The keen eyed among you will note that there are only three people featured in the cover of the first Depeche Mode single since In Your Room. Last time we saw them, there had been four of them. Well, and I hope you are sitting down because this may come as a surprise, one of them left after In Your Room. On 1st June 1995, Alan made this announcement:
|Courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group|
BONG, the official fanclub, confirmed the departure but sought to reassure fans:
|Courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group|
So that was that. Once again, four became three and Dave, Martin and Andy were left to fend for themselves. This was a bit different to Vince's departure mind you as the band were now established as a global force rather than a synthpop band with prospects. Alan leaving would certainly make a difference, a point that is still debated to the point of near madness today, so what would the band do? We got our answer on 3rd February 1997 when Barrel Of A Gun entered our lives.
Before we move on to the usual stuff, just a quick word on Alan and the Dave interviews that emerged as the band returned. I'm not going to talk about Alan's departure in any great depth as it has been done. We all have a view on it and that's fine. Similarly, I'm not going to talk about Dave and drugs. There's plenty about that everywhere else, not least in the 1997 interviews. You come here for nonsense, over analysis of videos and format pedantry. That's plenty for anyone.
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OF ME? - BARREL OF A GUN
If you were signed up to the Bong fanclub, you got a postcard through your letterbox (ask your grandparents) and it told you to phone a number in return for which you would hear a new Depeche Mode song. Today of course, we are used to high quality versions of songs being deposited in our inboxes to be played on our phones as we queue for ridiculously priced coffee and it all seems normal. In 1997 however, the prospect of hearing a tinny version of a song played down an analogue phoneline into a phone that was actually plugged into a wall was really quite something. Barrel Of A Gun, BONG25, did not disappoint.
The single was released on 3rd February 1997 and Depeche Mode's return was generally welcomed by the press. In Beat magazine, it was given Single Of The Week:
"Do you mean this horny creep" are Dave Gahan's first words back from the dead. While you'd like to forget the overdoses, turmoil and general image tarnishing that Mode endured, there's no doubt the tension helped create this master-stroke. Reclaiming their dark industrial sound from the likes of Garbage, NIN and U2, Depeche Mode release the latest in a long, long line of clever, wonderful singles. Gets better and goes deeper with every listen. Mode Rock. Single of the Week."
In Billboard, Larry Flick wrote:
"One of the true pioneering acts of electro-pop ends a lengthy break from the airwaves with a thoroughly satisfying if often caustic blend of techno synths and metallic guitars. Singer Dave Gahan has a field day digging into Martin Gore's typically heavy lyrics, comfortably swerving back and forth between hypnotic lethargy to white-knuckled intensity. Producer Tim Simenon wisely underlines the track with the kind of hip-hop motion needed to crack the pop market, while carefully weaving the instrumentation so that rockers and clubheads alike can happily jam on this one—and they will."
Dark and industrial it certainly was. Overlooking the much more obvious comeback single from their forthcoming album (see next blog...), not only did the band return in fairly uncompromising fashion, but they also equalled their highest ever UK chart placing. Barrel Of A Gun stormed into the UK charts at Number 4, matching their previous best with People Are People thirteen years previously. Ok, it fell to 23, 48 and then 74 after that, but number 4 was very impressive indeed. Oddly, and no doubt as a result of Ultra, the single re-entered the charts on the 5th of April at number 95 and had a longer chart run than it did in February. That may sound impressive, but it went from 95 to 94, up to 87, back to 89, up again to 80 and then finally down to 99.
The band also returned to Top Of The Pops, with an appearance in the week the song entered the charts:
There's a lot to take in here. Firstly, the curious man who we see introducing them is pop muppet Peter Andre, a man famous for his bizarre abs, dreadful music career and marrying a woman called Jordan who was the sort of person the UK made famous in the 90's. Oddly, we'll see Peter again later in the Ultra era blogs.
On stage, we see that there are five people? Have the band rehired Alan and Vince? Not quite. We firstly see Dave looking very smart but also like a man who has seen the sort of darkness that very few people see and live to tell the tale of. Martin, perhaps in tribute to Mr Wilder, is seemingly wearing a leather shirt to match his leather trousers which is a bold choice and sees the leatherometer make a brief if unspectacular return (54.38%). There are things that you can always rely on and Fletch being Fletch is one of them. Here he is, prodding the keys and aggressively shaking about £2,000 worth of music equipment as only he can. His dramatic movements around 3 minutes 20 seconds in are, of course, mad but also entirely wonderful.
