DEPECHE MODE - DRESSED IN BLACK AGAIN - BLACK CELEBRATION AND 1986
So the Singles 81-85 brought chapter one to a close. Depeche Mode were pretty huge in the UK and Europe with a decent following in other parts of the globe and even Amercia was starting to listen. The Hansa sessions for their forthcoming album would be crucial as the band stood at the point of either remaining a fairly well liked synthpop band or becoming a genuinely huge band on a worldwide scale. Mercifully, they chose not to got further down the Its Called a Heart route and instead released what was to basically become their and their fans manifesto - Black Celebration.
Before the album however came the lead off single. On 10 February 1986 Stripped was released reaching number 15 in the U.K. I wont go off on one again about chart numbers but NUMBER 15? Good grief. Stripped should have been number 1 for at least the whole of 1986. It remains one of my favourite songs by any band let alone DM and I believe that, yet again, Martin and I agree on this. It's still played live by the band and is still a live highlight despite its' familiarity. My favourite live version is on 101 - worth hearing for the metal banging alone. Anyway...enough rambling. The 7" (7BONG10 - right) added a brand new B-side But Not Tonight. It's a decent poppy track continuing Martin's b-side's written about drinking theme but it's no more than that. For some reason however Sire, their US label, chose to ignore the majesty of Stripped and instead released But Not Tonight as a single with Stripped on the flip side. Partly inspired by the song's appearance in the dreadful Modern Girls film, the label no doubt thought they knew what they were doing. They didnt. What a bloody ridiculous decsion. Anyway, a US 12" of BNT is available and features some remixes and other stuff. As this blog is only concerned with UK releases and the occasional German release I'll leave that there. Back here a 12" of Stripped was released with adverts for the record promising that no further releases would be issued for Stripped. Crikey! The "5 track 25 minute single (12BONG10 - left) is a great thing. Its' 5 tracks are Stripped (Highland Mix), But Not Tonight (Extended Remix), Breathing In Fumes, Fly On The Windscreen (Quiet Mix) and Black Day. The Highland Mix of Stripped was mixed by Flood and is pretty cool. As a Scotsman, the Highland Mix reminds of misty days walking across moors playing bagpipes and chasing haggis(es) or at least that's what I think it was designed to do with its' bagpipey sounds ;). The remix of BNT extends and remixes the song as promised. Breathing In Fumes is an interesting track. I guess the band took a lead from the On U Sound remixes of Master and Servant and People Are People when creating this track. It takes samples from Stripped and turns them into a booming 6 minute track. We then have yet another version of Fly On The Windscreen which is always good to hear and then we end on a strange wee thing called Black Day which was written by Martin, Alan and Daniel Miller. It features Martin singing lines from the then unreleased Black Celebraton over electronics and harmonica. It's a fine track but don't worry if you don't have it. The German 12" version came in one of two colours - a blue/white marble vinyl and a white vinyl. If anyone has any spare white vinyl copies kicking about then I'll happily take them from you! A red 7" vinyl is available too. Finally the video is ok featuring big TV screens, hammers, smoke and cars getting smashed up. Put it this way, it's a billion times better than the It's Called a Heart video....
Instead of a new single the next release from the band was an album - Black Celebration. Even now, 25 years after its release, the album sounds new, fresh and is just bloody brilliant! The vast majority (I've learned not to say all!) love Black Celebration and rightly so. It was the last of the Hansa albums and indeed was the last produced by the band, Daniel Miller and Gareth Jones. If for some reason you don't have it, put this down, find a record shop and buy it. My fear with this blog is that I will go on and on and on about the sheer genius of Black Celebration in ways that will bore even hardcore Depeche fans so in an attempt to at least keep some viewers I will restrict myself to saying that it is second only to Violator for me. When I eventually get to the Violator blog you'll see what I mean about going on and on! Anyway, Black Celebration (right) was released on 17 March 1986 on LP (STUMM26) and cassette (CSTUMM26) and features 11 tracks: Black Celebration, Fly On The Windscreen (Final), A Question of Lust, Sometimes, It Doesn't Matter Two, A Question of Time, Stripped, Here Is The House, World Full Of Nothing, Dressed In Black and New Dress. Every one (and yes that DOES include Sometimes - I like it and I will defend it!) is top quality and the whole album works perfectly as an complete album from start to finish. I dont imagine anyone had used the phrase Black Celebration before but Depeche did and the album starts as it means to go on with a track celebrating life, love and happiness albeit from a darker perspective than usual. Fly On The Windscreen then makes another appearance this time in its' classic guise. A larger than usual Martin section then follows with three songs - A Question of Lust (more below), Sometimes (it's fine - leave it alone!) and It Doesn't Matter Two, so called because It Doesn't Matter appeared on Some Great Reward. IDM2 is my favourite Martin track here - musically and lyrically it's perfect. A quickfire double of classics follows (A Question of Time more of which to come and Stripped) and then we land at Here Is The House. I'll go out on a limb here and say that EVERY Depeche fan loves this song - prove me wrong ;). It's odd that it hasn't featured more live as it was only played a couple of times on the Black Celebration tour and then revisted acoustically by Martin on World Violation. Maybe all the harmonies and counter melodies make it too hard to recreate live - who knows? It's just a pity we haven't heard more of it. Next we find a fourth Martin track (did Dave have a sore throat?) World Full of Nothing which is lovely and then Dressed In Black. DIB essentially sums up all Depeche fans everywhere as anyone who's been to a Depeche gig will confirm! Martin has played this in solo spots on tours which always ends in an extended WOAH-OH part at the end. Finally, Martin gets political with New Dress which takes down the media in four verses. As I'm typing this I'm trying to find a news channel that isn't droning on about the forthcoming Royal Wedding - New Dress seems appropriate in the circumstances.
