Possibly one of the most important electronic albums to have ever come out from the 80’s. It’s included in the book “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die”, among other important and quite influential albums. Music for the Masses (1987) was released 26 years ago this month. The album helped steer Depeche Mode into iconic status, reserved only for a few.
I first encountered this album in high school. To speak honestly, I did not know much on Depeche Mode. Back in middle school, I remember seeing a girl (unfortunately, I don’t remember her name) who would be sitting in front of me during seventh grade math class, wearing a Depeche Mode Songs of Faith and Devotion tour (1993) t-shirt. I’d look at it and think nothing of it. I’d ask around and no one had any answers of what Depeche Mode is or what they’ve done. Afterall, we were punk rock then.
Fast forward to 1997, freshman year in high school. Depeche Mode releases its anticipated follow up, Ultra (1997). I kept seeing ads for it in magazines. So of course, I bought it. Around that time, I was friends with an artsy girl named Reigna, a photographer whom I met through other friends. Ultra was on repeat in my portable CD player, and Reigna noticed. She offered to lend me one of Depeche Mode’s early albums for Ultra. And being good friends, I agreed. That was the first time I heard Music for the Masses. And as much as I loved Ultra, Music for the Masses was with me 24/7… copied onto a cassette, the CD slipped into my CD book. Once I found out that there was a VHS and live album, 101 (1989), there was no way that I would let this slip my hands.
Its influence, both Music for the Masses and 101, quickly infected my brain. At that time I was in and out of bands, making up a few and not even getting together to play. But mostly joined to play keyboards. I knew nothing about how to play a keyboard but knew enough parts of the whole 101 album. It helped develop my ear and figuring things out, besides being able to do that on bass or guitar. Martin’s writing really stood out to me, its simple yet structured songs really showed me on how to make something sound more complex than what it really is. I really took note of this and used it to my advantage! Singing, writing, structure of sound… I wanted to embody this, and I wanted to be known that I am a Depeche Mode fan. Hell, I wanted to be in Depeche Mode!
Music for the Masses, Depeche Mode’s sixth studio album, is host to their greatest musical change. It’s a period of absolute musical growth for the bands songwriter, Martin L Gore. Production is on point with the guidance of Alan Wilder (member of Depeche Mode from 1985 to 1995). Exceptional vocal performances by David Gahan. Direction and management, by none other than Andrew Fletcher. This album forced the band from its early synth pop roots towards its electronic rock transformation. Which helped mold the band to be a bit more harder sounding, both on record and live.
Some of the songs that help pushed the album are dancefloor favorite Strangelove, the albums haunting opener and concert staple Never Let Me Down, and their first turn into the rock world Behind the Wheel. Although popular, these singles are complimented with other strong and emotional songs. The flow of the album reaches different levels of longing and lust, Side A being a bit forceful and Side B being a more atmospheric and open. But the direction overall is the same, an uplifting energetic approach to a bleeding heart. Pure honesty and balance between love and lust, typical of a Depeche Mode song but only represented so skillfully by them.
Music for the Masses is produced by David Bascombe. He has worked on other important albums including So (1986) by Peter Gabriel, Songs from the Big Chair (1985) by Tears for Fears, X (2004) by Kylie Minogue, Supernature (2005) by Goldfrapp, the list goes on! This was his second album as producer, and is also credited as a mix engineer for all sorts of bands, singers, and genres. This marks the first Depeche Mode album not produced by Daniel Miller, head of Mute Records, or Gareth Jones. Jones helped out with the previous two albums, Some Great Reward (1984) and Black Celebration (1986), where as Miller has been present on all of the previous albums. So this drastically changed the overall energy of these recording sessions.
The artwork is done by Martyn Atkins, who did the artwork for the first five albums and would be the last collaboration until the video for Only When I Lose Myself from The Singles 89>98 (1998) compilation. It consists of a really plain sleeve of a light straw color. The main images are of the now iconic red speakers, both in the front and back of the cover. With four shots of it on the record sleeve. These images were made into reality by Anton Corbijn, who included them onto the stage design for their tour.
I think that it is absolutely impossible to sit through this album and not feel the energy that is brought out. It’s enough to push levels of sensitivity and fragility to the front but also have a passionate, romanticism present. The musical tone, however, is heavier. This is probably the first time that their sound reflects that of a traditional band. Aggressive drums, more bass tones, and the more frequent presence of guitar. The synth pop sound is completely gone, slowly shed from album to album.
Overall, like I mentioned before, this is the stepping stone towards the Depeche Mode we currently know. And like any album, you would hope that the current precedes the previous, and the following will do the same. The album that follows is Violator (1990), and that is its own identity all together. I think that this album is great for electronic fans, rock fans, and pop fans. It really does cover all of the bases within one album.
PAIR THIS ALBUM WITH
Pascal Jolivet – Sancerre [Loire, France 2011]
This is a fantastic representation of a Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a light, crisp wine with a pale straw color, similar to the Music for the Masses cover. This Sancerre is nicely clean and dry that is simple and pleasing to the palette. At the nose, it has a semi sweet aroma but it keeps a cool and mineral taste. So it’s not going to be over powering to the point where it makes you pucker.
Although Sauvignon Blancs, in general, maintain a strong dry tone, Sancerres hold a softer, finer finish. Maybe not a good choice for a red wine drinker, but perfect for someone who likes to venture out of the typical white wines. Most of which maintain between the buttery, oaky, or even sweet descriptions. And anyone who is adventurous to try this out, will be surprised with how rich and enjoyable it is.
Vinyl & Vino rating: 4 out of 5
TOP FAVORITE TRACKS
Behind the Wheel
Never Let Me Down Again
Special thanks to my friend Alan for the wine suggestion! -Carlos