Amanda Stock is a lifelong Depeche Mode fan from Chelmsford in Essex. She is one of my fellow writers on XS Noize and I was delighted that she agreed to share her views on Black Celebration for this project. Amanda's Depeche Mode history is rather impressive and includes seeing a gig on the Construction Time Again tour which makes me hugely jealous. She's also a bit of a fan of Mr Gahan. Anyway, in this piece, Amanda takes a look at two of the album's central themes - darkness and love. It's a great read and I know you're going to enjoy it. Why not tell her how much you loved it on Twitter @Amandastock1
DEPECHE MODE – BLACK CELEBRATION – AN APPRECIATION OF DARK LOVE
So it’s March 1986. I was 18. It was quite a lonely time being a Depeche Mode fan, in my working and friendship groups anyway.
I’d left secondary school two years previously and was working for Natwest Bank. All my friends were into the current soul and pop sounds (indeed, so was I) but I’d fallen in love with Depeche Mode since attending my first gig at Hammersmith Odeon on the Construction Time Again Tour in 1983.
I remember Mart’s appearance at the time causing some raised eyebrows, with his black camisoles, leather skirts and chains, and the music press seemed to focus on this aspect more than the music. His look was as a result to his move to Berlin, growing confident in who he was and enjoying the freedom and life of such a liberal city.
I was (still am) in love with the lead singer, Dave Gahan (a fact about myself I don’t speak of very much) and had enjoyed watching him grow in confidence as front man. When watching the band live on Top Of The Pops or any other pop entertainment show, my eyes were always drawn to him. He put so much energy into each performance and made watching a synth band much more interesting.
Dave’s baritone vocal was perfect for Black Celebration. Whilst Martin was singing more on this album than before and was utterly ace, Dave worked his little socks off on the other songs. His vocal on Dressed In Black in particular (although it’s hard to choose quite frankly) is sublime.
Black Celebration was the band’s darkest piece of work so far and a pivotal Mode release in that it was well received in America, and helped to shape their sound and production on their later album output.
From start to finish, the album flows beautifully– every song is perfectly placed, and every song has a deliciously dark atmosphere.
Plenty has been written about the “major players” from the album. The opening song, Black Celebration is a dark and delicious promise which sets the tone of the album perfectly. Stripped is an immense anthem of a track, ominously started with its sampled Porsche and motorbike sounds , and A Question Of Time, brilliantly energetic. Its video was the first directed by Anton Corbijn who was instrumental in changing the band’s visual image to something cool and classy.
There are three songs that stood out for me on first listen, the first being Fly On The Windscreen. I fell in love with this song instantly. From the opening menacing, “desert-like” synth beat and the mixture of incantations with spoken vocal, it is utterly captivating. Only Martin Gore could make the opening line “Death is everywhere/there are flies on the windscreen/ for a start” sound both bleak and sexy.
Its chorus “Come here/Kiss me/now” was a sultry plea - I still love it and it is still my favourite.
The way it fades into the fragile A Question of Lust is special– a complete contrast in sound without interruption and is an indication of the brilliant production.
A Question of Lust has one of the most gorgeous Depeche Mode choruses ever and at 3 minutes 20 seconds in, the goosebumps appeared when I heard the soaring chimes of synth which made the song almost a hymn.
“It’s a question of lust/It’s a question of trust/It’s a question of not letting what we’ve built up crumble to dust/It is all of these things and more/That keep us together” – Martin’s lyrics here are perfect at describing how love is.
I was also struck by It Doesn’t Matter Two. Singular synth notes start the track with a programmed “chant-like” vocal. And the “glockenspiel” sounds add an intensity to the song. For me, this was lyrically and musically perfect.
“As I lay here with you/The shame lies with us/We talk of love and trust…..it doesn’t matter”
Martin is adept at portraying love with dark undertones which for me, is what love is. It’s not always about flowers and happiness, it can be difficult, dark and all consuming.
Black Celebration has stood the test of time. The album’s central themes of love and sex are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago when I was lucky enough to first hear them. Black Celebration was so different to what was around at the time and it had a huge impact on me.
For those reading, who have never listened to a Depeche Mode album before, do me a favour and make this your first black celebration. You won’t regret it. Come and join the Black Swarm.