Music For The Masses

Depeche Mode

Sire/Mute Records, 1987

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


The red megaphones on the cover say it all. Depeche Mode has a major announcement to make: “We have returned to take over the world, and that includes you, America!” As their first fully realized album statement, Music For The Masses is where Depeche Mode crossed over to the Big Time. It made the five albums that came before it pale in comparison, and caused the UK band of four to become so huge in the US that they sold out the Pasadena Rose Bowl, as documented in their groundbreaking D.A. Pennebaker film, 101. An achievement like that was simply unheard of, especially for an alternative, synth-pop act. No one was more surprised at their dumb luck than the boys of Depeche Mode themselves.

Producers David Bascombe and Daniel Miller were two gentlemen who saw promise in Dave Gahan, Martin L. Gore, Andrew Fletcher and Alan Wilder right from the start. They brought out their talent in ways that no other producer had been able to do up to that point in their career. It wasn’t that the members were squandering their potential; it was just they were having trouble seeing the big picture. Group founder Vince Clarke was the only member who had such a premonition, and he was so uncomfortable by what he saw that he jumped ship after recording their debut album, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Speak & Spell. The other members weren’t about to settle for just five minutes of fame; they wanted their music to be heard around the world. Bascombe and Miller then set about in making the Depeche Mode sound bigger and bolder than they ever had been before. The result is the first DM album that I ever dared to buy and the one that really caught fire with radio programmers and college students alike. No longer was Depeche Mode going to be designated for nonconformist rebels or gloomy malcontents only. The new and improved Mark II version of the band was going to have something that everyone could gravitate towards.

Music For The Masses is a substantial listen, clocking in at over an hour in duration. It can basically be split up into thirds. The first section consists of the hits “Never Let Me Down Again” and “Strangelove,” as well as the understated lead-off single “Little 15.”  The immediate impression that a bombastic cut like “Never Let Me Down” makes is that Depeche Mode was determined not to play it safe this time around. Orchestral sounds help to flesh out the impressive synth work, and the heavy percussion of the many upbeat tracks is also a notable change. The second section of the album is my personal favorite, with perversely irresistible numbers like “I Want You Now” and “To Have And To Hold” sandwiched between a couple of throw-down dance tunes, “Behind The Wheel” and “Nothing.” The final portion of the album contains the intense 101 opener “Pimpf,” as well as some remixes just for fun. Also to be found is a New Order-style bonus track “Pleasure, Little Treasure,” which was also featured on the soundtrack to the Michael J. Fox film Bright Lights, Big City.

The only thing that would have made this album even better in 1987 would have been the inclusion of Depeche Mode’s brilliant remake of “Route 66,” which had been merged with “Behind The Wheel” for the 12” single release. Thankfully, the track has been added to the newly minted Deluxe edition of Music For The Masses, though you’re going to have to spend over thirty dollars for the rare privilege. I’d only recommend making this major investment if you don’t already own the original, which I sincerely hope you already do. Are you listening, my fellow Daily Vault writers? The red megaphones are now sounding off in your direction…

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2009 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sire/Mute Records, and is used for informational purposes only.