depeche music as a fully signed up fan (or Devotee as we would shortly become) and it was thrilling. The video for the song confused matters further. Beard! Alan on drums! Martin's hunchback in grey tracksuit trousers walking through a desert impression! Christ Dave - keep that waistcoat on man! Bloody hell - that's the girl from Brush Strokes! Beard! The only "normal" thing about it was the fact that Fletch's keyboard wasn't plugged in. It was a fantastic video with its' "Is that REALLY Depeche Mode" imagery fitting the "Hang on is THAT Depeche Mode" feel of the song. Stunning.

The single itself was available on the usual plethora of formats with the usual number of remixes. I hadn't seen the album tracklisting when I bought the single so One Caress appeared to be a brand new b-side. I still don't think album tracks should go on b-sides as it's a bit of a cheat, even if they are as beautiful as One Caress, more of which later. The 7" (BONG21) and cassette single (CBONG21 - right) featured two tracks - I Feel You and One Caress. The 12" and Cd singles (12BONG21 and CDBONG21) contained One Caress and three mixes of I Feel You - Throb Mix, 7 Inch mix and Babylon Mix. The artwork for the 7", 12 and cd was the same and can be seen on the left. The mixes are all pretty good, although I can't tell the difference between the version on the 7"and the 7" version. The Throb Mix is a good almost extended version style mix. The Babylon Mix (not the last time biblical imagery would be used in the next few months) is really cool with lots of interesting beeps and bleeps. Further remixes were made available on the limited edition formats - L12BONG21 and LCDBONG21 (artwork right). The tracklisting on each was the same with four mixes of I Feel You - Life's Too Short Mix and Swamp Mix both by Brian Eno, Renegade Soundwave Afghan Surgery Mix and Helmet At The Helm Mix. The Eno mixes are typically Eno-ish and are rather marvellous bubbling along in ambient fashion with Dave and Martin's voices occasionally popping up to remind us that it's a Depeche track. The Renegade Soundwave mix is decent enough but my favourite here is the Helmet At The Helm Mix. It's really cool and I still play it a lot. Finally, the artwork on all formats was nice. The cover pictures were outlines of the big metal puppet type things that hung behind the Devotional stage. Each picture features the birthday of the member it represents. The pictures of the band on the various formats show them in Hamburg's seedy Reeperbahn all gloomy and tattooed.



I Feel You UK 12" Promo 



The next release wasn't a new single but was instead a new album. A UK NUMBER 1 ALBUM! AND A U.S. NUMBER 1 ALBUM! Crikey. That album was of course Songs of Faith and Devotion which was released on 22 March 1993 on LP (STUMM108), CD (CDSTUMM108), cassette (CSTUMM108), MiniDisc (MDSTUMM108) and even Digital Cassette (No I've no idea either - DCCSTUMM108). All formats had the same brilliant if slightly spooky artwork - it's over there on the left. This was the first album since Singles 81-85 to feature the lads' faces. Mercifully there are no nipples on display here. Note too that the shapes from I Feel You appear here revealing who was what blob on the single covers. This is such an important Depeche Mode album. They were arguably the biggest band on the planet at this point. Only U2's ongoing ZooTV/Zooropa tour matched the Devotional/Exotic/USA94 tours in size and scope at the time. I think it's also fair to say that Depeche Mode's fanbase was at its biggest and most (pardon the pun) devoted at the time. This was before the era of arranging meet ups through Home or online presales remember, yet Depeche were filling the hugest venues possible all over the world. Many fans still look back on the shows of that era as landmarks.

Some people, specfically me, regret only going to one show on the tour (Crystal Palace and it was my first Depeche show). This is an album epic in scale. Whereas Violator had been clean, crisp, electronic and almost robotic, SOFAD was looser, used rock dynamics more than ever and looked not to Europe as all previous DM albums had done, but to America but not in a Joshua Tree/Rattle & Hum way, thank God. There were many issues which beset the band when recording the album, all of which are well known to everyone and really don't merit any exploration here. If it's ok with you, I don't see the need to go over the old drink and drugs ground even though it still crops up every time the band are interviewed. It happened, they came through it and in the midst of it all they gave us SOFAD. That's the story I want to focus on.

