The fourth and final single from Playing The Angel saw the release of Depeche Mode's second double A-Side. Blasphemous Rumours had been paired up with Somebody in 1984 to avoid any God and his sense of humour controversy and while John The Revelator has a religious undertone, it seems unlikely that the band feared any bad press so adding Lilian as a double A-Side seems a bit odd but what do I know?
We got a video that featured hot live action, another DVD and some spellcheck unfriendly remix titles. Here is the story of John The Revelator.
Oh, and Lilian too.
WHO'S THAT SHOUTING? - JOHN THE REVELATOR/LILIAN
John The Revelator/Lilian, BONG38, was released on 5th June 2006, a couple of months before Touring The Angel came to a halt. There didn't really seem to be a need for a single to be perfectly honest but we got one anyway.
The single was reviewed in the Manchester Evening News on 2nd June 2006 (thanks to Depeche Mode Press File):
"Fuse Dave Gahan’s obvious cynicism about religion – and Christianity in particular – with a partial reinterpretation of Son House’s gospel classic, John The Revelator, and what do you get? Well, you just get Depeche Mode, really, doing the trademark brand of electronic rock that we’ve all come to expect from these electro stalwarts. There’s a few bips here and a smattering of plips there to fuel the digitised feel of everything and it scores fairly highly for Gahan’s vocal performance alone, but the tune is unlikely to win the Mode any more converts. AA-side Lilian is musically DM circa-1981 and lyrically somewhere around 1989, which makes for a curious mix that doesn’t really hit the spot."
A reasonable review although Dave gets a little more credit for the song writing than seems fair. In their review of Playing The Angel, The Observer said:
"Depeche Mode's most satisfying songs have usually been their most direct. Those ranks are swelled by the murky gothic swing of 'John the Revelator'. It's not a straight cover of the country-blues standard, but it lets rip in a way little else does."
Q magazine felt the song mined "the gothabilly seam they invented on Personal Jesus." The Guardian said:
"There's a (Nick) Cave moment in their decision to cover a 1930s blues song, John the Revelator; true to form, however, rather than keeping it minimal, they lift it with a gospel choir that has you punching the air. Does that defeat the object? I don't know. It's good, though."
On Lilian, Graeme Thompson in the Observer Music Monthly felt it was "classic Mode" despite spelling it with two Ls.
The band naturally did nothing whatsoever to promote the song because they were having fun playing in big open spaces around Europe. That lack of enthusiasm didn't stop it being a Top 20 smash in the UK however. It slammed into the charts at 18 and then fell to 58 and 82 before being sent home on the morning train forever.
John The Revelator is a good song and one that the band spoke about a lot when Playing The Angel was released mainly because it involved the novel concept of a song being written in a studio while the band were recording an album. To other bands this may seem normal, but not our boys who were attempting to restart the Mode mothership while trying to overlook everything Dave had said while promoting Paper Monsters.
It featured live 118 times on Touring The Angel then a further four times on the Delta Machine tour mainly where they were playing two or more nights in the one place.
Lilian which is the album's weakest track along with the pointless I Want It All, has never been played live. It really shouldn't have been on the album either as it just seems like they're trying a bit too hard to do the synthpop thing. Newborn or Free would have been much better.
Touring The Angel was a very good thing. Lively setlists, a very odd but strangely enjoyable stage set up, big space ship like keyboard stands, Martin's hat and some great surprise songs. The DVD released after the tour is utterly dreadful however as it is filmed in the most pointless way. Just show the band playing the bloody songs.
John The Revelator's uses footage from the live shows but as it is directed by Blue Leach, the creative "genius" behind the DVD, the footage is spoiled by the crappy effects.
It is of course great to see the band going through their live paces and the energy of that era's shows comes across ok, but you end up longing for something that is either a live video or a standard video, not this pointless hybrid. Even Hole To Feed tried to be a video albeit with no real success.
It's just annoying really.
Lilian didn't even get a video. Poor Lilian.
The tried and tested Playing The Angel formula was followed again with promos, a box of CDs and a DVD and a 7" picture disc available. The first promo is P12BONG38 the A-side and front cover of which you can see above.
The three tracks on it (one on the A, two on the B (above)) are the same three tracks as appear on 12BONG35, more of which shortly.
There is a second 12" promo, PL12BONG38.
