Thursday 27 November 2014


Songs of Faith and Devotion was a huge success for Depeche Mode but it came at a cost. Dave descended into a drugs hell, Martin was drinking more and more, Fletch had a form of breakdown and Alan was left doing all the actual musical work. Come the end of the USA 94 tour, the band was in a mes and 1995 wasn't really a lot better. Dave had many well publicised drug problems ending with a near fatal overdose in LA, meaning that any studio work in 1996 was a struggle as he could barely sing at times. Alan meanwhile shocked the DM world by leaving on 1 June 1995. He felt that his work within the band wasn't appreciated enough and that he couldn't go on - understandable given his incredible contributions to the likes of Violator and SOFAD. All this meant that when Martin finally got some songs together the band went into the studio as a three piece as they did in 1982 for A Broken Frame following Vince's departure albeit this time they had a barely functioning lead singer, a songwriter on whose shoulders the entire musical burden had been placed and no See You type song for Fletch to at least play bass. Surely this couldn't end well....

Well it did end well. It gave us Ultra, an in places sparse, in others majestic album that is essentially the sound of a hangover and here's how it all came about.

The first sniff of what was to come came on 3 February 1997 when the band's comeback single Barrel of A Gun was released. This was quite an ear opener (is that a phrase?). The song starts with some electronic pulsing and whirring and then the drums blast in. Dave starts snarling, Martin plays a wah-wah ish guitar line and we're off. It's an incredibly striking, hard sounding song with lyrics that Martin insists weren't written with Dave in mind but you have to doubt that. Tim Simenon's production really suits the track too as does Anton's wonderful, colourful in places video (below) which, as ever, seems to bare no relation to the song. I still remember hearing BOAG for the first time with a mixture of sheer joy (DM are back! Woohoo) and surprise (how heavy does that sound?). The song reached number 4 in the UK equaling DM's best ever chart showing (People Are People 1984). Format wise we had a standard 12" and cd single (right - 12BONG25 and CDBONG25 each having the same artwork) each featuring a mixture of tracks. The 12" comes in a marvellous glossy gatefold and has 5 versions of the title track. In order we have the standard version (great - see above), Underworld Hard Mix (No. Seriously. No. Why? I mean WHY??), 3 Phase Mix (rather nice), One Inch Punch Mix (Version 2)(good - why not version one though?) and the Underworld Soft Mix (much better). The Underworld Hard Mix is a crime, it really is. The CD single for BOAG, as with all other Ultra single releases came in a bizarre back to front box which is really hard to describe as I don't have it in front of me at the moment. Looking at the picture above, you would think that the case would open to the right as usual. It didn't however - you had to turn it over to open it or something. Wierd. Anyway, we had 4 tracks on the CD - Barrel of A Gun in its standard, Underworld Soft and One Inch Punch (version 1) guises and a new b-side called Painkiller. It's a beast of a track running to around 7 minutes. It's instrumental but really really good.

Limited editions were soon to follow with a 12" (L12BONG25 - left) and CD single. The 12" comes in a lovely silver cover and runs with Painkiller as its' A side which was a first for Depeche not to be repeated until The Darkest Star remixes were released on their own as part of the Suffer Well single campaign (see future blog which at my rate will be around 2013). The four tracks on the record are Painkiller (Plastikman Mix), Painkiller, Barrel of A Gun (One Inch Punch Mix (v1)) and Barrel of A Gun (United Mix). Both new mixes here are good - Plastikman has a nice take on Painkiller, which formed the basis of the walk on music on the 1998 Singles Tour, and the United Mix of BOAG may well be my favourite mix of the BOAG lot. The Limited CD (LCDBONG25 - right) gave us the Plastikman mix of Painkiller and the United and Underworld Hard mixes of BOAG. All in all a decent enough batch of mixes but the less said about the Underworld attempts the better really. The band even hated the Hard mix at first and had Underworld re-do it. I dread to think what the first attempt sounded like. Fans of facts will be delighted to learn that the L12 here was the only L12 of the Ultra campaign. Fancy that. Actually, here's another fact for you - when they played on Top of The Pops, Anton played drums on stage.

After the sonic slap in the chops of Barrel of a Gun we were then treated to what can only be described as one of the all time great Depeche Mode singles It's No Good. As well as having all the elements of a classic DM (the bass line, the melody, the genius lyrics) it also came with one of their best ever videos (below) with Anton setting the band up as a hotel bar band down on their luck playing for cash. You have to see it. In my perpetually changing All Time Depeche Mode Top Ten, It's No Good will always be top 5 - it's just bloody brilliant (which would have been a more accurate title). The song reached number 5 in the UK on its release on 31 March 1997 which was a really good effort giving DM four UK top ten songs in a row (Condemnation, In Your Room, BOAG and ING) for the first time ever.

