Tidal Catalog #5: Depeche Mode

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also though that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Flash forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I have ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more.

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
  • Compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before)
  • DVD releases are not considered.

Entrance Point: I had loved Depeche Mode for years. I had heard all albums through 1997’s Ultra at which point I had a drastic shift in musical tastes and kind of lost track of them. But from ’89 to ’95 or so, Depeche Mode was my jam.

Not Included: Recording the Angel (43 live CDs from their 2005/2006 tour – I mean I have to draw the line somewhere), Recording the Universe (2010 tour just like the above), Remix, Remix 2.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale.

  • Violator (10)

Violator was released in March 1990, which would have made me 14 at the time. I don’t remember everything about my musical experience that early on but I know that Depeche Mode’s sullen synth-pop was absolutely not my thing at that time. The closest I had probably gotten back then was The Cure’s Disintegration. But in my time walking to school (which was no more than 2 minutes from my house but I walked the long way to extend it to 10 minutes or so, to get more time with my disc player), I listened to Violator more times than I could count, however, in bits and pieces. Back in 1990 the technology obviously wasn’t the same as it is now and at 14 / 15 years old, I wasn’t listening to music to hear all the nuances in each track like I do today. Back then, “Enjoy the Silence” was actually the tune that got me to buy the CD and listen. I still sing “Personal Jesus” in the shower now and again but it was the second single and then follow up, “Policy of Truth” that got me into the band. And I loved every moment of this album from start to finish for years to come.

I’m very much into listening to albums as they were originally recorded and base my opinions off them. The original album would be a 10/10 anyway but do yourself a favor and get the 2006 remaster. This is where you get to hear all those aforementioned nuances come out in each song – all the atmosphere and the interesting bleeps and blips from the magnificent keyboard attack on this album.

Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence”
  • Music for the Masses (9.5)

Not counting the live chronicle, 101, Music for the Masses was the release prior to Violator and marked the last record of what would be considered early Depeche Mode. The title was tongue-in-cheek as the record label wanted them to make more commercial sounding music but the band wasn’t having it. In reality, Music for the Masses is kind of the bridge record of the group. It blended the pure synth-pop of previous work (such as “Behind the Wheel”) with the newer, gloomier, atmospheric side (such as “The Things You Said”) with relative ease. “Never Let Me Down Again” is a great lead track on the record and one of their best singles (among many great ones) and non-single “Sacred” is one of their greatest tunes that didn’t get released. Overall, it’s the most consistent record of their early period and was the record that really started moving them into different musical territory.

Depeche Mode, “Sacred”
  • Songs of Faith and Devotion (9.5)

After spinning Violator until I thought the disc was going to catch on fire, I was all over the follow up, Songs of Faith and Devotion. So now it’s 1993, I’m 17 years old and very much in tune with my musical tastes and the previous album had opened my eyes to a whole new set of dark synth-driven electronic tunes. So Songs of Faith and Devotion was a day one purchase for me, especially after hearing “I Feel You” about a month before the release, which really didn’t sound like anything Depeche Mode had done at that point. There’s such a magnificent blend of keyboards, noise and subtle rock riffs on that song that it stood out at the time as something pretty unique on the radio.

The entire album was darker and had more of a rock edge and by that, I don’t mean that it was a Pearl Jam record. For Depeche Mode that meant bringing Martin Gore’s guitar-licks up front in the mix a little more and even though it was definitely a dark synth-pop record and often very mellow, it has a different feel overall than the previous album.

My favorite song in the Depeche Mode catalog is on this album. “Condemnation” is a piano ballad – piano, bass, percussion, handclaps. It’s an amazingly beautiful song that often sounds like a hymn. It looks like it was released as the third single from the album, which I had no idea about since I’ve never heard it on the radio, even once. But overall, it’s a gloriously well made album but at least for me, this would mark the last must listen in their arsenal.

Depeche Mode, “Condemnation”
  • Black Celebration (9)
  • 101 (9)
  • Ultra (8.5)
  • Some Great Reward (8.5)

With Depeche Mode, early on they seemed to be more of a singles group rather than an LP band. “New Life” “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “Everything Counts” were great songs on inconsistent albums. But their 4th record here is where it finally really started coming together. Rather than have three or four really good tunes and a bunch of mediocre ones this album has at least six really good tunes out of the nine total. The BDSM lyrics of “Master and Servant” weren’t the only time that sadomasochism would show up in their songs and “Blasphemous Rumors” was a stunning closer to the record. Earlier, I said that I sung “Personal Jesus” in the shower a lot but I sing “People Are People” more often than any other Depeche Mode song. It’s their most upbeat single for sure and easily the closest thing to a hit from that early period.

Depeche Mode, “People Are People”
  • Songs of Faith & Devotion Live (8)
  • Spirit (8)
  • Delta Machine (8)
  • Playing the Angel (8)
  • Sounds of the Universe (7.5)
  • Construction Time Again (7.5)
  • Exciter (7)
  • Speak & Spell (7)
  • A Broken Frame (6.5)

This was one of those catalogs that I very much enjoyed listening to but don’t have a whole lot to say about as we go down the list. Their first three records were hit or miss for me, maybe a bit too basic in the end. And then after Songs of Faith & Devotion, I feel like they have kind of stayed the course for the rest of their career, not taking a whole lot of chances and making album after album of really solid yet ultimately familiar tunes.

Summary: 16 albums, Average 8.2