Mine came with an info sheet which you can see in full at the start of this post. I wonder if anyone did "hit" the author "up" for copies.
Three tracks are featured - one on the A-Side and two on the B-Side (above), identical to the tracklisting of L12BONG38.
RCDBONG38 is the first of two promo CDs. It features the two single versions of the double A Side tracks and four edits of remixes found elsewhere on the release. They are four mixes of John The Revelator - Tiefschwarz Edit, UNKLE Edit, Bill Hamel's Audio Magnetics Edit and Boosta Edit. The full versions of the mixes are a bit more interesting than the edits but, the Tiefschwarz Edit aside there's really not much quality here at all, with only the UNKLE Edit getting a pass. I'm sure there must be a second hand television shop somewhere called Bill Hamel's Audio Magnetics.
The second promo CD, PCDBONG38 (the Club Promo), is 77 minutes long and most of those are wasted. The good bits - the dreadfully named mix of John The Revelator called Dave Is In The Disco Tiefschwarz Mix. The OK bits - UNKLE Re-Construction mix of John The Revelator. The other six versions of that song and the three versions of Lilian are really not that good at all. Let's be quite honest about that. There are four additional CD-Rs and a test pressing of the 7" we are about to look at if you want to be the kind of person who has everything that the words Depeche and Mode have ever appeared on.
In official news, we got another 7" picture disc, BONG38. It comes in a sealed, numbered plastic sleeve. On the A-Side, we have John The Revelator (UNKLE Dub).
The colourful B-Side contains a remix of Lilian. It is called Robag Wruhme Slomoschen Kikker. No-one has ever heard it as if the did they would want to Kikk the remixer and not in a way that could at all be described as Slomoschen.
The first 12", 12BONG28, features John The Revelator (Dave Is In The Disco Tiefschwarz Mix). Despite its title, it is rather good.
On the B-Side, we have John The Revelator (Tiefschwarz Dub) and Lilian (Chab Dub), a remix that sends you scurrying for the audio joy of the single version of the song.
L12BONG38 is a colourful affair. On the A-Side, it features John The Revelator (Murk Mode Dub) which I have genuinely just listened to and forgotten already.
The B-Side has the Boosta Club Remix of John The Revelator which makes you want to club innocent animals rather than actually attend a club and Lilian (Chab Vocal Remix) which can only really be called utter nonsense.
For the 2 CDs and DVD, you once again had the chance to get a box to hold them in by writing to Mute.
The rear of the box helpfully lists what is inside it so that you know never to take any of the contents out.
If you do remove the contents, they look like that.
CDBONG38 features two tracks - the Single Versions of John The Revelator and Lilian.
LCDBONG38 has five remixes of John The Revelator. We get the two from 12BONG38, the UNKLE Reconstruction, Murk Mode Remix and Boosta Club Remix.
Finally, DVDBONG38 has the video of John The Revelator on the visual side of things and two audio tracks. The second of those is Lilian (Chab Vocal Remix) so we can ignore that. The first of them however is the wonderful Nothing's Impossible (Bare) which is the best track on the whole release. all of the Bare tracks from that period should have had actual official releases. A waste.
You could get a whole lot of digital remixes too - John The Revelator had several: Bill Hamel's Audio Magnetics Buy One Get One Half Price...sorry...Bill Hamel's Audio Magnetics Club Remix, Dub Mix and Edit, James T Cotton Dub, Live From Milan, Murk Miami Remix, Murk Mode Dub UNKLE Dub, Edit and Instrumental, Boosta Edit and Tiefschwarz Edit.
As this was a Europe-wide release, there were very few other notable formats. Promo CD-Rs were released in Greece and Denmark with the two Greek ones limited to 100 each, both with unique sleeves. Taiwan released LCDBONG38 and DVDBONG38 with Taiwanese stickers on the front and that was that.
In the US, there is one promo CD and six different CD-Rs for completists to hunt down. The single was released digitally only in the US.
And with that, the Playing The Angel campaign was over. Depeche Mode had come back in fine style and the album, an album which still sounds superb today, and tour had been almost universally praised. As is now the norm, it would be another four years until we got a new album, but a curious Best Of would pop up before that.
That contained a new song too, one recorded during the Playing The Angel sessions. That song was Martyr and we'll look at that next time.