We had four formats to play with this time including the first cassette single of the Ultra campaign, CBONG26 (right) which featured two tracks - It's No Good and Slowblow. The latter is a slowish instrumental which never really goes anywhere or does anything. It's not in the same league as Painkiller put it that way. The 12" contains 5 remixes of It's No Good with none of them at all coming close to the brilliance of the original version of the song. 12BONG26 (left) offers us the Hardfloor, Speedy J, Motor Bass, Andrea Parker and Dom T mixes of the songs. Only the Andrea Parker and Speedy J mixes work for me really. The rest are all a bit bland and do nothing for me at all. We had two cd's too - CDBONG26 (same cover as 12BONG) and LCDBONG26 (left) both of which came in the frustrating cd cases. The standard CD had the standard version of It's No Good together with the Speedy J mix, the Bass Bounce mix (one of the better mixes here) and a Darren Price remix of Slowblow which again is pretty poor. LCDBONG had the Hardfloor, Andrea Parker and Motor bass mixes from 12BONG and the original mix of Slowblow. All in all fairly unsatisfactory which is really disappointing when you consider the quality of It's No Good.

As good as the singles were the real interest was in the album and whether or not Depeche could pull off an album in keeping with their usual quality without Alan's input and despite their by now well publicised issues (see all the press from that time and from then until now). Ultra was released on 14 April 1997 and did not disappoint. Brilliantly produced by Tim Simenon and released on LP (STUMM148), cassette (CSTUMM148) and CD (CDSTUMM148 - all sleeves the same and on the left) the album reached number 1 in the UK and an equally impressive number 5 in the US. Depeche were clearly still a very big band. The album's tracks are - Barrel of A Gun, The Love Thieves, Home, It's No Good, Uselink, Useless, Sister of Night, Jazz Thieves, Freestate, The Bottom Line, Insight and Junior Painkiller. Three of these are instrumental link things - Uselink (featuring Daniel Miller on System 100M modular synth), Jazz Thieves (Christ - why?) and Junior Painkiller which is just a snippet of Painkiller.

Singles aside (see above and below) their are some amazing and frankly classic Depeche songs here. The Bottom Line is one of the greatest Martin sung songs ever, if only for its rather marvellous DM take on country music. Sister Of Night is phenomenal and features some fantastic noise in its middle section. Insight is a beautiful song and was hugely welcome when Martin added to his "Songs that ever Peter Gordeno's piano twattery can't ruin" section on the SOTU tour. Then we have The Love Thieves which slightly nonsensical lyrics aside is a great track. Oh yeah - finally there is Freestate a song so erm...not very good that it would have sounded fine on Exciter. I don't like, never have and never will. That apart though Ultra is a fantastic album. I would love to have seen it without Freestate, Jazz Thieves and Junior Painkiller as that would have made for a nigh on perfect release but what can you do?

The band chose not to tour Ultra which was wise given the fun and games of 1993/94 although they did play release parties in Los Angeles and London where they played the album's four singles and Never Let Me Down Again with Dave Clayton on keyboards. The lack of a tour meant that album and its singles lost some impetus which explains why Home, the third single from Ultra reached a poor UK number 23 on its release on 16 June 1997. Home is a Martin sung song and is easily one of his best. It's almost perfection and no matter what version he plays live (full, remixed or piano) it's always a highlight of a set. It's one of the songs that I've discovered is liked by a lot of people who don't really know or like much DM. It really should have done better on release.

The single came in four formats all featuring artwork by Anton's daughter who was 5 or so at the time. I presume he shared his fee with her. The cassette single (CBONG27 - right) featured
the standard version of Home and a decent live version of It's No Good from the London Ultra Party on 10 April 1997. Two CD singles were again available in the same oddball cases. CDBONG27 (left) featured 4 versions of Home. The standard one we all know. Next we have Air "Around The Golf" Remix a remix by the then fashionable French retrochaps Air. It's a brilliant 7" length remix which is a joy to hear. DM liked it so much that Martin incorporated it into the version of Home on the Touring The Angel tour. Track 3 is the LFO Meant To Be mix by LFO. It's fine but is a bit tinny really. Finally we have The Noodles and The Damage Done of which the title is the best thing. It's pretty crap. LCDBONG27 (right) kicked off with the Jedi Knights Remix (Drowning in Time) which is quite cool and has loads of neighbour annoying noises. Next up we have the Grantby Mix which is again fairly short but isn't too bad. Barrel of a Gun (excellent) and It's No Good from the Ultra party end proceedings. The 12" (12BONG27 -same sleeve as CDBONG) had 4 mixes - Jedi Knights, Air, LFO and Grantby. All in all a more satisfying package than the It's No Good one. The video (below) features the band hanging around hotel rooms looking moody whilst various other people mooch about. Not a classic.

