Tuesday 29 March 2016


Martin Gore. Where do we start with Martin? Currently rightfully recognised as one of electronic music's most influential artists, in 1986, Martin was, it's fair to say, not quite viewed in the same light. In the U.K. the focus seemed to veer between either poking fun at his dress sense or mocking his songwriting as not being heavyweight or serious enough. As we've seen earlier this month, some of the reviews of the album and the live shows confirm this.  Martin was feeling under pressure to write too, as he describes on the Black Celebration re-issue dvd documentary:

"Whenever we decide to make a record, the prospect of ten to twelve good songs does seem like a mountain. I remember having arguments with Daniel and Neil, though. I actually just ran away for a week, because Daniel and Neil were trying to tell me that the songs weren't good enough, there weren't any singles, it would never get played on the radio"

As Gareth Jones mentioned in his interview on that dvd and in his interview with me earlier this month, making Black Celebration was intense and that intensity is apparent throughout the album. It's certainly one of the first things that strikes you about the record and that itself comes from Martin's songwriting. Now, whether or not the songwriting is borne of the pressure he felt under either personally or from the band and label is not something I can comment on with any knowledge (happy to do a follow up interview though Martin!) but it seems fairly easy to guess that was the case. Black Celebration certainly has more of a personal feel lyrically than anything Depeche had done up to that point and, to me,  it's very much the most Martin album of the Depeche catalogue.

Philadelphia June 1986, courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos

I'll admit that seems a fairly odd claim, given that, excluding Speak & Spell, he's written all bar twelve of the 134 songs Depeche Mode have released on albums since A Broken Frame. (Note - I included the new songs included on various compilations there. Not remixes though. I just say that because I know that some of you are currently counting. Yes I mean you Panos.) The songs on Black Celebration however, are very personal and it seems like Martin is writing entirely from his own perspective, rather than masking his feelings as he did on earlier work. Ok, perhaps "All I want to do is/See You/Don't you know that it's true" isn't a grand statement of mystery, but you hopefully get my point. The lyrics on Black Celebration are intense, personal and,  I would guess, speak very much to Martin's state of mind at the time.

I said earlier that the intensity of the album is one of the first things that strikes you about the album. The second thing is the sheer number of Martin sung tracks. For an album with eleven songs, Martin sings four of them, which is a huge proportion (36.36% numbers fans) compared to previous and indeed subsequent Depeche records. I asked Gareth Jones about this when we spoke:

APA; You mentioned egos earlier. One thing that strikes me about this album is the fact that four of its eleven songs are sung by Martin which is the highest proportion of Martin songs on any Depeche record. Was that hard for Dave and was there a reason for so many tracks having a Martin lead vocal?

GJ: To me, it didn't matter who sung the songs as all that was important was whether or not the song fitted the album. As I recall, it was clear which songs were to be sung by Dave and which were to be sung by Martin. It wasn't like Dave tried to sing the tracks then people thought they'd sound better with Martin or vice versa. I know that there was an image issue though, a connection issue. There was an importance attached to having one voice lead the project, connecting the band to the public. That was discussed both before Black Celebration and subsequently. There's a sense in which the band having only one voice connects better. The public hear Dave's voice and know it's Depeche Mode. I recall it being an issue, but Black Celebration was so experimental, almost the pinnacle of the experimental pop we were working on at the time, that it didn't involve any great discussion. All we wanted was a song that fitted the album.

(see http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/an-interview-with-gareth-jones.html )

I found that answer fascinating. It seems that the songs Martin ended up singing were always going to be Martin songs, which, given the high proportion of them, would suggest to me that the guess that these songs are very personal to Martin is a good one.

Black Celebration tour book, courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos

Time to move on from talk of proportions and numbers - what of the music? Of the four songs Martin sings on Black Celebration, there is one that most Depeche fans have little time for and that song is, of course, Sometimes. It could perhaps be that I've spent too much time with this album over the last couple of months, but I quite like Sometimes really. A nice piano led track with spooky vocal effects, with Martin offering an apology of sorts albeit one that basically says "Yes I can be embarrassing, but come on you can be too." It's not as good as his other tracks on the album admittedly, but it's still better than The Dead Of Night.

