No more wet behind the ears floppy-fringed boyband with crap keyboards and even worse jumpers (albeit one with some ridiculously catchy tunes), by 1984 Depeche Mode were post experimental serious tune pushers. The term ‘experimental’ in Depeche’s case at this point in their careers meant experimenting on being experimenters. If ‘Construction Time Again”s hit-and-miss industrial moodiness was a departure record (for every runaway train techno of More Than A Party there was the six-form, slightly weak ‘Landscape Is Changing), next record ‘Some Great Reward’ was were it all began making sense. Compared to said previous LP, this one had more possible hits, and more crowd pleaser tunes ripe for touring.
Right from the crepuscular, heavy opening bars falling like rain that is Something To Do it’s clear we’re in for a fresh new Depeche sound, modernist and up to speed with those all new big 1984 studio sounds employed by many another band at the time (from OMD to Duran Duran, New Order to Frankie Goes To Hollywood). Listening to People Are People and Master And Servant in 2017, especially in the context of the whole LP, these tunes’ big pop sounds and chart shattering personalities kind of seem out-of-place with the rest of the record. This is partly to do with both becoming stand-alone entities to an extent, but also partly because both tunes’ sociopolitical effrontery and of its time, ‘new-toy’ production feel lent both an inclination to sound rather more dated than the rest of the record.
Stories Of Old’s grubby splendour and finely drawn, sea-shanty oddness comes across as more impressive, for a start, as does the especially still fresh If You Want To, a bowels-of-the-submarine, offcut ambient start that slabs into a 4/4 beat and a carousel, Punch and Judy-esque sinister sort of fanfare. Elsewhere, Martin Gore debuts on vocals, offering first glimpses of what would become usual album fixtures of his tender dark love– Somebody, and It Doesnt Matter. But arguably the record’s most surprising moment is third single release– and the best of them– Blasphemous Rumours. Gore here questioning the idea of religious belief in purely straight-up and non stealth terms. Strange choice for a single, but a brave one allthesame. Being on indie imprint Mute probably allowed it to happen. Still, you wonder if such a single would be released today in what are– in many ways– more safe and conservative times for pop music.
Depeche Mode would confound expectations even further; in bigger, darker, more confident styles over the course of another four LPs (right up to crucial creative and ideas headman Alan Wilder’s departure in 1994). But the start of this graph of near classic consistency began right here with the release of ‘Some Great Reward’.