Few who witnessed the birth of Depeche Mode in 1980 could have predicted how much they would influence the path of popular music for the next two decades. Love them or hate them, Depeche Mode tunes have inspired musicians across the spectrum, from pure pop and house to industrial, from goth to hard rock. Depeche Mode Remixes 81-04 is essentially a celebration of that influence - a loving tribute to the group from the many musicians they touched.
The 3CD collection is admirable in its inclusiveness - paying homage to every period of both Depeche Mode's development and the development of popular music as a whole. But while it ostensibly includes most of the group's biggest hits, it never settles into the comfortable groove of a "greatest hits" compilation. Instead of a generously portioned but predictable feast of Depeche Mode classics, here we meet a curious, challenging and sometimes delightful mezze of musical styles. This is exacerbated by the apparently random arrangement of the tracks - with experimental '80s break-beats sitting shoulder to shoulder with exuberant early '90s hard house and sleazy deep-house from the new millennium.
Throughout this collection you get the feeling that you are being encouraged to hold the music at arms length, to examine it, to absorb it at a cerebral level rather than just enjoying its visceral pleasures. This impression is cemented further by the philosophical ramblings of the sleeve notes, which explore the history of the remix, and interweave it with Depeche Mode's own history. This extract gives a small taste of its tone: "The idea of the remix, the idea of something that tampers with fixed states, and one track minds..."
The one prerequisite of enjoying this collection is at least some pre-existing enjoyment of Depeche Mode. The majority of the tracks are too warped, avant-garde or just plain weird to make them any kind of introduction to Depeche Mode's original music. That's not to say that the collection is a pretentious, card-carrying-fans-only affair. On the contrary, many casual fans (like me) may find their appreciation for the group growing as they listen to the extraordinary sonic gymnastics that they have inspired. But if electro-pop or electronic in general is your idea of hell - then you should steer well clear.
Given the cerebral, almost clinical nature of the collection it's hard to recommend "good" tracks or denounce "bad" ones. A couple of the more extreme manifestations, such as Daniel Sherwood's deconstructed version of "Are People People?", are downright disconcerting. But there is not one lazy, limp or hackneyed offering in the whole collection - they all have their own unique energy and purpose - they are lovingly crafted by top musicians. Whether you enjoy them all or not is almost beside the point.
All that said, there are a couple of tracks where Depeche Mode's vision is picked apart, rearranged and then seamlessly re-woven in an appealing and truly extraordinary fusion of two great compositional talents.
Francis Kevorkian's track, a dreamy, sample-heavy remake of "Policy of Truth", is one. Its subtle layers of point and counter-point swirl gracefully around the original track's melody, paying tribute without giving up its integrity. The minimalist electro pulse of Chamber's 2001 version of "I Feel Loved" captures the essence of the darkly moody original and magnifies it into something more alien and yet more coldly beautiful.
When Kruder and Dorfmeister apply their peculiar laid-back genius to "Useless" the result is astounding. Warm waves of electro-funk wash over the listener, tinged with the original vocals that cut through the warmth like ice crystals, comforting and disturbing in one fluid moment of sound. Also check out Danny Tenaglia's carefree and gorgeously sleezy trance house mix of " I Feel Loved".
"Depeche Mode Remixes 81-04" is guilty of many things - pride, musical pretension, unreasonable worship of a '80s pop band and general self-indulgence. But these faults are also its great strengths. Depeche Mode were (and are) a truly great group - much greater than most people gave them credit for being at the height of their popularity. The fans who put together collections like this one are focussing that love in a tangible form - a kind of sonic statue to the group that gave them so much pleasure.
- Alistair Fairweather
WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAID:What makes a Depeche Mode remix worth a listen is the wide latitude that's allowed to the remixers...it's as if the remixers are performing their own version song--without losing the core of the original tune."- Scott Stegenga, Live Daily"If you're a Depeche beginner, you'd be much better off with their greatest hits albums. This one is really for fans only. But it's a real treat for us fans."- Mark Edwards, Stylus Magazine"IF you don't already own the depeche mode back cataloge of singles then this is a FIVE star collection. Some of these mixes are absolute classics."- Thomas Arnold on Amazon.com
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