DEPECHE MODE by Dave Thompson


Some Great Reward
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 The biography of a synth-band the cognoscenti love to hate, but which has managed to thrive in the hothouse world of British pop and more recently in the US. Depeche Mode was among the first wave of early 1980s British bands who abandoned the previous generation's guitars and drum kits for the cool delights of new musical technologies. Identified with the ``Neo-Romantics''--a fashion-driven outgrowth of punk and new wave--the band's short, melodic songs and good looks made them teen idols but drew equal portions of acclaim and vitriol from critics and older listeners. The group's early albums were produced by Daniel Miller, whose independent Mute label midwived many important, more experimental synth-bands into existence. Together, Miller and Depeche Mode influenced the dance music of the late '80s and helped spawn the harsher ``industrial'' sound now popular in America and the UK. Thompson's book follows the group's founding by Vince Martin (who soon left to form Yaz with Alison Moyet), their early struggles to master their sound, and their ongoing search for critical legitimacy--even as they continued courting British teeny- boppers on TV and in fanzines. Though Thompson's (Red Hot Chili Peppers, not reviewed) reverence for his subjects gets wearisome, longtime fans will no doubt savor details of band members' personal lives. More interesting are the author's comments about synthesizers, sampling, and other music-making technologies (a brief disquisition on the way remixes can reconstruct songs, for example, making them palatable to almost any market, is fascinating). For American readers the book also sheds light on a rather obscure but important period of recent British pop history. Depeche Mode's Songs of Faith and Devotion was America's number-one album in early 1993; Depeche Mode: Some Great Reward--though not so terribly rewarding--will likely capitalize on that success. This book's treasures remain decidedly modest; it fails all too often to rise above puffery and reach a convincing level of critical integrity.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-312-11262-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994


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