Monday, August 18, 2014
Sweet Tooth Jukebox: Depeche Mode
You guys, it's been forever since we took a trip down memory lane and visited the glory days of pasty white folk emoting into the ether while sporting hairstyles that defied the laws of physics and good taste, aka my book Sweet Tooth's Greek chorus of new wave awesomeness. Let's get back to it, shall we?
Up next is Depeche Mode, a band that at first blush comes off as a gaggle of gay dudes who wouldn't know what to say to/do with a female if she showed up with cue cards and a map to her ladygarden. I mean, admit it, when you were dancing to "I Just Can't Get Enough" back in 1981 in your bedroom while fantasizing about lead singer David Gahan feeding you Fruit Rollups like a boss, you didn't even think for a minute that the fey fingertips hitting those synths behind him belonged to anyone but a first-tier nancyboy, amiright? Well you were wrong! That sissy's name was Martin Gore, the mastermind behind the band, and he's actually just a straight dude who liked to dress like a weird new wave lesbian, so there.
Now, there's not one person among us who has watched this band's legendary live show documentary Depeche Mode 101 and not come away thinking that David Gahan's butt has seen some serious man-action. Look how happy it is, wiggling all around like that. It was just bound to happen at some point, at least a few times, backstage, after the show, in a hot tub, while the other band members did each other's hair. But by all accounts, the men of Depeche Mode are all straight, which is one reason I've always had such shitty gaydar, because come on.
Anyway, enough about David Gahan and his tight white jeans. Let's talk about the music, which, for the purposes of this blog post, will concentrate on the era up through the band's high watermark, 1990's Violator.
There's much to love about Depeche Mode's '80s output. They were your secret boyfriends (and by "they" I pretty much mean David Gahan), the romantic loners you met underneath the bleachers to smoke weed and discuss hair products with before trying to get into their pants. Did you want something fun, dumb, and gay to dance to at the discotheque? Try "Just Can't Get Enough," "What's Your Name?" or "Boys Say Go!" Were you in need of some vaguely menacing yet melodic electro-industrial nonsense? Put on "More Than a Party," "Something To Do," or "Behind the Wheel." Or did you simply want something dark and sexy to listen to while lying on your bed with the black light on wondering if David in gym class was actually gay or just homoerotic? Try all of Violator, but particularly "World in My Eyes," "Personal Jesus," and "Blue Dress." If you were a youth growing up in the last decade of the Cold War, when we all thought it was possible we were going to bite it in some sort of idiotic nuclear fury, Depeche Mode's naked emotionalism and high, hilarious drama just kind of made sense, what can I say?
"People Are People") "Aren't rich businessmen the worst?" ("Everything Counts") "Wanna do some S&M?" ("Master and Servant") And, of course, "Would you please just shut the fuck up?" ("Enjoy the Silence")
And they did cheeky, idiotic things like rhyme "career" with "Korea" and got away with it! If I'd done that in my high school creative writing class I'd have gotten laughed out of the room, but then again, I wasn't David Gahan in tight white jeans. I was Tim, with the stupid curly hair in my face and the tight polyester pants. Amazing the difference that made.
Anyway, over the course of the decade, Depeche Mode quietly amassed a huge fan base in the U.S. by the time of 1987's Music for the Masses, without much by way of hit singles or blockbuster albums, and somehow ended up playing to sold-out crowds in stadiums across the country like they were U2 or something. I remember reading an item in Rolling Stone about the inexplicable popularity of Depeche Mode among squeaky clean college kids. It was kind of weird. Had they not heard "Blasphemous Rumors"? Maybe they had and they agreed that God had a sick sense of humor? Sure.
By the time the highly anticipated Violator rolled out in 1990, Depeche Mode were one of the biggest bands on the planet. "Personal Jesus" preceded the album and its video featured the band members hilariously visiting a brothel-type place in the wild west. And why not, I say? Might as well step that blasphemy up a notch.
I kind of lost track of the band after this album. Their next one, Songs of Faith and Devotion, dropped during grunge mania and the video for "I Feel You" featured my precious David Gahan writhing around with long hair and a Beetlejuice suit, but it came off like he was trying a little to hard to keep up with Alice in Chains or Soundgarden or some other early-'90s terrorism, and I just had to say "no." Really should give that album another try, now that it's twenty-one years later and we've all grown up a little bit.
Read all Sweet Tooth Jukebox posts here.