So to the album. There were ten tracks in all kicking off with I Feel You. Next up we had the, pardon my language, fucking epic Walking In My Shoes. When I first listened to SOFAD, it took me a while to even get beyond this track. Martin's lyrics are exceptional here and as for the music.....almost indescribable. The first time I heard the Martin's guitar line that kicks in at 3 minutes, 4 seconds,  I am not ashamed to say that I had tears in my eyes. It's musical perfection - Alan goes epic with the strings, Martin plays his bit and the world stops moving just so that you can listen to it. I've got shivers even thinking about it now. If anyone ever criticises Depeche Mode, play them Walking In My Shoes and watch as they change their mind. That was good and then Track 3 Condemnation kicked in. I am instantly taken back to the first time I heard this album. I was sitting on the floor of my parents living room in Castle Douglas, beside the cd player trying to absorb every single nanonsecond of the music. Suddenly, the piano/gospel sound kicks in. Wow. Then the lyrics! And Dave's singing! Again, I sound over the top no doubt but it was stunning. I recall that I wrote a letter (it was the early 90's - that's how we rolled) to my then girlfriend, now wife writing out part of the words to Condemnation and telling her, no doubt to her utter disinterest, that these were the greatest words ever written. What a start to an album!

Next up is Mercy in You. It's a great song but I tend to overlook it, mainly because it's sandwiched between two of my favourite tracks. It's cool though and it really worked live I thought. Track 5 is Judas, one of two Martin sung tracks on the album. As with much of the early 90's DM, there was religious imagery all over the shop and Judas is no exception to that. The song though is beautiful and the music is again sensational. It kicks of with some Uilleann pipes and then goes all Alan with much success. The "If you want my love" ending is great too. The track concludes with an instrumental passage with strings and much more magic bringing it to an end. Tricky's Starving Souls project covered Judas some years ago on the I Be The Prophet ep, renaming the track If You Want My Love. It's well worth seeking out. Track 6 is In Your Room. Obviously, Alan felt the first half of the album wasn't epic enough so he threw the kitchen sink, kitchen and whole house into this one. It's the classic Alan Wilder Depeche track for me. It starts slow the builds, builds and builds towards a stunning ending. I love it. The live version was amazing too and makes you wonder why the Zephyr Mix (see below) version was used so much in later tours. Track 7 is probably the least popular on the album, Get Right With Me. It's another Dave as preacher man with gospel singing song. I've got a lot of time for it however, I think that, like Mercy In You, it suffers not because of its quality but because it is in such esteemed company. Interlude Number 4 then pops up (a bit of the Swamp Mix of I Feel You) before Rush smacks us about the face.

Rush - rare UK promo 12" PL12BONG23R

At the time, Industrial music was increasing in popularity (NIN, Ministry etc - at least that's what they called industrial music then) as was dance music. There were rumours that Depeche were going to go either industrial or dance on SOFAD, neither of which they really did. Some say Rush is a hybrid of the two but I don't. It's just an electronic band doing electronic music albeit louder than they had ever done so before. Rush is a great great song, musically and lyrically. As you can see above, a promo 12" for Rush was released to tie in with the Condemnation single release. I guess it is because Rush was eminently more remixable than Condemnation. Track 9 is the aforementioned One Caress, Martin's second lead vocal on the album. It's just Martin and an orchestra and it is a stunner. As with the whole album, the lyrics are wonderful as is the music. This was again new territory for the band as outsiders had never got a look in before. It proved that the two could combine effortlessly. One Caress was released as a single in the U.S. There's a dark, gothic, rather odd and full of cockroaches video that accompanies it. We end our journey on track 10, Higher Love. Alan empties out what remains of his epic box and throws it in here ending the album on a lost Depeche classic. If for some reason you haven't heard this album, change that now.


