A few days ago, Depeche Mode's social media sprang into life with a picture of a black box featuring the letter M superimposed over it. Over the next three days, the letters O, D and, you guessed it, E appeared and, before we knew it, a new 18 cd box set was in the works. This not exactly tough to decipher social media campaign was accompanied by the greying out of album covers on streaming sites. All very odd and all quite out of the blue.
Today, the details of what Mode contains have been confirmed and, frankly, it is a baffling release designed, it appears, to please no-one at all. The official site says:
"MODE is a comprehensive collection of the band's work to date - comprised of all 14 studio albums plus additional non-album material -- from 2017's Spirit back to DM's debut album Speak & Spell. In line with DM's signature aesthetic, the numbered, limited-edition set is housed in an elegant and minimalist black cube, with each disc similarly enclosed in a black, heavyweight card wallet. The albums' original covers have been re-interpreted in uniform black-on-black designs exclusive to this box set, and four additional bonus discs provide a chronological collection of non-album singles, b-sides and bonus tracks. Accompanying the audio content is a 228 page, gilt-edged book containing all of Depeche Mode's lyrics, compiled together for the first time, highlighting their collective visceral power and impact."
This is a remarkable pile of nonsense. Firstly, the phrase "in line with DM's signature aesthetic" is the sort of bollocks you read in overpriced furniture shops, coffee bars or on moronic Instagram accounts. If Depeche Mode, or DM as the site for some reason calls them, have a "signature aesthetic" it's music. It's not box design. Christ.
Also, they mention that the album covers have been ""re-interpreted in uniform black-on-black designs." On what planet are ANY of the band's sleeves appropriate for "re-interpretation?" If I contradict myself momentarily, surely one could argue that part of the band's "signature aesthetic" is their iconic artwork? Making them all black is someone taking the piss basically.
My final act in relation to this quote is simply to point out the phrase "visceral power." I mean, really.
Back on the official site, it then goes on to say:
"Reflecting on the set's content and design, the band commented, "With everything together in this all-black design it feels like a modern reflection of who we are and where we've come from. The set couldn't be more Depeche Mode."
That is staggering. At least for the forthcoming Spirits In The Forest, they attributed quotes to Dave and Martin in the press kit. For this, either the band sat down together, reflected on the set's content and designed and said the same thing all at the same time or this quote is simply marketing gobbledigook that only highlights the half-arsed way this box thing has come into life.
"Fletch and I were just looking at the boxset"
"Reflecting on it's content and design were you Martin?"
"Very much Dave. The funniest thing happened you know. I said to Fletch, 'You know wuth everything together in this all-black design....."
"It feels like a modern reflection of who we are and where we've come from. The set couldn't be more Depeche Mode Martin?
" Good grief Dave! Exactly. We all said that thing at the same time!"
"Well Mart, it really couldn't be more Depeche Mode could it?
"No Dave, it couldn't."
"Time to write the new album Mart?"
"Not yet Dave, no. Not at all."
And so on.
Anyway, to the music.
There is very, VERY little new here. Ignore the first 14 discs for a start. You have them already on cd, cassette, vinyl, mp3, German coloured vinyl, Uzbeki laser disc and so on. They're not remastered either or at least they're not newly remastered for this project.
Discs 15-18 feature "non-album singles, b-sides and bonus tracks" most of which are already available on the dazzling new CD format. There are positives however:
Disc 15, track 2 - Sometimes I Wish I Was Dead (Flexipop Version)
Disc 16, track 1 - Dressed In Black (Record Mirror Version)
Disc 17, track 2 - Death's Door (Soundtrack Version)
Disc 18, track 11 - "Heroes" (Highline Session Version)
The first two have not previously been released on CD and that version of Dressed In Black never officially released by the band so that's nice. The soundtrack version of Death's Door has also never been attached to a Depeche Mode release too. The only new thing here is "Heroes" which is a decent enough addition.
As someone who has collected more Depeche Mode things than are reasonable, those four tracks make me at least briefly consider buying this but they're not enough. Had it just been a B-sides and bonus tracks release, I'd have snapped it up. I'm not paying over £200 for four tracks however.
And that's the thing - who will buy this? It's obviously not aimed at hardcore collectors as there's nothing there to grab them. People who buy most Depeche releases have no need for it either other than to plug the hole it will create in their collection. Will casual fans shell out all that money just to have the albums in a box? I doubt it.
It's a perplexing release. Ok, the 12" reissue boxes haven't been to everyone's liking, but they represent a re-telling of the Depeche Mode remix story and at least have a purpose. This is either just a shoddy attempt to make money on the back of Spirits In The Forest, or it's just another way of trying to make money out of a fanbase who have already spent a lot of money on the things that are already in the box. If you compare it to the Sounds Of The Universe boxset, it comes off even less favourably; ok that boxset contained that album, but for £65 we got a cd full of demos which was a huge thrill.
Whatever it is, unless Depeche Mode call a halt to their glorious career, this box set will quickly become out of date and incomplete when the next Depeche album comes out. That just adds to its general pointlessness.
What a very odd release.
Depeche Mode - Mode is released on 22 November