Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: Nation Of Language “A way forward”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Nation Of Language
Album Title: A way forward
Year released: 2021
Details: Limited edition, red/blue split

The skinny: One of the pitfalls of creating a Best album of the year list before the year in question is even over is that you’re bound to miss an album or two, one of which might’ve made it on to said list had it been heard in time. Such is the case with Nation Of Language’s terrific sophomore release “A way forward”. Given that it was released so late in the year, December 2nd, 2021, to be precise, I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t the only music blogger kicking themself for not giving this one its due. I had really liked the New Order and OMD synth pop of the trio’s debut the previous year, the aptly named “Introduction, presence” but with all the craziness that was last December, I only gave “A way forward” a cursory spin upon its release. Then, early on in the new year, I happened upon their live performance at KEXP on YouTube and was completely blown away and drawn to rediscover the album. Not long after that I was procuring on of these exclusive, limited edition blue/red split vinyl pressings from Rough Trade and its been on my turntable off and on ever since.

Standout track: “Across that fine line”

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2003: #26 Black Box Recorder “Andrew Ridgeley”

<< #27    |    #25 >>

Black Box Recorder was formed in 1998 when Luke Haines, who had found previous success with his Britpop-era band The Auteurs, formed a duo with former Jesus and Mary Chain drummer John Moore and the two of them approached Sarah Nixey to provide vocals. I myself didn’t get into the synth-based, indie pop trio right away. In fact, it was my friend Tim that suggested I give their 2003 album, “Passionoia”, a go, likening their sound to that of Saint Etienne but with the dark lyrical content of The Auteurs. Tim was dead on and of course, I loved the album right off. Unfortunately, like most of Haines’s projects around that time, the project was short-lived, and “Passionoia” ended up being the group’s third and final album.

Track seven on said album was a fun number called “Andrew Ridgeley”. That’s right. That Andrew Ridgeley.

“I never liked George Michael much
Although they say he was the talented one”

A portrait of the artist as young music fan is turned on its head in Haines’s hands. He writes a fictional version of singer Sarah Nixey’s youth, who dutifully reads her lines in that fabulous sing/speak thing she does. A lovelorn teen who buys her first record because of the lesser known half of Wham!, and then discovers the reason why you should never meet your heroes. Randy Andy tumbles down from the sparkling clouds in her eyes when she spies him many years later and she realizes he is only human.

“I was brought up to the sound of the synthesizer
I learned to dance to the beat of electronic drums
I came alive to the smouldering fire in your eyes
I love you now and I will til the day that I die”

Musically, “Andrew Ridgeley” is a synth pop suite in three movements: the tentative and twinkling verses, the picked up and thunderous dance floor choruses, and finally, the breathy and joyful puffed up clouds. If only all pop music was this smart.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

Categories
Tunes

Top five tunes: Depeche Mode (21st century edition)

Who? Depeche Mode

Years active: 1980-present

Band members:
Dave Gahan (vocals) 1980-present
Martin Gore (vocals, keyboards, guitars) 1980-present
Andy Fletcher (keyboards, backing vocals) 1980-present
Vince Clarke (keyboards, lead and backing vocals, guitars) 1980–1981
Alan Wilder (keyboards, piano, drums, backing vocals) 1982–1995

Discography (21st century):
Exciter (2001)
Playing the angel (2005)
Sounds of the universe (2009)
Delta machine (2013)
Spirit (2017)

Context:
As it stands right now, Depeche Mode will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in just over two weeks. This year’s ceremony was pushed back from the spring, when it is traditionally held, and now, instead of a live event, a special is due to be televised on HBO on November 7th. In any event, we’ve been assured the induction will happen and in their 40th year in existence, Depeche Mode, the iconic synthpop and alternative rock band will be a part of the action.

At the beginning of 2020, I came up with this idea of celebrating Mode’s 40 years by doing a three-part series focusing on some of their best tunes over the years. I usually try to distill a band’s or artist’s best tunes down to a top five for this series but given this band’s longevity, how long I’ve been following them, and how much their music has meant to me over my own bunch of decades, I decided to spread it out over three top five tunes posts, each focusing on a portion of their career. I posted part one on Depeche Mode’s first and most prolific decade together, the 1980s, back at the end of January. I was hoping to have this whole series wrapped up by the end of July but didn’t get around to posting part two on the band’s 1990s catalogue until pretty much the end of August. Here we are now nearing the end of October and I’m finally presenting the third and final chapter, the one where I will count down my favourite five of their tunes from the 21st century. Yeah. I did it.

I actually thought after posting the last part in this series that the steam I managed to gather would carry on and I’d just bang this one out right away. I honestly didn’t know how much I’d have to write about them after all I’ve done so far. The 80s and 90s were my favourite Depeche Mode years by far. Still, they’ve managed to stay very relevant this century, releasing a new album every four years since 2001. And though I haven’t been as excited about a new release since 1997’s “Ultra”, I’ve stopped and paid attention to each of the five albums the band released when they came out. And on each, there’s been at least one or two excellent tracks worthy of this iconic group and their storied discography.