The final single was Useless which arrived on 20 October 1997 stalling at a poor number 28 in the UK. The video (below) is great. It features the band hanging around in a disused quarry shouting a the poor woman who is apparently filming them. Martin has a rather odd haircut in it. We only got three formats this time. First up we had CDBONG28 (Left) which had three tracks and, embracing technology like they always had done, the Barrel of a Gun video. Stick the cd into your PC and there it is. This was something quite fancy at the time. The main track and indeed the version that was infrequently played on the radio is Useless (remix) a much improved version of the album track. It's just feels faster and louder though it probably isn't. Track two is Useless (Escape from Wherever: Parts 1 & 2) which is 7 minutes 17 seconds of tedium really. The final mix on the package is the Cosmic Blues Mix which is ok. LCDBONG27 (right) gave us two remixes, a live track and another video this time for It's No Good. The live version of Useless from the Ultra party featured and is again pretty good. Remix wise, the real winner here is The Kruder and Dorfmeister Session which comes in around 9 minutes long. It's a totally new take on the song featuring samples from the likes of Policy of Truth and is well worth hearing. Finally we have CJ Bolland's Ultrasonar mix which is very good but not quite as good as the K&D mix.

The 12" (12BONG27 - left) adds two new mixes. Firstly there's another CJ Bolland mix this time called the Funky Sub Mix. It's a bit more jungly/drum and bassy than the other mix as was the musical fashion at the time. Certainly seems like that to me anyway. Next is the Air 20 Mix which starts off like Erasure but develops into something pretty decent. The K&D Session rounds off the 12". Overall the mixes here are really interesting as the band let the artists remix the tracks how they wanted and that paid off.

So that was that. A band that many people thought they wouldnt see again came back with an album of excellent quality and a number of songs that have become Depeche Mode classics. No doubt delighted with the results the band would reconvene in 1998 for a Singles compilation and their first world tour in four years. Once I get Christmas out of the way I'll write about that. Thank you once again to , and for information and pictures and thank you for reading. Have a good Christmas and I'll see you in 2012.

Sunday 23 November 2014


For a new label, Hotgem is pretty impressive. Not only have they just put out the new Machines In Heaven e.p. but one week after that, the new Atom Tree e.p. follows hot on its' heels and, as we've come to expect from Atom Tree, this is a superb piece of work. Originally a solo project by Shaun Canning, Atom Tree expanded by initially adding percussionist Michael Robertson and then vocalist and keyboard player Julie Knox and these two elements, especially Knox vocals, have built upon the already wonderful electronics of the likes of debut e.p. Tide Of Thorns and produced something very special indeed.

Opener Sinner is a great start featuring mesmerising layers of synths and a wonderful vocal which combine perfectly into a great electronic pop song. For me, it's the stand out track here and that's a compliment given the quality of the e.p. If you're going to pick one track to listen to here, give Sinner a go as it sums up everything that is good about Atom Tree. Track two, the gorgeous Hearts, is a more atmospheric track full of synth symphonies and rollercoasting arpeggios all set to yearning lyrics. Hold On follows and its' blend of clean electronics, beats and treated lyrics swoop and pulse to a powerful conclusion before title track Clouds closes off the e.p. in spectacular style with an instrumental of real electronic loveliness. Funnily enough, the lack of Julie's vocals is noticeable but that doesn't detract from the track at all.

Tide of Thorns was such an impressive debut release that following it was going to be tough, but Atom Tree have managed that without any problem. 2015 should see the release of their debut album and they'll continue playing their increasingly impressive live shows, so there is a lot more to come from them. If they continue to progress as their doing, and if their future releases are as impressive as Clouds, then we're in for something very special indeed.

Tuesday 18 November 2014


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....