The Vince and Alan roles are not in fact played by the men themselves. On drums, we have none other than Anton Corbijn and he has a bloody good go at looking just like a drummer does on Top Of The Pops. The mysterious figure in the huge coat behind the keyboards beside him is Tim Simenon who is making his first TOTP appearance since the Bomb The Bass days.
This appearance saw the song fall 19 places in the charts, but who cares about that? Depeche Mode were back and Barrel Of A Gun was and is a sensational song. It has appeared live 247 times, featuring on The Singles 86-98 tour, the Delta Machine tour and the Global Spirit Tour. It also featured at the Ultra parties. It's an odd one live as it's never seemed to really work. It's powerful certainly, but there's something about the song that makes it feel as if Martin's guitar part and Dave's vocal clash too much. The less said about the Grandmaster Flash ad-lib the better.
The B-Side of Barrel Of A Gun, at least if you bought the US 7", was Painkiller, a thundering instrumental that is really rather wonderful. It has been played live 64 times, albeit in the same way that Pimpf was played live in 1987 and 1988 - Painkiller was the intro music on The Singles 86-98 tour.
Anton took the band to Morocco to film this video and it's a striking video which matches the song's intensity.
We open on Dave having a restless night's sleep, constantly awoken by the melody that would form Hole To Feed a few years later on. To try and put it out of his mind, he pops on his sunglasses and has a bath as one does. That doesn't do it though, so he gets dressed in black (again) and crawls down the stairs to serenade us in his quite horrendous looking kitchen. We've all had days like that.
He appears in front of a light bulb and, I may once again be over analysing things, but that seems to me to be a nice call back to the In Your Room video. Dave looks as fragile as he did on Top Of The Pops but puts in a quite superb performance as a deranged man who sings in his kitchen. Martin and Andy appear albeit they appear to be dead, lying beside Dave as he pours over a scroll that features the lyrics to Hole To Feed. He pauses to eye up some tasty flies that he's trapped for his dinner. Even pop stars need to eat, so he grabs one, gets back to scribbling those lyrics and then sits calmly as he has an incredibly bad hair day.
Some days you should just stay in the bath with your sunglasses on.
Dave is a strong man however, so he leaves the house, paints eyes over his eye lids, closes his actual eyes and goes for a blind walk around the streets of Marrakesh. Again, we've all had days like that. That he does so while wearing a fur coat is to his credit.
As the second verse begins, we see, quite literally through a lens that is meant to be like the business end of a barrel of, that's right, a gun, Fletch having a horrible time, Martin looking like he's about to take his rest among the blessed and Dave looking confused, This claustrophobic feel carries on as the verse develops and it all feels rather tense. This is certainly not the same vibe that you got with the Just Can't Get Enough video.
The chorus brings some peace however. We see Dave with Martin and Fletch asleep on his shoulders and then we see the three of them all playing guitars. Martin looks like he knows what he's doing, Dave has a good go and Fletch leans back and plays like he's never played before. A final shot of the three with Dave kneeling between Fletch and Martin who is wearing what looks like a binbag, looks like a Victorian era family picture taken when people still thought cameras were witchcraft.
For the final verse, Dave escapes the clutches of the other two and makes a break for it. The only trouble is that he does so while wearing a big pair of mittens and his white fur coat and both are covered in lights. It doesn't take long for Martin and Andy to find him but they let him go and Dave wanders around for the rest of the video like a big goth Christmas tree with legs.
An actual fact about this video is that Dave caught salmonella in Morocco and had to be hospitalised when he got back to London. Never eat flies kids.
|Picture courtesy of Michael rose/depmod.com|
As the advert above shows, Barrel Of A Gun was released on CD and 12" only in the UK. Let's take in those formats before we look at the "why do you actually need those David?" promos.
12BONG25 is a snazzy five track gatefold 12". My version has a white paper sleeve as you can see above. Initial versions came with a silver die-cut inner sleeve like this:
|Picture courtesy of depmod.com|
The sleeve design is rather nice, echoing the chaos of the song in a way and the labels are, as ever, a very nice thing. On the A-Side of the record we have the album version of Barrel Of A Gun and the Underworld Hard Mix which is famously terrible.
