Lately, I have been obsessing over the elements (however small) of funk in new wave music. One of the byproducts of that movement would be danceability and eventually pop dominance. An early example of that danceability came with Depeche Mode. As a band, it has spanned the new wave era to pop and finally the modern rock category which it help define in the late ’80s.
For many Americans, our first exposure to Depeche Mode came with the international hit “People are People” from 1984’a Some Kind of Reward. Of course for others like myself who had the luxury of good college radio station at their disposal, songs like “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “Get the Balance Right” may have been our first introduction. Those singles were also club favorites in a time when dance music was very much in it’s own world.
For others still, it may have been the gay club circuit where “Just Can’t Get Enough” was a minor hit in America. Even as Depeche Mode was making a name for itself in the underground, MTV had unleashed all of the band’s videos all at once from it’s modest catalog of three albums (circa. 1983).
The true breakthrough came with “People Are People”, the first single from Some Kind of Reward. Immediately the song was adopted by the growing LGBT movement. In fact, the association led many to mistakenly tag Depeche Mode as a gay band. After all, most English bands with their moping male leads seemed less than manly to the typical middle American.
As the public became more aware of Depeche Mode and its poster boy lead vocalist Dave Gahan, it’s popularity began to spread beyond the college radio and club circuit. The toy-like nature of Vince Clarke’s Casio keyboard sound was long gone by now. The band began to focus on more sophisticated songs and subject matter. That in part was how Depeche Mode was able to tap into the psyche of its target demographic of open minded queer friendly youth so well.
Some Kind of Reward was a kind of manifesto for the detached teen that was not the target of more traditional rock bands. Martin Gore’s writing somehow channeled the inner feelings of remorse, isolation and angst that may have been unaddressed in the minds of delicate suburban teens. For everyone else this heavy material was wrapped in mostly danceable rhythms with beats ready for hip-hop sampling like “Lie To Me” and “Master And Servant”.
For all it’s hard charging dance songs, there were a few standouts like the brooding “Blasphemous Rumours” a song about the hypocrisy of religion. Now the band had something to say with each single. With just the right amount of controversy and a steady schedule of well timed singles, Depeche Mode’s influence would grow each year.
With subsequent releases building on their notoriety, they quickly outgrew college radio and became pop stars – so much so that they would be instrumental forerunners in propping up the new modern rock radio format.
Fast forward to now. Depeche Mode no longer commands the attention they once did, however their fanbase is loyal and growing due to the universal appeal of their message. For that reason, Some Kind of Reward would be re-issued in 2006 with a DVD as well as live versions of some tracks.
The truly remarkable thing about the the band was that they stayed true to their core audience throughout their meteoric rise to pop stardom (the same could be said of U2 and Peter Gabriel). The detached, isolated and misunderstood teens of suburbia could not have asked for any more than that.