By this point in the month, I think I've talked about A Question Of Lust enough (see http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/a-question-of-lust.html), so we'll skip over that, pausing only to say how beautiful it is. It Doesn't Matter Two is one of the standout tracks , not only of the Martin songs, but of all the songs on the album for me. Its title has always amused me really as Martin clearly liked the name It Doesn't Matter so much that he used it both on Some Great Reward and on Black Celebration, although the addition of "Two" was deemed necessary second time round. Adding the "Two" makes it seem like the Black Celebration track is a follow up to the Some Great Reward track but that's not the case. The 1984 Martin is singing about hoping a relationship stays strong whilst accepting nothing lasts forever, whereas the 1986 Martin is singing about lust, sex and nothing mattering at all. He seems to have lost his romantic edge over those two years. Anyway, It Doesn't Matter Two is a wonderful song featuring one of Martin's best melodies and full use of the samplers for the choir effect that runs through the song. It's the essence of the themes of Black Celebration basically.

The last Martin track on the album is also wonderful. World Full Of Nothing carries on the theme of sex and nothing mattering, though it removes any notion of love being involved - "Though it's not love/It means something." It's easily one of the bleakest Depeche Mode song titles of all time too. Again though, despite the darkness at the heart of the lyrics, there's a hope to the song. Other than on these four songs, there's plenty of Martin elsewhere on the record to. From Black Celebration's "I'll drink to that" to Stripped's "Let me hear you/Speaking just for me" to Here Is The House almost being more Martin than Dave in places, Martin's voice is all over the album and he leaves a greater presence here than he does on any other Depeche record.

The theory that this album is one very personal to Martin gains a bit more credibility when you look at how many times Martin has played these songs live. Obviously, A Question Of Lust and It Doesn't Matter Two were prominent on the Black Celebration tour with both played on every date with the exception of the last gig where It Doesn't Matter Two was dropped for Somebody. A Question Of Lust was then played at every gig on the Music For The Masses tour (101 times) and appeared numerous times in tours after that (though not at all on World Violation) in either full band or Martin and Peter Gordeno on piano guise. For example, it appeared 67 times on the Devotional/Exotic tours and a further 56 times on the Singles 86-98 tour. It's popped up here and there on every tour since and remains a popular song both with Martin and the crowd and is in fact the 20th most sung song of Depeche Mode's career, having appeared in total 336 times in concert. 336 times. Crikey. Here's a clip from Miami in 1993:

Of the Black Celebration Martin tracks, another popular track for Martin live is World Full Of Nothing. On World Violation, it was played at the vast majority of gigs, with an occasional piano version popping up since then, giving a total number of live plays of 64. It was played once on the Exciter tour for example. The World Violation version was just Martin and an acoustic guitar and it's quite delightful as this video from Frankfurt shows:

Talking of World Violation, as we've already seen Here Is The House also featured in Martin's acoustic section on that tour, curiously never in the same gig as World Full Of Nothing. (http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/here-is-house-lost-classic.html)

As you probably know if you've got this far, Sometimes has never appeared live in a Depeche set. The other Martin song from Black Celebration, It Doesn't Matter Two, has however. It appeared 75 times on the Black Celebration tour for example. Martin has also played it in his acoustic slot from 2001 onwards and it's always a treat to hear. In total, it's been played live 107 times. As this is all about Black Celebration, let's see a version from the London gig on 16 April 1986

It's not just Martin sung songs from the album that Martin has played live however. Since 2001, Dressed In Black (live total 26) has been played in the mid set acoustic break, leading to all types of football style chants from the crowd for the last "Woah-ohh" part which is repeated endlessly until Dave finally shuts it down. Here it is from Stockholm on the Tour Of The Universe:

So it's safe to say that Martin likes Black Celebration. As well as three of his four album tracks, he's also played two more live, meaning he's basically sung half the album live. As well as those tracks, Stripped and A Question Of Time have remained pretty much constants in all tours after 1986, with Black Celebration closely behind.

For an album that seemed to be inspired by a period of personal difficulty for Martin, especially after the initial questions by the record company, it's one he's gone back to time and time again, and not just for the obvious tracks either. My conclusion? Well, like I said at the start, I don't know the actual reason, but it does seem that Black Celebration is one of Martin's favourites and, seeing the reaction when I've seen the songs above played live, I think most of us agree.

I'm biased, but there's always room for a Martin track. With Black Celebration, we got more Gore than we'd ever had before, and it was all the better for it.


  1. Just a little correction - on the last gig of the tour (Valby, Copenhagen - I was there and it was magical) it was "It Doesn't Matter Two" that was exchanged for "Somebody" and not "A Question of Lust". They wouldn't have not played that, as it was a single and everything.

    1. You are quite right Peeter - thank you!

  2. And thanks a lot for all these posts! They do bring back memories...