Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Depeche Mode

  • Speak and Spell [Sire, 1981] C+
  • Catching Up With Depeche Mode [Sire, 1985] B+
  • Music for the Masses [Sire, 1987] B+
  • Violator [Sire/Reprise, 1990] C-
  • Songs of Faith and Devotion [Sire/Reprise, 1993] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Speak and Spell [Sire, 1981]
"New Life" is worthy of Eno at his most rhapsodically technopastoral, but most of this tuneful pap crosses Meco (without the humble functionalism), Gary Numan (without the devotion to surface), and Kraftwerk (without the humor--oh, definitely without the humor). You'd think after seventy-five years people would have seen through the futurist fallacy--an infatuation with machinery is the ultimate one-sided love affair. But then, this isn't futurism--they call it pop. C+

Catching Up With Depeche Mode [Sire, 1985]
Their second half-assed compilation in a year and a half finally gets it half right, putting a single sleeve around their most tuneful technotopia and death-fluff. Granted, it omits their only actual U.S. hit, "People Are People," already reprised to bait the dire Some Great Reward, baiting instead with the previously un-American Everything Counts EP, which holds up indifferently in such select company, though the squishy "Fly on the Windscreen" bookends the blasphemous "Blasphemous Rumors" neatly enough. But the collection has a structure, proceeding chronologically from young technotopian romance to slightly older technodystopian despair. First they "Just Can't Get Enough," then they ponder "The Meaning of Love," then they doubt "Love in Itself," then they play "Master and Servant." The little girls understand. B+

Music for the Masses [Sire, 1987]
When Vince Clarke departed Yazward in 1982, Fashion-in-a-Hurry's commercial doom was presumed sealed, whereupon Martin Gore went ahead and proved how easy it is to write ditties once you're in a position to exploit them. It's not as if anybody can, but at this point in pop's progress potential supply far exceeds potential demand. Yet only rarely is the production process altogether mechanical. Gore can't create without venting his shallow morbidity, which happens to mesh with a historically inevitable strain of adolescent angst, and he takes himself seriously enough to have burdened albums with concept and such. This time, however, the title announces his determination to give it up to his even shallower singer, David Gahan, who likes Gore's message because it's a good way to impress girls. Dark themes combine with light tunes until the very end of side two. Anybody with an interest in adolescent angst (adolescents included) can sob or giggle along as the case may be. B+

Violator [Sire/Reprise, 1990]
Fearing the loss of their silly grip on America's angst-ridden teens, who they're old enough to know are a fickle lot, they forge on toward the rap market by rhyming "drug" and "thug." And for the U.K.'s ecstasy-riding teens, who God knows are even more fickle, there's the techno-perfect synth/guitar sigh/moan that punctuates the easily rescinded "Policy of Truth." C-

Songs of Faith and Devotion [Sire/Reprise, 1993] Dud