Saturday, April 20, 2013

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Mosquito"; Depeche Mode, "Delta Machine"

It's been a while since I've had such a deep interest in such a polarizing album.  Some claim that it's badly produced (or conceived), sounding more like a set of demos recorded in a garage than a real album.  Why did they have to experiment with white boy dub, what were they thinking?  Everyone who likes it are giving them the benefit of the doubt for doing something different.  They're excited about their comeback and the NYT interview and the SPIN cover and feel the need to say something conciliatory about the music.

It's boring and doesn't rock like their other albums!

Actually, that last one is closest to the truth for me, as lazy as it sounds.  "Mosquito" requires a lot of  patience, it's more laid back and it doesn't make the effort to grab you from the opening notes of each track.    "It's Blitz" was YYYs finally blossoming into a 21st century Blondie, switching between disco and garage rock and swaying ballads with ease.  But people eventually stopped paying attention when they started overreaching with the Caribbean-tinged "Island of Lost Souls" from "The Hunter".  In trying to be different for the sake of being different, they lost touch with almost everything that made the band great.

"It's Blitz" was special because it was a different direction and was still immediate.  They'd done nothing remotely close to "Zero" before but somehow the shift in style felt natural.  "Mosquito" is treading a fine line -- on one hand, I love it when bands refuse to coast on what has worked for them in the past, and YYYs have been very successful in that regard.  But in listening to "Mosquito", I keep getting the feeling that they were in love with the idea of each song a little too much.  It's like they were sitting around smoking something strong and an idea dawned on them -- "hey, what's this reggae track we're listening to?  Couldn't we try writing something like this?" -- and they were determined to see it through no matter what.  Interviews with the band seem to bear this out too.

Have I mentioned that the lyrics to "Mosquito" (the song) and "Always" are horrendously bad?  I usually don't even hear lyrics until the third or fourth listen but these ones stood out for me right away.

But enough negativity.  I really like "Mosquito".  I have no idea if it will continue to grow on me or whether I'll lose patience for it in a few months.  The atmospherics in "Sacrilege" and "Subway" hooked me immediately -- not in the same way that the big choruses of "It's Blitz" did, but that's band evolution for you, and that's a good thing.  "Under the Earth" is where the dub warfare portion of the album starts to kick in, but I also hear a lot of Joy Division in its thudding basslines and spacey, stripped down arrangement.  "Area 52" gives a not to the older, garage band version of YYYs and combines it with this newer version of the band that covers their guitar solos with swarms of electronic noises.  Even the bizarre Kool Keith collaboration on "Buried Alive" doesn't sound as silly as it did on my first listen.  Finally, "Dispair" and "Wedding Song" are suitably dramatic endings for the album that would have fit nicely onto "It's Blitz".  


I was a bit down on the buildup to this album.  Of course I bought my tickets to see them on tour six months in advance and watched a bunch of the documentaries from the remastered albums again and the brilliant "One Night in Paris" DVD and the long walk/Pimpf scene at the Rose Bowl from "101" about 400 times.  Even though their albums are still consistenly good, they don't seem like events anymore.  The choice of the understated "Heaven" as the first single didn't help (it's good, but not "single" good and not "we're back after four years" good).  Is this the first tour when nobody will really mind if they don't play anything from their previous album?

Are Depeche Mode are in the "Steel Wheels '89" stage of their career, where they can come back after a few years away and tour stadiums without any questions asked?  The fact that they have a new album to tour behind might start becoming superfluous.  They're even about the same age as the Stones were in 1989 (how about that for making you feel old??), and that was also around the same time that any new Stones songs made an impact on radio or amongst more casual music fans.  They've released albums every four years going back twenty years, to 1993, and the pattern of spring release followed by year of touring is becoming a precise endeavour on par with the Olympics.

As time passes, I appreciate an album like "Songs of Faith and Devotion" more.  It was the most dramatic sonic shift of their career, but it still felt natural and their fans had no trouble buying into it.  In retrospect, their turn towards rock and more introspective, redemptive lyrics were exactly what they needed to fit into the 90's.  They didn't get swept away like so many other 80's superstars did, instead, they kept getting bigger. Their musical experiments didn't always work out and there was endless turmoil behind the scenes, but make no mistake, SOFAD was an event, and "I Feel You" was sonically massive enough to be the hotly anticipated follow-up single to an album as huge as "Violator".  I'm not sure that's ever been properly appreciated.

But enough negativity.  I really like "Delta Machine".  It's laid back and feels very organic, a lot like "Exciter".  Whereas "Sounds of the Universe" took vintage synths and incorporated them into the modern sounding Mode Machine, a lot of "Delta Machine" sounds like a more deliberate throwback to the past.  "Soft Touch/Raw Nerve" could almost be a rerecorded version of a song they originally released in 1982.  There are plenty of nods to late 80's EBM (i.e. most of the second half of the album), and "My Little Universe" might be the closest thing they've ever done to honest to goodness techno music (not including remixes).  You could even say it's a Plastikman song featuring Dave Gahan on vocals.  And "Soothe My Soul" should sound immense as it rings out across many a happy stadium full of Depeche Mode fans when they play it live every night this summer.

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