So, the fanbase dividing, opinion splitting, lacking in Blu Ray boxset, Depeche Mode Live In Berlin is finally upon us and I've taken on the mammoth task of watching it so you don't have to. The funny thing is, the reaction to it by some fans has been so negative that I'm probably doing people a favour there.
There is never a Depeche Mode release that isn't criticised by the fanbase. The vast majority of Depeche fans are well informed, devoted (if you'll pardon the pun) people who have spent a ton of money over the years following tours, buying multiple versions of records and generally topping up Messrs Gore, Gahan and Fletcher's pension funds. That is the point of being a Depeche Mode fan ultimately - you end up going over the top in many ways that the ordinary person would see as nonsensical but you do it because you love the band, the music and, in the case of those who follow the band all over the place, of which I am one, the camaraderie that you find in the army of worldwide fans. It's a bit of a cliche, but being a Depeche fan is like being in a big family. The trouble with families, however, is that families tend to fight, and there has been much unhappiness about this release.
The lack of a Blu ray option is the main problem it seems. Since the formats were announced (Standard dvd of the show, Deluxe boxset with the show, the film Alive In Berlin more of which later, a 5.1 Blu ray disc with Delta Machine on it and a 2 cd recording of the Berlin gig), many people have been very vocal about how pissed off they are that there is no Blu Ray version. Many have started referring to this release as the new Depeche Betamax which is funny but ultimately, it's not something that I'm too fussed about. The last DVD the band released was the Sounds Of The Universe live in Barcelona gig which was available on both DVD and Blu Ray. I bought the DVD version only, mainly because I use the DVD's as nothing more than a reminder of the gigs I saw on the tour. The SOTU release matched the soporific nature of the 3rd leg shows of that tour, so I've only watched it a couple of times. The Delta Machine tour was much, much better than that tour and so I was looking forward to watching this new release to remind me of the great time I had in 2013 going to shows all over Europe. That's all I need from a Depeche DVD release you see - a reminder, the jogging of great memories. I don't have to see it in super duper high fidelity ultra audio to remind me of the great time I had and. As with all Depeche releases, I have an automatic impulse that kicks in and makes me pre-order things the second they're announced, as do many others but I do that because I ultimately want the release. If I didn't want it, I wouldn't buy it. I know that sounds a daft thing to say given the amount of DM material I have bought and continue to buy ( 3 different vinyl versions of Construction Time Again have arrived this week for example) but if I thought this release was a pile of crap I wouldn't buy it.
So what do people expect then? Are people right to assume that a Blu Ray version must be delivered instead of a standard version? Perhaps they are, I don't know. Like I said above, any Depeche release generates a large degree of fury because it never seems to live up to what people expect Depeche to release. I think that that whatever records the internet holds of my talking about DM releases before they came out will show that I don't tend to complain about them pre-emptively, Yes, I'll moan like hell about them after they come put and I've listened to them - I'm looking at you Should Be Higher 12" - but I think that's reasonable. At that point, I've spent my cash and so have a stake in saying how rubbish something is. That's not to say people can't complain about things before they have heard, seen or had the chance to pre-order them - of course they can do that. I just think it's a waste of energy really.
Anyway, long introduction over; what of the DVD? Well, and I say this having watched both Live In Berlin and Alive in Berlin, what is the point of having both of these things? The Live In Berlin film is great and serves as a great reminder of the tour. It manages to capture the energy of the shows and really highlights how good a tour it was. What is especially pleasing is that it contains Martin's solo version of But Not Tonight which, for me, is worth the price of the boxset alone. I swear, I cannot watch that song without getting something stuck in my eye. The setlist is grand too and has the nice addition of Goodbye at the end, a song that was dropped from the set after the first part of the tour. There are the usual highlights (Personal Jesus, Walking In My Shoes) and a spine tingling Never Let Me Down again that had me punching the air like I was at a football match when the arm wave kicked off. No-one should go through life without being part of that at a Depeche show. Dave's stamina is a remarkable thing too as he prances, twists and thrusts around for two hours camping it up a lot like Andy Bell in places albeit without the hotpants. Martin bounces around in that strange Martin way, Fletch claps and plays the odd note, Christian drums along nicely and even Gordeno resists the urge to muck up the songs with "clever" piano fills. All good really and the show comes across really, really well. The audio mix is fantastic too. I heard a number of parts I didn't hear at the various arenas and stadia I saw the band at last year so that's cool.
Alive In Berlin is a strangely pointless beast however. It's the Live In Berlin film interspersed in places with interviews with the band, the additional musicians, the manager and a few fans, There is also a section where three of four German people are interviewed, presumably on the streets of Berlin, that doesn't have any English subtitles. No idea why that's there. The interviews are fairly interesting though slightly bland in places but you have to hunt for them unless you want to watch the whole thing as a film which after watching the actual gig, I had no interest in. I just don't get why it had to be presented in this way. A bonus disc of interviews and alternative tracks would have been ideal. There are a couple of bonus tracks on here which are great. Martin and Peter Gordeno play piano versions of Condemnation and Judas in what is apparently Berlin's oldest brothel whilst, I think, the woman from the Halo live film projection looks bored in the background., I'm a sucker for Martin solo versions so these are cool but as ever with recent Depeche DVD releases, I think a trick is missed but not having recorded versions of all Martin's solo tracks from the tour. That's maybe me just being picky as a Gore fan, but something like that would really enhance bonus discs. We don't have that here, however, and that's a shame. The whole hunt the interview idea of Alive In Berlin is disappointing.
Then we come to the audio content. I don't have any way of playing 5.1 audio but I'm assured that the 5.1 version of Delta Machine sounds great so hopefully that's pleasing people. The 2 cd version of Live In Berlin is excellent and, as with the DVD audio mentioned above, is a real treat for the ears. Unlike other live releases, it manages to capture the feel of Depeche Mode live and you feel like you're there as opposed to listening to a recording of a gig. Given that this tour didn't have the Live Here Now releases, this is a nice record of the band's time on the road.
Finally in the box, there's a booklet. There's always a booklet and like other booklets, this is a booklet. That's all you can really say about it.
So there we are. Most non Depeche fans who know me think I'm some sort of crazed idiot for having so much DM stuff around the house, yet I'm nowhere near the level of some hardcore fans, I like to think I sit somewhere in the middle, just on the right side of sane. I'm not one who thinks the band are above criticism by any means and there are certainly flaws with this release but overall I'm happy with it.
It'll pass the time until the 25th anniversary of Violator next year anyway - I wonder what's in store for us then and what people's expectations of that will be....