Useless was the fourth and final single from Ultra and it appeared as remixed version which is always a reasonable approach for the last single from an album I think. We got a rather cool cover, a very enjoyable video and the bold new techno world of videos on a CD single which you could watch on a computer. Remarkable times. Overall, a single that was very much the opposite of its name. Here is the story of Useless.
WELL IT'S ABOUT TIME - USELESS
Useless, BONG28, was released on 20th October 1997. Prior to that, promo postcards just like the one above started dropping through people's letterboxes. They told you all you needed to know about the forthcoming single:
We'll take a look at the formats in Format Corner (never called it that before) later but it's perhaps worth noting that this single was only released on three official formats in the UK. The last time they released a single with so few formats was when they released A Question Of Time. Don't phone in (how on earth did you get my number?) and say "But what about Little 15 David? Call yourself a fan? THIS BLOG IS A JOKE." As we have seen in the wonderful and still in print Little 15 blog, no-one knows where that single was released. It might not even have been released at all.
There was of course no promotion for Useless in any form other than via the video which we will come onto. Reviews of the single are fairly thin on the ground but, thanks to the seemingly bottomless well of Depeche Mode information held by blog friend and huge pulsating brain at the centre of the Depeche universe Michael Rose, I have this gem. It's a review by no less an authority than the late Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate:
|Picture courtesy of Michael Rose|
Not only did Errol like the song, he gave it Single Of The Week. He even offers praise to Depeche Mode themselves which is the sort of action that got you banned from the UK music press then.
The only other review I could lay my hands on was found on the now closed by hugley enjoyable Depeche Mode Press File site. The reveiw is from that titan of the music world, the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, who, on 20th October 1997, said:
"The fourth single from the chart-topping Ultra album - and the best. It's tense, pensive and torn apart by a filthy bluesy riff."
That seems fair to me.
The single didn't do a great deal in the charts in Britain. In fact, it did terribly, entering at 28 on 1st November, falling to 64 the next week and then disappearing forever. All of this despite the resolute backing of Errol Brown.
Useless is a tremendous track and one of Ultra's finest. That said, I actually prefer the remix version released as a single as it has more of an edge to it. It's a song that was played at both Ultra parties and then 64 times on The Singles Tour but, for years, Dave's pub band tour in 2003 aside, that was that. 2017 saw it return however, firstly somewhat tentatively, on 18th October, the fourth and final night of the Hollywood Bowl run. That was a real surprise and a superb one. The band seemed to enjoy it too, as they added it to the setlists starting with the first of the European indoor gigs in Dublin on 4th November and it even had a fancy new Anton video which was really rather wonderful. That gig was of course the only gig where Halo was played on the entire tour. Did I mention I was there? Oh, I did Anyway, thanks to its 2017 resurrection, Useless has been played live 122 times.
As the band chose not to tour Ultra, an annoyed Daniel Miller insisted that they make Mute some money so he sent them to work in a lead mine, specifically Cwmystwyth Lead Mine near Aberystwyth in Wales. Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group tracked down the previously top secret location a few years ago when they were sent a copy of Fletch's wage slip for his mine work by a source.
To make sure the three DM chaps weren't just sitting around idly and to make sure that they followed Daniel's orders to the letter ("Martin - do NOT wear a leather mini dress to work. They WILL kill you"), Anton was sent to the mine to film what they got up to on a day to day basis. As it turns out, all they did was sing. Honestly. You cannot trust pop stars.
The band didn't know Anton was coming. As he lay in wait, they turned up for work in their yellow Ford Granada. To avoid any nail varnish issues, the band had made Martin promise to get rid of his entire black varnish stash, but, as we can see, all he did was use it to paint an Ultra "U" on the side of the car. Reckless.
Unluckily for Anton, they spot him immediately. Incensed that their day of skiving off work has been rumbled, Dave walks straight over to him, throws his gloves down in the least threatening way possible and starts singing at him. Not exactly terrifying. Martin gets his guitar out for no reason at all so once again, it is left to Fletch to look after everyone. He wanders over, and it must be said that he looks as cool as he has ever done, and tries to calm Dave down by giving him a cup of tea. Well done Fletch.
Dave doesn't like tea though.
One sip and he throws it away in as weedy a way as he threw away his gloves. How Daniel thougth ghis lot would make any money mining is beyond comprehension. To calm everyone, Fletch takes his bass guitar out of the boot and joins Martin in playing along with Dave. That seems to annoy Dave even more however as, having told Anton off, he heads back to the car, sees th eother two playing their instruments ("That is NOT how Hole To Feed should sound - listen to the demo FFS!"), puts his head in hands and heads straight back to Anton,
The mine's foreman and his donkey arrive on the scene, but he's used to this now. There was no way musicians were going to be any use to him, so he and the donkey walk on past. Only Fletch ever listened to him and even he is now mucking about with a bass guitar, copying his friend Gore. Actual miners could have had those jobs.
Corbijn just won't listen however so Dave needs to bring out the big guns. He needs to scare Anton away so there is only one thing for - Martin? Get the guitar. Shorn of his usual fluffy hairdo - impractical for mining - Martin waddles over and let's Anton have it. A three note guitar solo is balasted at him while Martin gives him his hardest hardman stare. Job done, he wanders off and leaves Dave to it. Dave, having been momentarily distracted by the Mute promo budget busting biplane with Ultra sign than flies over the mine, returns to business.