Thursday 13 November 2014


Hindu Milk is Machines In Heaven's first release since their outstanding debut album bordersbreakdown. Since that album came out, the band's reputation has grown and grown, so much so that the NME recently pointed them out as one to watch from Glasgow's impressive music scene. With the release of Hindu Milk (released 14 November on Hotgem), the band are surely destined to take a significant leap forward and it is only a matter of time until Machines In Heaven become a very important band, not only in the Scottish music world, but in the rest of the UK and beyond.

The e.p. itself is a real progression from their debut album. Whereas bordersbreakdown mixed acoustic sounds with waves of noise and pummeling bass, all five tracks here have a cleaner more focused sound and at points are genuine pop songs. The choice of Edge Of The Middle as the e.p's opener is a clever one as it acts like a transition from bordersbreakdown to the new songs, taking the controlled noise chaos of the album, in this instance some Aphex Twin like breaks, and mixing it with some wonderful electronics. It's a great start to the e.p. and really sets the scene. Track 2 is the title track of the e.p. and is one of two absolute blow your mind standout tracks here. Hindu Milk comes across like a Kraftwerk gone pop, mixing the clean electronics of Computer World with a lead melody that is pure syntpop genius. As if that's not enough, at 2 mins 32 seconds in you're hit with some vocodered vocals that are simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking. It's a stupendously good track and you simply have to hear it. 

Next up is Voodoo Mechanics, which it is no exaggeration to say, has the electronic pulse of Depeche Mode at their Violator peak. As you're no doubt aware from 90% of the content of this blog, there is a certain Depeche bias at play here but, genuinely, and please go and listen if you don't believe me, Voodoo Mechanics shares its' DNA with Violator and given that Violator is the single greatest thing in the history of music, that is no bad thing at all. Throw in the New Order style, or dare I say latter day Depeche style guitars towards the end and you have something very special indeed.

If Hindu Milk is Kraftwerk go pop, the track 4 Feel Slow is Machines In Heaven go pop. It's bloody marvellous and deserves to be a solid gold chart smash pop fans. Starting off with more wonderfully crisp electronics, a pusling bassline and what sounds like a distorted version of Chopsticks, the track builds and builds before Davey's vocals are unleashed and you're transported to Planet Synthpop, which is a very nice place to be. This, I think, is a first for Machines In Heaven as most of their vocals to date have been through a vocoder but the use of Davey's vocals here really enhance the track. It's available as a free download prior to the e.p's release and I urge you to get it. When electronic music of this quality is produced, it would be foolish not to listen in.

The final track on the e.p. is another wonderful electronic piece called Holy Particles which twists and turns through its' seven minutes building from an almost ambient start to the sort of track Orbital did back in the days when they were untouchable. It's great and you can already see being a star track at tents full of people at next year's festivals. 

I could obviously have saved you a good bit of time if my review has just said "The new Machines In Heaven e.p. Hindu Milk is unbelievably good and you have to buy it" but what would be the point in that? This is music so good that you want to listen to it, tell people how good it is, then listen to it again and again. I'm trying not to going over the score, but this is genuinely some of the best electronic music I've heard in a long time. The Machines have gone pop and in doing so, the Machines have won. Give in to them now.

Go here for a free download of Feel Slow

Wednesday 12 November 2014


I know you all listen to Breathing In Fumes (and if you don't you should) but did you know that the man behind the Podcast, Mr Glen Hammarstrom, also hosts a web radio show called Disappear? On that show, Glen usually plays a load of deep house records but for a one off special on what I'm going to call far too early on a Wednesday morning UK time 12 November, but what was no doubt lateish evening Modesto, California time 11 November, he changed it around and played a Depeche Mode only mix show.

For those of us who don't live in a time zone where listening live was possible, Glen has kindly uploaded the show to allow anyone and everyone to listen whenever and wherever they want. The tracklist is:

Clean (Colder Version)
My Little Universe (Sante Remix)
Policy Of Truth 2014 (Cranky Owls Deep Touch Remix)
In Sympathy (Breathing In Fumes ReWork) (NB - This is Glen's own remix)
Enjoy The Silence (Live In Berlin)
Only When I Lose Myself (Gus Gus Long Play Mix)
Precious (U.S. Radio Version Glen Re-edit) (again, one of Glen's)
Dangerous (When I Am Mix)
Monument (Reggaelectric Mix)
World In My Eyes (Live: Los Angeles 1998)
Never Let Me Down Again (Cubicolor Remix)
Behind The Wheel (DJ Meme 2014 Remix)

A bloody marvellous collection of remixes basically. Go and get it here

and don't forget to check out the Breathing In Fumes Facebook and Twitter pages too