My SOFAD stuff

The second single from the album was Walking In My Shoes which was remixed for its r
elease on 26 April 1993. The song only got to number 14 in the UK which is frankly a crime. The video is part terrifying/part baffling really. There are loads of chicken headed folk ice skating, small people, tall people, fat people, thin people, 4 naked ladies sitting in top of the band, Dave wiggling around and much more. It's bizarre but good. There were only (!) five formats available here. Firstly we had CBONG22 (right) featuring the 7 inch remix of Walking In My Shoes and a new b-side called My Joy. The remix of the main track is ok, but lacks the splendour of the album version. My Joy is a great song. It was recorded at the same time as the album, and many think it should have been on there. It really is ace and you must try and find it if you don't have it. The standard 12" and cd (12BONG22 and CDBONG22 - left) featured 4 tracks and had really shiny covers. The tracks are Walking In My Shoes (7 inch mix), Walking In My Shoes (Grungy Gonads mix - seriously. I mean who thought that up? Jesus), My Joy (7 inch mix) and My Joy (Slow Slide Mix). The 7 inch mixes are oddly named given the lack of a U.K. release 7" here.

Walking In My Shoes German 7" single


The (sigh again) Grungy Gonads mix is, despite its woeful name, bloody good and parts of it were used live then and still are now. The best thing here though is the Slow Slide mix of My Joy which improves what was already an excellent track. Limited editions were of course released too on 12" (L12BONG22) and cd (LCDBONG22) both of which shared the artwork on the right. I also have a t-shirt with that cover on. I wore it in rotation with my other Depeche tshirts at the time which included the dreadful long sleeved grey one with the band on the front. In fact I wore them so much that I was known as "Depeche Dave" which in the era when liking Depeche still meant that you only liked leather dresses and Just Cant Get Enough was fairly trying. Anyway - 4 tracks on each here, all remixes of WIMS. They are: Extended Twelve Inch mix (great), Random Carpet Mix (ok), Anandamidic Mix (great too) and Ambient Whale Mix (ok in a sound of 1993 way). Not a classic L12/lcd but not a dreadful one either.



Walking In My Shoes UK 12" promo



The band's next single was a stone cold HIT! reaching number 8 in the UK. Condemnation (Paris Mix) was a remixed version of the drooled about above album track, so called because Alan remixed i
in Paris. Clever stuff.  No U.K. 7" single again so instead we had a cassette single (CBONG23 - left) with two tracks -  the Paris Mix of Condemnation and Death's Door (Jazz Mix). The Paris mix is good, but as with WIMS' remix, it doesn't match the original album track. The mix adds the backing singers from the tour and a few other sounds. Death's Door was originally recorded pre SOFAD for the soundtrack to Wim Wenders' film Until The End Of The World. It's a Martin sung song, ruminating on death for a change. The Jazz Mix was at that point only available on a BONG fan 
club flexi disc or on bootlegs. I like it, although it is a tad long, especially when we hit the jazz section.





The standard 12" and cd (12BONG23 and CDBONG23 - above right) had the same artwork but slightly different tracklistings. The artwork is a shot from the screens that were used during the song's live performances. The tracks each release have in common are the two from the cassette single and two remixes of Rush - Spiritual
Guidance Mix and Amylnitrate Mix (Instrumental). The 12" adds the Wild Planet Mix (Vocal) of Rush. The three remixes are all good for different reasons with my favourite being the Spiritual Guidance version. That's not to detract from the others however, as they're fine too. The limited edition releases here were a little different from usual as they came in the guise of a live e.p. The band were already knee deep in the Devotional tour at this point, so I guess the plan was to release a live e.p. to show how good they'd become on stage. The tracks and artwork for LCDBONG23 and L12BONG23 were again identcal (left) and featured live versions of Condemnation, Personal Jesus, Enjoy The Silence Halo. It's not the bravest tracklisting but it's good and again, in the non internet era, it was great. There were two videos too. The Paris Mix video, filmed in Hungary, is seen above. A live video also appeared and that version later appeared on Devotional.




