There were three bands that defined my love of 80's music. Thompson Twins, Pet Shop Boys, and Depeche Mode. Of the three, Pet Shop Boys has been my most enduring favorite (Thompson Twins quit long ago, though Tom Bailey has recently come back). As for Depeche Mode? Well... things happen from time to time that remind me why they were my favorite band for nearly 20 years, but it's been tough for me from Exciter onward.
Here's a ranking of their albums from love to loathe...
- 101 — Depeche Mode is at their best when performing live. Truth to tell, there are few bands which can compare to their live performances. And if one needs proof, you need look no further than 101 from their "Tour for the Masses." Not only did it include several songs off that incredible album, it included the best tracks from those that preceded it. Magic in a bottle. And still my favorite DM album.
- Some Great Reward — A remarkable album from just about any angle, it was the inclusion of People are People, Blasphemous Rumors, and Master and Servant that had me completely absorbed. It was right here that Depeche Mode became my favorite band on earth for decades.
- Black Celebration — I listened to this one nearly-continuously for a year after it was released. Decidedly dark in tone, it spoke to every corner of my soul as I headed into adulthood.
- Music for the Masses — Up until this album I was a big fan of the band... but I was a big fan of a lot of bands. And yet once I saw the "Tour for the Masses" and finally got to experience Depeche Mode live for the first time (see 101 above)... I was a big obsessive fan of the band. It was the album which brought true fame to the band here in the States (at last) but bigger things were yet to come. Would probably rank higher if 101 (essentially the live version) didn't exist.
- Songs of Faith and Devotion — The last truly great Depeche Mode album. I don't think it's a coincidence that it's also the last album to feature Alan Wilder. Mercy in You remains my favorite track by the band, but there was so much more to love on this album. There was a track-for-track re-release as a live album, and I think I actually like it better than the studio version.
- Violator It took a while for DM to break the USA wide open. Thanks to standout tracks like Personal Jesus and Enjoy the Silence, this was the album to do it. I loved it, of course, but older albums were still the ones I was listening to most.
- Construction Time Again — Some really great songs here as the band found its footing. Mostly thanks to the track Everything Counts, which went on to be a staple of their live shows.
- Ultra — After Alan Wilder left, I really didn't think that the band would be the same. And they weren't. Still, they did manage to rally with Ultra which was different, but not necessarily in a bad way. Half the album was as good as ever. The other half was meandering and kind of fell flat for me.
- Playing the Angel — When the first single, Precious, was released, I was flying high over the idea that just maybe the band had rebounded from the previous album (Exciter). And rebound they did. Sure the album version of Precious wasn't as good and there were a few tracks that never quite landed... I was still very happy with the album... and the tour.
- Sounds of the Universe — The last album by the band that I truly enjoyed. Not all of it... but enough of it. And the tour was fantastic.
- A Broken Frame — In their second album, things started coming together for the band. This was quite a feat given that their songwriter (Vince Clarke) had left.
- Speak & Spell — The first Depeche Mode album (and the only album with original member Vince Clarke) was pretty raw. But there were some gems to be had.
- Exciter — The first album by the band that truly disappointed me. A couple decent tracks, but nothing to write home about. They rebounded a bit, but never reached the heights we got from Songs of Faith and Devotion.
- Delta Machine — I do not, for the life of me, understand how the band got to this point. Before release, I was actually excited about Delta Machine — because there was talk they had returned to their roots. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was yet another album filled with angels and redemption, but was a joyless mess. I went to the supporting tour, but was only interested in the tracks that weren't from Delta Machine.
- Spirit — Hated every single song on it. Never bought it. Never saw the tour. Shocked that things could get worse than Delta Machine, but here we are.
I think I might have mentioned here over the years that Depeche are my favorite band of all time. Ever since I saved my allowance to buy Shake The Disease on 7″ single, they changed my life forever. This is the kind of music I’d listen to for the rest of my life. My teenage years were a mixture of The Smiths, The Cure, and Depeche posters on my bedroom walls. I bought all the 12″ remixes and have seen them 7 times in concert.
Armed with that I think your ranking is pretty accurate. The Alan Wilder years are their best without question. The run of albums beginning with Construction Time Again through Violator just sublime. I’m one of the few fans who didn’t like SOFAD that much and would place CTA above it. But otherwise you’re really onto something.
Now, the post Wilder years. Phew boy they’re tough. Quality control sorely lacking. It started off well with Ultra and I must say I still listen to that to this day. Then the wheels came off. Exiter arguably their worst album. No redeeming tracks whatsoever and I feared the worst. Then out of nowhere came Playing The Angel. My favorite of the post Wilder albums and produced some gems. Any album that has Precious and Nothing’s Impossible on it can’t be bad.
Subsequent albums got worse and worse. Releases were no longer something to look forward to. Delta Machine just terrible and up there with Exiter. Spirit I almost didn’t bother listening to. Kevin Spencer aged 17 would have not believed it for a second. A real shame all told. They’re still my favorite band, but I only listen to tracks from their golden years.
Exciter was just so… bad. But to me, Delta Machine and Spirit were so much worse. It’s kind of strange that they’ve gone in a direction I can’t follow them, but I just can’t. The last two albums were so awful.
Heh, thank you for correcting my appalling spelling of Exciter. But yes, couldn’t agree more, this is not our Depeche.