The German edition of the LP is available in grey vinyl. A cd version was released after the initial release date adding Breathing In Fumes, But Not Tonight (Extended Remix) and Black Day from the Stripped 12". I won't say any more about the album other than demanding once again that you buy it if you don't already have it.
The band's next single appeared on 14 April 1986. A Question of Lust was a Martin sung single which the by now confirmed as cloth eared UK record buying public failed to embrace leading to the song stalling at their second lowest position (if we include Dreaming of Me which is a bit harsh) of 28. The single came in three formats. Firstly, we had a 7" (7BONG11 - right) which was backed with a new instrumental b-side called Christmas Island, a cracking track. The 12" (12BONG11 - left) was yet another 5 track spectacular featuring A Question of Lust, Christmas Island (Extended), People Are People (Live), It Doesn't Matter Two (Instrumental) and A Question Of Lust (Minimal). Whilst not as good a collection as the Stripped 12" it's still an interesting 12". The live version of People Are People is from Basle on the Some Great reward tour and the instrumental of IDM2 is just that. The best track on the record is the Minimal version of A Question of Lust - a nice take on the lead track. There was no limited edition 12" this time. Instead the first ever Depeche Mode cassette single was released (CBONG11 - left). It's a great little item this featuring a cassette, a booklet containing some quite dreadful photos and a badge. The packaging has a handy little ticked list of contents just so you know what you're getting when you buy it! There are 4 tracks on the cassette - A Question of Lust (Flood Mix) (great) and live versions of If You Want, Shame and Blaspehmous Rumours again from the Basle gig. The only snag with this release is the envelope the package comes in - it's quite tought to open and the part you open tends to rip. It also ruins the sticker on the back of the pack. The Germans are an inventive lot however and so to avoid this they released the cassette as a 12" on yellow vinyl. The lead 12" comes on black and white marble vinyl and a red 7" is available too. The black/white vinyl was the one I needed to complete my collection (other than the rare JCGE and Stripped 12") a few years ago and I DEFINITELY spent too much money on it. Worth it though! Finally the video shows Martin singing and the band hitting things.
The last single from Black Celebration was A Question of Time which was remixed for its release on 11 August 1986 and ended up climbing to number 17 in the UK. The 7" (right - 7BONG12) featured A Question of Time (remix) and a live version of Black Celebration from the Black Celebration tour gig at Birmingham NEC. The remix is a decent enough remix but the live B-side is the interesting track here. The band who were undertaking their first full UK Arena tour now sounded like a band destined to play on the bigger stages as the live versions of the new songs showed. As the tour went on the band added larger and larger venues worldwide and played their biggest US shows to date including a prestigous show at Radio City Music Hall. The 12" release (12BONG12 - left) featured Black Celebration from the 7" and added more live tracks from the same show - Something To Do and Stripped. There was also a further remix of A Question Of Time, the rather good Extended Remix. We then got our first limited edition 12" of the Black Celebration era with L12BONG12 (right) which is either a three or a four track 12" depending on what version you have. The first two tracks on the four track 12" are the New Town Mix of A Question of Time and a live remix of the same. They two tracks run into each other meaning that on later re-issues and the cd single from 1991 they are listed as one thing called New Town Mix/Live Remix. All a bit of a fuss other nothing really - the remix part is ok and the live remix features a frankly terrible organ type sound for the main riff. The remaining two tracks were the Black Tulip Mix of Black Celebration (nice) and a live version of More Than A Party from the NEC show. German editions are a red vinyl 7", a black and white marbled 12" and a grey limited edition 12".
The most interesting thing about this release is the video and thus far I have NEVER said that! This was the band's first video that was directed by Anton Corbijn and it represented a beginning of a dramatic shift in the band's visual presentation. The video is a black and white affair showing a mix of live footage and a story that seems to involve Alan waiting for a baby to be delivered to him by a man in a motorbike and sidecar. I admit that doesn't sound great but it is especially when compared to all DM videos prior to it!
The lengthy Black Celebration tour took the band to the next level globally and the album's much more mature sound attracted many more listeners. The next step would be huge taking the band into stadiums and bringing their music to the ..er...masses. We'll look at that next time.