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.