The theoretical appeal to me about Depeche Mode was always that they were moodier and “darker” than other synthpop bands. But I must admit it took me some time to get there, both because it’s synthpop (a genre I don’t particularly like) and because their distinctness from other synthpop bands has always been somewhat overblown.
But, over time, I’ve come to see them as truly being distinct, not just because of Gahan’s voice, and the overall moody sound but because Gore’s songs are very much those of a songwriter, not someone who found a synthesizer first and then tried to figure out how to write songs with it. And as with other albums from their “peak” era, it’s clear that Gore has spent more time writing his songs than most of his contemporaries.
Of course Gahan and the aesthetic help sell these songs. It’s hard to imagine these songs working as well as they do in the hands of most other UK synthpop acts. (Can you imagine the Human League performing these songs? It would not be the same.) I also appreciate that there are touches – just the barest touches – fo conventional instrumentation. I suppose those are samples, but I still appreciate their existence. (There is a piano credit, I think. Thank science for a piano.)
There’s also something about Gore’s songs and something about Gahan’s voice that really combine to make these songs sound less dated than much of the work by their contemporaries. Yes, it still sounds unmistakably ’80s, but a little bit less than some.
Anyway, it’s a very solid record. I have no idea where it ranks in their discography because I haven’t listened to anywhere near all of it and haven’t listened to anything by them in quite some time. But if I have to listen to 1986 synthpop, let it sound like this.