Condemnation UK 12" promo




Bitten by the live bug the band released the puzzling Songs Of Faith and Devotion 

Live on 6 December 1993 on LP (LSTUMM106), CD (LCDSTUMM106) and Cassette (LCSTUMM106), all of which have the same artwork (right),  being a shot from the film used during Never Let Me Down Again on the tour. As you'd guess, the album is a live version of SOFAD culled from the Devotional tour. It's not exactly a must have, but the live versions are all good, with only One Caress and Get Right With Me falling a bit flat. The live versions of Walking In My Shoes and In Your Room are must hears. The Devotional video (later dvd) was released around this time too which you simply HAVE to get. Adhering to my own rules, I'm not going into the dvd too much here. It's a version of live Devotional show (made up from 3 or 4 concerts) and it really is worth seeing. It has Fly On The Windscreen for goodness's sake!



Depeche began 1994 flying all over the world for the Exotic Tour, and later the USA 94 tour, which wrapped up the mammoth SOFAD promotional trip. Do try and get the bootlegs from the Hawaii, San Francisco and Santiago shows on these legs as they are soundboard recordings, and the setlists are fantastic, the "grunge" version of A Question of Time aside. The Santiago one features a clearly out of his mind Dave uttering the immortal "Well...is it me or is it a little Chile in here? Hahahahahaha". Quite Dave, quite.

The only official release of 1994 was a remixed version of In Your Room which yet again went top ten in the UK,  reaching number 8 on release on 10 January 1994.

The video seems to be Anton's fairwell to Depeche Mode as he clearly thought they were on the way out. It revisits other DM videos and shows the band individually chained to chair not so much as in a room but more in a prison. The cassette single CBONG24 (right) has two tracks. Firstly, the Butch Vig remix of In Your Room known as the Zephyr Mix. It's a vastly different version to the album one and, again, isn't as good, as it sacrifices the mood and atmosphere of the song for..well...more guitars. Hmmm. Track two is the Adrenaline mix of Higher Love which takes the majesty of the original and lobs it into a fairly horrific disco. Not that good really.



We then have the 12 and cd releases. The 12" singles are easier to deal with. 12BONG24 (left) gave us 5 tracks being the two from the cassette single and three more remixes of In Your Room - Apex Mix, The Jeep Rock Mix and Extended Zephyr Mix. The Apex Mix is another Brian Eno mix and is rather good. The Jeep Rock Mix is a remix by Geoff Barrow from Portishead and is again a good one. The Extended Zephyr Mix simply extends the original remix. L12BONG24 (below) contains no fewer than six tracks all live versions of In Your Room, Policy of Truth, Fly On The Windscreen, World In My Eyes, Never Let Me Down Again and Death's Door. All great to hear and the version of World In My Eyes blew me away at the time. If you ever want evidence of what Alan Wilder brought to Depeche Mode, these live tracks supply it.




The cd release here was odd. CDBONG24 (same artwork as 12BONG24) came in a fold our "crucifix" pack extending the religious metaphor so far it snapped. It houses not one, not two but THREE cd's. CDBONG24 features the Zephyr and Extended Zephyr mixes of In Your Room together with the live versions of Never Let Me Down Again and Death's Door. LCDBONG24 (available separately and with the same artwork as L12BONG24) added the live versions of In Your Room, Policy of Truth, World In My Eyes and Fly On The Windscreen. Finally, XLCDBONG24 (below) gave us the Jeep Rock Mix and Apex Mix of In Your Room and the Adrenaline Mix of Higher Love. Put them all together and you had a fold out pack which if you opened more than once started to fall apart. Still, it's a funny wee item to own.



In Your Room UK 12" promo

And that was that. The band kept touring until July when they finally brought the SOFAD marathon to an end going away to either keep battling or feeding addictions or even to leave the band in Alan's case. The SOAFD era is a defining era in the band's history and is a fascinating one for so many reasons. The next time we saw Depeche Mode would be 1997 and things would be very different then. That's where I'll begin next time.

As ever, thanks very much for reading and thank you also for the comments. I'm so pleased, proud and indeed humbled that so many people read this blog and like it. It really is fantastic. The pictures are sourced from the usual places and all the opinions, however misguided, are mine and mine only