Depeche Mode already started experimenting with dark themes on their fourth album, especially as Martin Gore grew into a great songwriter. Though this is far from their darkest release, this is where Gore held nothing back and let his bleakness infiltrate everything. This album also saw them grows as musicians with impressive synth riffs that are eerie, haunting, and on various occasions make you dance.
The opening title track sets up an eerie mood with a distorted voice slowly saying the title of the song that’s matched with unsettling music. This alone lets you know the dark direction they were heading. As the track goes on the synth keeps getting more intense and heavy creating this unnerving mood. Though everything about the track paints a dark picture, the lyric “I want to take you in my arms/forgetting all things I couldn’t do” makes it seem like it’s about the comforting embrace of a lover. No matter how black your days may get, you have someone to brighten your day.
Things get downright creepy on “Fly on the Windscreen – Final.” If the intense heavy breathing didn’t get under your skin, the weird, random sounds at the beginning may do the trick. Though the beat gives you something to dance to you know where it’s going when you hear the opening line: “Death is everywhere/there are flies on the windscreen.” That one lyric is so damning as it makes you aware of your own mortality. What’s interesting about the song is even though the verses paint depressing images, the chorus of “Come here/kiss me/now” gives it this unexpected sensual tone, especially when Gore comes in with “Touch me” the second time it’s sung. It’s a weird mix of the unsettling and the sexual that makes it a stand out track.
It’s no secret that old school Mode fans had a crush on Martin Gore and here he let’s his chops shine as he sings on almost half of the songs. He sounds sweet as his vocals loop over one other on “Sometimes” while he sounds bittersweet on “It Doesn’t Matter Two,” especially when he sings “though it feels good now/I know it’s only for now” pointing out how fleeting pleasure can be. His best vocal take comes in the form of “Question of Lust.” His soft and gentle manner with the lyrics makes him perfect for the track. It’s a sweet song in the middle of this bleak LP that manages to keep the listener going with impressive use of synth.
Another great track that sees Gore in the spotlight is “World Full of Nothing.” It’s a slow track with a muted, quiet vibe allowing you to hear every facet of the music. The lyrics are pretty sad with how they describe a girl who knows her boyfriend doesn’t mean what he says, but she’s so lonely she’ll believe it for one night just to feel someone’s embrace. If you aren’t paying attention to the lyrics it’s easy to mistake the song for something nice since Gore sounds so sweet.
“A Question of Time” is one of the best tracks on the album. The music is really catchy with a pulsating synth that will get stuck in your head whether you like it or not. Something about it is really fun, upbeat, and energetic. Like most of the tracks here, this one also has dark connotations. The line “Now you’re only fifteen/you look good” makes it sound like he’s lusting after this young girl, but as the song goes on and Gahan sings about wanting to take the girl “under my wing” makes it seem like he wants to protect her. I guess no matter how you see it, it’s creepy either way; maybe that’s the entire point of the song.
“Stripped” is another great track with an industrial feel to it. It begins with one stark isolated chord following by a running motorcycle engine setting up the beat. The hard hitting drums and the main bouncing riff set up the heaviness of the track. Though it seems to be about finding time to spend with your lover, everything about the song is dark, especially in terms of the music. There’s one line that stands out in particular: “You’re breathing in fumes/I taste when we kiss.” It’s one of those lyrics that makes you stop and think what the hell does that mean? It’s a great visual lyric that comes from of their underrated singles.
The guys get political on “New Dress” that finds them describing horrible scenes of war, destruction, and death going on in the world while all Princess Di can do is get a new dress. It’s condemning those in office and might be a jab at the media who are worried about superficial matters, rather than trying to report on real news. It’s a bold statement from the guys, but an interesting way to get their message across. Unfortunately, if you have the US edition of the album, the closing track is “But Not Tonight,” which is one of their cheesiest singles. The synth is horribly dated and the lyrics are pretty cheesy, yet it manages to be catchy. It’s decent, but it doesn’t fit in with the bleak vibe of the LP. If anything it sounds like it comes from one of their first albums. It should’ve been a b-side instead.
Overall, the album gets 9/10. Though Depeche Mode would go on to create better, bleaker, and darker albums along in their career, this is still an impressive album. It shows their further shift into unsettling subject matters along with the growth of Martin Gore as a song writer. There really isn’t a bad track to be found here: some are fast and make you want to move, while others are slow making you mull over the lyrics. While this album has its share fair of notoriety, it constantly gets overshadowed by their later work. While Violator and others are some of their key LPs, this one deserves just as much attention.