The B-side, pictured above with the rear sleeve, has three more mixes of Barrel Of A Gun - 3 Phase Mix, One Inch Punch Mix (V2) and Underworld Soft Mix. This was the point that Depeche Mode stopped remixing songs themselves and instead let other people do it. The first two are ok and the Underworld one is fine. That's about it really.
The inner gatefold shows us the three band members. Martin looks like he's off scuba diving and Dave appears to be chained to a radiator.
CDBONG25 kicked off the era of the "What the fuck is a special reverse jewel case and why on earth do we need that?" CD single packaging. On what one would traditionally call the box we get the picture above.
On the back, and upside down compared to the front, we get what should be the front. How very odd. The CD itself contains the album version of Barrel Of A Gun, the single version of Painkiller and the Underworld Soft Mix and One Inch Punch Mix of Barrel Of A Gun.
L12BONG25 comes in a smashing silver sleeve. On the A-Side there are two versions of Painkiller - the single version and the marvellous Plastikman Mix.
The rear sleeve with its prominent L12BONG25 writing is lovely. The music is ok - we have the One Inch Punch Mix and United Mix of Barrel Of A Gun.
LCDBONG25 is another back to front box thing.
The back which should actually be the front says Barrel Of A Gun 2 which is oddly pleasing. The CD features three tracks - the Underworld Hard Mix and United Mix of Barrel Of A Gun and the Plastikman Mix of Painkiller.
The 2004 reisusse CD, which comes in a perfectly simple box, features the 9 tracks spread about the various formats.
As I mentioned earlier, there are of course promos too. Here is P12BONG25.
It contains three versions of Barrel Of A Gun - Underworld Hard Mix, Album version and Underworld Hard Mix - Instrumental which is basically the Underworld Mix. It also has Painkiller (Plastikman Mix).
There's a second promo 12" too - PL12BONG25
A very enjoyable sleeve and label combo. Here we have the album version of Barrel Of A Gun, the single version of Painkiller and the 3 Phase Mix and One Inch Punch Mix (V2) of Barrel Of A Gun.
The UK promo CD, RCDBONG25, comes in a slim jewel, entirely normal case and features the album version and radio version (as played on Top Of The Pops above) of Barrel Of A Gun.
The interesting releases for this single are to be found in America. They were the only country to release a 7" for example. It comes in a plain sleeve and on the A-Side, we have Barrel Of A Gun.
Painkiller is on the B-Side.
There are two promo CD singles. Here's the first.
The band feature on the rear. The CD features two tracks - the Radio Version and Album versions of Barrel Of A Gun.
The second promo CD features the same two tracks, is a fancy colour and has a nice picture of the band on the front.
The US double 12" promo is a cracker. The labels feature the picture seen on the cover of 12BONG25 and it comes in a plain black sleeve. It features all of the tracks spread over the UK releases with the exception of the One Inch Punch Mix.
The US 12" features the same tracks as 12BONG25.
There are two US CD singles available. I have the three track version.
It features the Album version and United Mix of Barrel Of A Gun and the single version of Painkiller, here called Original Mix. There is also a 5 track single available which erroneously says it contains the One Inch Punch Mix. It is in fact One Inch Punch Mix (V2).
We end in Japan. Here they managed to combine both CD singles in one and you get a whopping 7 tracks.
It features the single versions of Barrel Of A Gun and Painkiller, the Plastikman Mix of Painkiller and the Underworld Hard and Soft, One Inch Punch and United Mix versions of Barrel Of A Gun.
Elsewhere on earth, most countries just went for CD releases. Germany released a version of 12BONG25 but I don't have that to show you as I bought it on Discogs recently but the seller sent me the UK version. If that news has ruined your enjoyment of this blog, blame him.
Depeche Mode were back and back with a bang. As you can imagine, I was ridiculously excited by all this and blasted my CD singles on repeat much to the delight of my flatmate and friends in Aberdeen.
The band were clearly able to function with the departed Mr Wilder and despite all they had been through in the years since the end of the USA94 tour. Their next single would mark the return of the classic Depeche Mode sound and we'll find out whether or not it is any good next time.