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Depeche Mode gets happier over time
Twenty years ago Depeche Mode was in a best of times/worst of times situation.
The British electronic pop group had released "Songs of Faith and Devotion," its first No. 1 album in both the U.S. and the U.K. and a critical triumph. But frontman Dave Gahan was in the throes of a worsening heroin addiction, Martin Gore was experiencing seizures, Andy Fletcher mysteriously bowed out of the 1994 portion of the group's touring schedule and Alan Wilder, feeling he "never received the respect and acknowledgement" he deserved, was disgruntled and decided to quit the group in June of 1995.
"I still love that album," Gore, the group's chief songwriter, says now, "but it was slightly hell to make it, and the tour that followed it was not one to remember fondly. But it was all part of an important learning process.
"I think that album and tour was the reason Alan decided to leave, and that was a big change for us and made us have to think in different ways."
Some fans may feel differently, but it hardly seems like Depeche Mode has suffered since then.
The remaining trio has reeled off five consecutive Top 10 titles on both sides of the pond, including this year's "Delta Machine." Add successful singles such as "Barrel of a Gun," "It's No Good," "Dream On," "Precious" and "Heaven" -- the latter of which hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs chart earlier this year -- and Depeche Mode seems to be in as solid shape as it's ever been since forming in 1980.
"Everybody gets on real well now," says Gore, 52, who last year launched a side project, VCMG, with Erasure's Vince Clarke, another former Depeche Mode member. "The atmosphere in the studio for ('Delta Machine') was really fun. I think that came through in the 'Angel' video that we put out; you can see were were laughing, not like a doom-laden atmosphere. It's just fun, now, which is a great way to make music even if that music's a little dark."
"Delta Machine" has, in fact, been greeted in many quarters as one of the finest album's in Depeche Mode's canon. Gore says it's icy, blues-flavored direction was "dictated by the instrumentation," which included a variety of modular rather than polyphonic synthesizers. "With those there's a tendency ot make aggressive, almost irritating sounds," he explains. "There are a lot of things on there that are right in your face, although there's some subtle things as well."
"Delta Machine" is Depeche Mode's third produced with Ben Hillier, but Gore says it was particularly impacted by the presence of Flood (Mark Ellis), a British producer and engineer who mixed the album -- his first project with the band since "Songs of Faith and Devotion."
"It's been a long while since we've actually let somebody mix a record for us," Gore notes. "We've always been there for the mix process and always had a lot of input, whereas this time it was Flood mixing the record in London and sending us the mixes, and then we'd give our feedback and he'd address it.
"Generally speaking, Flood's on the same wavelength as us and knows from working with us quite a bit in the past, and he's also a close friend of Ben Hillier's. So it was all very easy and felt very comfortable."
The same can be said of Depeche Mode's Delta Machine Tour, which has already played in Europe and begins its North American leg at the DTE Energy Music Theatre. The show makes use of films by longtime associate Anton Corbin and presents "a cross-section of tracks from throughout our career," according to Gore, with some emphasis on "Delta Machine," and he's confident that the music holds up alongside the visuals.
"I think as the years progress we sound more and more like a live band," Gore explains. "We've been working with a drummer (Christian Elgner) now for years and years, working with the same guy and the same keyboard player (Peter Gordeno). I just think there's a much rawer sound to our live shows than on our records, which is a good thing. It's felt good to go on stage every night."
Depeche Mode and Bat For Lashes perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $49.50-$99.50 pavilion, $34 lawn. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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