As he sings, a mine employee wanders over to him. He had been asked by the mine over to tell "those bloody musicians" just how useless they are and he takes his job literally. He hands Dave a leaflet which Dave simply scrunches up and throws at the camera. You can now buy that leaflet for £17,000 on Ebay.
Suddenly, all three band members walk towards the camera with wee Martin singing his heart out. It has to be said that they all look superb in this video by the way, especially Dave. They have a last go at scaring Anton off and, happy that they've got the message across, they wander back to the Granada, pack away the guitars and head off, another day's work in no way done.
It turns out of course, that it's not Anton they've been singing at, but the mine owner's daughter. She was a huge Depeche fan and came down to the mine in the hope of getting an autograph. All she got was a cup of tea, a pair of gloves and a leaflet thrown near her and a man playing the least aggressive guitar solo of all time in her direction.
Alternatively, this is a superb video with the band looking amazing and a wonderful song playing in the background. I'll leave you to decide which it is.
As the promo postcard told us, there were only three formats available for Useless. There were two promos however. The promo 12" P12BONG28 is a lovey thing, as you can see above.
It features two songs. On the A-side we have the C J Bolland Funky Sub Mix of Useless.
The B-side contains another remix of Useless - The Kruder + Dorfmeister Session.
The promo CD, RCDBONG28, contains Useless (Remix) and the Barry Adamson Escape From Wherever: Parts 1 & 2! and Cosmic Blues Mix of Useless.
In official release land, 12BONG28 has a smashing sleeve and contains some really rather good remixes.
On the A-side, we have Useless - The Kruder + Dorfmeister Session which is superb, though you will have the phrase "Echoing in my mind" echoing in your mind after you listen to it. Nice Policy Of Truth sample in there too.
On the B-side we have the CJ Bolland Funky Sub Mix which may sound a bit of its time but still sounds superb, and the Air20 Mix by Carl Craig which does honestly feature some of the song it remixes if you look hard enough.
CDBONG28 comes in another back to front box/sleeve thing. Once you work out what end is what, the booklet and artwork are rather lovely.
The back/front of the box has a sticker that proudly announces that the CD contains remixes by Alan Moulder (Useless (Remix)), Barry Adamson (Escape From Wherever: Parts 1& 2!) and Cosmic Blues (Cosmic Blues Mix). Barry Adamson's remix is typically superb. Cosmic Blues' Kraftwerk sampling remix is a bit bland. The CD also contains the video for Barrel Of A Gun. All you had to do was pop it in your PC and you could watch Dave wander around Marrakesh as many times as you wanted. In 1997, this was a very cool thing indeed, believe me.
LCDBONG28, back to front again, is another nice single.
The front/back again has a sticker alerting you to the fact that you have another enhanced CD in your paws. Music wise, we have The Kruder + Dorfmeister Session and another CJ Bolland mix, the CJ Bolland Ultrasonar Mix which is another very decent remix. A live version of Useless from the Ultra part in London appears too, together with the limits of technology testing It's No Good video.
The 2004 reissue CD single is a 10 track CD featuring the 8 music tracks from the official releases plus the two videos. That makes it an enhanced CD too, but we were all well over that notion by 2004.
Elsewhere in Europe, the single appeared mainly on CD with only Germany and Italy releasing 12" singles, neither of which I have my hands on yet. Two track card sleeve CD singles can be found in Benelux and Spain, the latter being a promo only.
Finally, we head to America. Like Home, Useless wasn't released as a single in its own right in the United States. A promo CD and two promo CD-Rs appeared but nothing else. This blog is really only about the UK singles only but I'll make an exception for the curious release that appeared in the US and Canada on 18th November 1997 called Home/Useless.
The front cover used the Home artwork with the Useless artwork on the rear. There were three US CD singles. The one above features the Single Version and Air "Around The Golf " Remix of Home and the CJ Bolland Ultrasonar Edit of Useless, a four minute 6 second edit of the 12" track previously available on the US promo CD-R. A four track CD single featuring both CJ Bolland remixes from the UK formats together with two remixes of Home - The Noodles & The Damage Done Edit and LFO Meant To Be is available too.
The third and final US CD is a 12 track beast. It contains four mixes of Home (Single Version, Grantby Mix, LFO Meant To Be, The Noodles & The Damage Done Edit), four mixes of Useless (CJ Bolland Ultrasonar Mix, CJ Bolland Funky Sub Mix, The Kruder + Dorfmeister Session and Escape From Wherever: Parts 1&2!) and the videos for all four singles from Ultra. The Canadians only released on CD single and it was the same as this US version.
And with that, the Ultra era was over. Useless was a nice way to end it with a fresh new take on the album track and a video that showed the band in fine form and having fun. Against all the odds, Depeche Mode had come back and they had done so impressively with an album that has more than stood the test of time.
What would be next though? Could they tour again? Would we even hear from them again?
Thankfully we would. Next time, we will look at the song that ended this phase of Depeche Mode and kicked off the next one.