t's 1981: the world has fallen under the spell of plinky-plonky music performed by effete blokes in frilly shirts and trowled-on make-up. Among the new wave of bands—Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet—were four lads from a grotty new town called Basildon. They mimed at their own gigs, bounced around on stage and had as much chance of longevity as a fart in a hurricane.
2004. Duran Duran have just released a new album. Other up-and-coming bands from that era, like The Cure and U2, are bigger and possibly better than ever. And those boys from Basildon? They’ve just released a compendium of an art-form they made their own: the remix. Yes, they lasted longer than anyone could have predicted. Over the last two and a half decades, Depeche Mode have gone from being a frothy pop blip to world-slaying stadium rockers with an incredible back catalogue and probably the most interesting history out of all their contemporaries. Because while Duran, U2 and The Cure have pretty much stayed the same throughout their long careers, Depeche Mode have transformed themselves—or rather, remixed themselves—time and again. There was that Vince Clarke-led pop phase, the S&M for beginners phase, the Anton Corbijn-inspired moody phase, the heroin phase, the long-haired Jesus phase and, most recently, the elder statesmen of electronica phase. And along the way they’ve written some incredible songs.
This album, which is made up of three CDs, collects together 23 years of remixes of Depeche Mode songs, in seemingly random order, with the oldest dating back to those innocent pre-heroin-addiction days. The 12-inch single was only just becoming a commonplace format in 1981 (The Who’s “Substitute” was the first 12-inch, back in 1976) and remixing was pretty primitive in those days. The versions of “Shout” and “Just Can’t Get Enough” here sound like dusty museum pieces. The mixes of songs from the mid-eighties aren’t really worth the price of admission either, apart from a completely nuts mix of “People Are People” by Adrian Sherwood which sounds like a Playstation having a nervous breakdown.
Far better are the more recent songs—those from the Mode’s golden period, when they released three glorious albums on the trot: Music for the Masses, Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion. The first CD starts with Dave Bascombe’s remix of “Never Let Me Down Again”, one of the most brilliantly-overblown songs complete with one of the funniest couplets of all time: “Promises me I’m as safe as houses, as long as I remember who’s wearing the trousers”. You had to be on smack to sing that with a straight face. Marilyn Manson’s cover of “Personal Jesus” reminded us how great the original was—and it’s represented here by Francois Kerkovian’s “Pump Mix”. Ah, don’t you just love the names of remixes? The best title here is the “The Pleasure of her Private Shame” remix of “Lie to Me” by LFO.
As well as showcasing how many great tunes Martin Gore has written over the decades, this album reads like a Who’s Who of DJs and remixers. The Beatmasters contribute their witty mix of “Route 66” (with samples from “Behind the Wheel”, which is absent from these CDs despite being one of the best songs ever); Timo Maas gives us a version of “Enjoy the Silence” which isn’t as good as Mike Shinoda’s (much as it pains me to praise a member of Linkin Park); and William Orbit shows why Madonna was so desperate to work with him with an atmospheric mix of “Walking in my Shoes”. There are some killer contributions from DJ Shadow and The Beloved’s Jon Marsh too, who manages to make “World in my Eyes” sound like, well, a Beloved track.
Most of the best stuff is saved for the third, “bonus” CD, which is part of the “limited edition” set—yeah, it’s probably as limited as a Big Mac, but that’s marketing for you. I’ve already mentioned a lot of the stuff on this disc, but best of all is a dreamy reworking of “Halo” by Goldfrapp, complete with her own vocals. It actually improves on the original. And by saying that, I point out the weakness at the heart of this collection: the originals are nearly always better than the mixes. If you’re a Depeche beginner, you’d be much better off with their greatest hits albums. This one is really for fans only. But it’s a real treat for us fans. And if you know several other Mode fans, you can gather them together and have your very own Depeche Disco. With 37 extended tracks, it’ll last nearly as long as Depeche’s career has.
Reviewed by: Mark Edwards
Reviewed on: 2004-11-10