Friday, 1 May 2009

Sounds of the Universe

Depeche Mode have released their new album. Judging by what I saw on youtube prior to the release, I thought it would be their worst album. Then I heard the songs and think the album is very weak. It may be a commercial flop as it is even worse than the previous LP - Playing The Angel. Here I quote some comments from youtube that I liked, mine included.

When people start saying this album is better than Exciter and Playing The Angel, that goes to show you how bad it might be in their past 25 years. I might give it a chance against Exciter, but Playing the Angel had more thump and songs you knew you would go back to. This one, for me and speaking only for me, does not. Ghost and Oh Well the bonus tracks however, work for me.

Wilder left largely because he wasn't getting much credit for what he brought to the band. He brought much of that classic musicality and "darkness" that Depeche Mode is known for. And he said there was a lot of tension in the band and relationships were deteriorating. I'm a longtime DM fan, and the music just wasn't as good after Wilder left. So many speak about Gore and Gahan (and Fletch, ha ha) but don't speak of how much Wilder brought to their sound. Since around 1997, it seems they either are imitating their old styles, and presenting weaker versions of those older songs, or making lightweight songs like this that just don't have the musical or emotional heft that the Wilder-era songs did.

Make sure you listen to Liquid and Subhuman. There is no room there for random barely processed sounds I can get on any synthesizer. DM minus AW had professional musicians for Ultra and to a lesser extent for Exciter. They finally have two new guys from PTA on. All these options are not cheaper than Alan and far below in terms of performance. SOTU - M&D finally took production into their hands (Fletch playing with video camera). Result - the worst album bar A Broken Frame. Since Alan left...those guys don't know 1 tenth of Alan's arsenal as to how to create and prioritize sounds, how to compose song sequences, how to record perfect sound structure without participation in the loudness war. Ultra is still decent, but an army of musicians took part.

After listening to the album, I feel I'm ready to say that of the 4 albums DM released since Alan left, Ultra is the better one. This one, although some interesting ideas and throwback good ol' DMelectro sound, is not living up the high standards they've set up for themselves. Alan departure has left a very noticeable dent into their song making process and the essence of what DM was is gone since Alan left. Their work now seems sub par compared to their previous masterpieces. The last good song that Martin sang was Home from Ultra, after that, I don't know, it feels that they have lost their touch. Not impressed at all, and I'm a life-long DM fan.

Exciter was disappointing. Dull and under produced. Song sequences not developed at all - The Sweetest Condition, Breathe. Melodies became flat, sound uninspired. PTA is a recording disaster. Sound dynamics not only get smashed, but at this point it was the worst DM sound. Speak&Spell sound, although minimalist, was at least clear and functional. Random sounds defying basic principles of sound space (layers of backgrounds) don't let me enjoy PTE. I had a weird feeling when SOFAD cd was released. What I think now, Alan's role in production was diminished...Martin tried to be more artistically involved, Dave started to shout instead of singing while Alan became a drummer.

Actually Wilder co-produced "SOFAD" with Flood.. (Wilder learned to play a drum-kit while the album was being recorded..) "SOFAD" also features some of Gahan's and Gore's best vocals on any one DM Condemnation, One Caress


I just realized what this song reminds me of: Smashing Pumpkins. Take The Cardigans + Smashing Pumpkins on sleeping pills and you'll have "In Sympathy".
"Peace" sounds like a mix of Kraftwerk at their best and Erasure at their worst, with a little bit of The Beatles on the side.

Depeche Mode in their own eyes

Dave Gahan, 2003 : "Martin wouldn't acknowledge that Alan contributed incredibly much to Martin's songs. And now I think you can easily say Alan's input is missed. I actually think that even Martin would admit that today. And that is something he probably ought to call and tell Alan after all these years. He would definitely appreciate it."

Dave Gahan on Exciter's production :"Our producer on 'Exciter', Mark Bell, said that he really wouldn't make the entire album for us. So then i had to tell him some news: "Yes you f'u'c'king are!". And then he just pulled up his sleeves and went to work with the computer and Martin would look him over the shoulder and mumble "o.k."

Alan Wilder about DM : "Depeche Mode, these days, is essentially a Martin Gore solo project with Dave singing - it is bound to sound different and perhaps people just miss the translation onto record of 'band interaction' / 'chemistry' / 'tension' - call it what you will." "I still feel remixes are undertaken for the wrong reasons - as marketing tools - and that sours their effect for me."

Alan Wilder on the volume war, 2008 :

"We live in a world of technology - exponentially increasing breakthroughs in all things scientific. So fast that we can't even keep up with it. So why is it that the audio quality of music is degenerating? Music 'sounds' worse. We have stopped listening, we don't have time. We only have time to be smacked in the face by the loudest, most attention-grabbing blast of souped-up noise imaginable until ear fatigue sets in and the desire to 'change the record' takes over. Why are the adverts on TV twice the volume of the regular broadcasts?
It's the only way to get our attention in the VOLUME WAR.

In recent years, a revolution in processing technology has instigated a change in the way albums are mastered. In order to compete, A&R men, producers, even the artists are demanding that mastering engineers, via digital compression, crank up the level so high that all dynamic range is callously sacrificed.

(Compression essentially increases the volume of the quieter elements within a mix while holding steady the peaks of the louder parts)

The effect of excessive compression is to obscure sonic detail and rob music of its emotional power leaving listeners strangely unmoved. In fact, the ear naturally compresses high volume blasts to protect itself - this is why we associate compression with level. Our sophisticated human brains have evolved to pay particular attention to any loud noise, so initially, compressed sounds seem more exciting. It is short lived. After a few minutes, research shows, constant volume grows tiresome and fatiguing.

True excitement comes from variation in rhythm, tone, pitch and a wide range of dynamics which in turn provides space and warmth - something you're unlikely to find in much of today's rock/pop music. If you want a good example, listen to The Arctic Monkeys 'I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor' for a bombardment of the most unsubtle, one-dimensional noise."