So yeah, the 21st century, Depeche Mode worked with Mark Bell, Ben Hillier, Flood, and James Flood. They flirted with techno and all of its derivatives, all styles of music upon which Depeche Mode was one of the greatest influences, and though the results were decidedly mixed, it showed that the band was continuing to forward think. Indeed, Depeche Mode have never been a band to rest on their laurels and bank on past successes and the five tunes below will highlight some new classic tunes that are just as timeless as anything they’ve produced in the past. If they continue the trend that they started back in 2001, we should be seeing new music from the trio in 2021 but until then, have a gander here at their recent past and of course, sit back to enjoy the music.

The top five:

#5: Peace (from “Sounds of the universe”, 2009)

We start this top five with the second single released off Mode’s 12th (!) studio album, 2009’s “Sounds of the universe”. Martin Gore, the band’s principal songwriter, has called it one of his favourite songs he has ever written, this on account of its ’spiritual’ feel. David Gahan, the main voice of the group has said that for him, “it represents the joy and ecstasy of everything looking better, tasting better, sounding better.” The song starts off all heavy percussive low end synths with high end electronic beats, flittering and frittering digital party streamers, and then, more synth washes give way to breakbeats and other flourishes, Gahan gets all exultant, even breaking out the falsetto just before that breathtaking chorus, yeah, an unusually optimistic note, the repetition of the refrain: “Peace will come to me”. Gore joins in and it all sounds like we should be hearing this from the highest peak, monks and other spiritualists and the like.


#4: A pain that I’m used to (from “Playing the angel”, 2005)

From uplifting and optimistic, we move directly into more familiar Depeche Mode territory: sleek, dark, and sexy. The opening track off 2005’s “Playing the angel” was released as its second single. It is like the older and wiser and infinitely more lecherous cousin to “Master and servant”. “There’s a hole in your soul like an animal with no conscience, repentance unknown. Close your eyes, pay the price for your paradise. Devils feed on the seeds that are sown.” It feels kind of like industrial light, some bass heavy drumming, half human and half computer, alarming tidal wave synths wash and crush, left and right. Gore breaks out some guitar chops, dusting off the rock and roll stance. Everyone wears sunglasses here. Purgatory and pain. Angelic voices with broken wings. Atonement does not come easy.


#3: Where’s the revolution (from “Spirit”, 2017)

The first single from 2017’s “Spirit”, Depeche Mode’s last album to date, was a real eye-opener and call to arms. This isn’t the sound of a decades old band cashing in old cheques. No. This is Mode getting political, something they did on occasion, but haven’t for decades. “Where’s the revolution? Come on, people. You’re letting me down.” Tentative vibrations are answered by a twitchy and anxious beat, more of that industrial aesthetic, factory thumps and whistling steam exhaust, feet stomping like a military parade in a dystopian, fascist state. Fist pumps and salutes. Gahan is older but his voice has aged like fine whiskey and rather than grow stoic, he’s let the fire spread to conflagration. Fletch and Gore are right behind him, the muscle with arms crossed and sunglasses reflecting rage and moral superiority. These are big brothers but they’re not just watching, they’re calling you out to action.


#2: Dream on (from “Exciter”, 2001)

The runner up track on this particular list was the first single to be released by Depeche Mode in the 21st century. I’ve already written some pretty decent words on this very track when it made an appearance at number 18 on my Best tunes of 2001 list. So excuse me, while I plagiarize myself a little bit here. “You can hear the influence of producer Mark Bell (LFO, Björk) with the EDM beats throughout the record but here, it’s augmented by a bluesy acoustic guitar riff that just doesn’t quit. Dave Gahan’s vocal work is almost soulful and old-timey, clear and front of the palette of the austere production with Martin Gore adding his usual flourishes at opportune moments. Gore’s song subject is an addict hitting rock bottom and you feel that he is a addressing a woman he could love if she would give him the chance. But it’s Gahan that is singing the words and he does so from a place of experience.”


#1: Precious (from “Playing the angel”, 2005)

There’s a very good reason that there’s two songs on this list from 2005’s “Playing the angel” and that’s because, in this blogger’s humble opinion, that album is Depeche Mode’s best album since the 1990s. And this particular track, “Precious”, is the group’s best in a very, very long time. It’s got all of the hallmarks of Depeche Mode at their peak. A driven beat, dark and insular tones, an atmosphere of its own, nay, a world of its own, a wicked hook, and a draw to the dance floor. Not just any dance floor though. I’m thinking of your local vampire bar, dry ice and lasers, leather and PVC everywhere, dyed black hair and tattoos and piercings, and yeah, perhaps some sharp fangs. Martin Gore was at the top of his game when composing this wonder and David Gahan invoked some deep romance in his vocals. “If God has a master plan, that only He understands, I hope it’s your eyes He’s seeing through.” It’s precious and beautiful and pure Depeche Mode. Let’s hope we hear more of this very soon.


For other top five lists in this series, click here.