Released today in 1982: The Meaning Of Love

MUTE 7BONG2

MUTE MUTE022

1n 1982, Depeche Mode were dividing critical opinion. In the blue corner: the ‘pop’ end of the music press, praising the group’s releases. In the red corner: the ‘serious’ papers, bashing them at every opportunity. The difference in attitude was very clear when looking at the reviews offered by two journals at opposite ends of the market, with Britain’s Brightest Pop Magazine Smash Hits in the blue corner, championing Depeche Mode’s every release, and that most rockist of rock papers in the red corner, Sounds, repeatedly writing them off. Here’s Smash Hits on The Meaning Of Love: “Elegant… It’s watertight and nearly perfect, as damn near perfect as a record can be. I too have pondered on the meaning of love. Have you? David Gahan’s in an academic mood on this this one and yet still can’t find a solution. Brilliant disc, what else is there to say except truly scrumptious.” Sounds’ view? “This is a band with an acute dose of the runs – plus the fear of the future whistling as a wind up their backsides. Oh, the cover’s cute if you happen to still be a virgin.”

The trouble for the rock press was taking synth-pop seriously. Keyboards didn’t seem to be suitable alternative to guitars, drums and bass; synthesizers were no substitute for real instruments. Sounds et al couldn’t see a long-term future for the genre, at least in Britain: Kraftwerk and other groups might enjoy longevity but they had to remain in continental Europe to do so. When the album The Meaning Of Love was taken from (A Broken Frame) was released in September 1982, Sounds was predicating the end of the synth era: “Do you were get the feeling some urchin has popped all the party balloons at the synthesized picnic? It has all been getting just a little drab lately, even though these keyboard stars have been promising you (and themselves) fun, frolics and fulfillment with a little help from their electronic friends.”

In Depeche Mode’s case, their exit from the scene had been expected to be hastened by the departure of Vince Clarke (see our article of 15 March) from the group at the end of the previous year. The Smash Hits review of the album acknowledged this: “When Vince left DM to invent Yazoo he took with him a good portion of their cutting edge, leaving them with a style of electronic delicacy bordering on the fey. While this showed up as a lack of purpose in their early Vince-less singles, ABF makes a virtue of their tinkly-bonk whimsy. Like their last single, Leave In Silence, it’s almost pastoral and so wet you could wash the dishes in it.” A note of dissent from the Smash Hits policy there, at last? Don’t you believe it. The review’s final line was: “And I think it’s wonderful.”

On the announcement of his departure, Clarke had stated that he found the fame of being in a successful band difficult and would prefer a background role, writing and producing rather than performing. He indicated that in addition to working with other people, he might continue to write for Depeche Mode. Instead, Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore took over writing duties and it worked, with the first Gore-penned single, See You, making the Top 10. Smash Hits made it Single Of The Fortnight: “Light years ahead of the rest. Listening to this you can hardly believe that – even a year back – the mention of ‘synthesised pop’ conjured up images of doomsy one-dimensional treks to the space-lab in even the most light-hearted of listener,” Mark Ellen wrote, taking the opposite view from that of Sounds; synth-pop was still developing. He continued: “See You sounds warm, colourful and surprisingly durable and even has a few Beach Boys harmonies thrown in.”

Sounds still wouldn’t believe it. The album’s third and final single, Leave In Silence, was described as “overlong, extremely downbeat and could spell the end of chart success for Graham’s geeks”. It didn’t. In fact, all of Depeche Mode’s singles for the rest of the 1980s would make the Top 30. As they would continue to do throughout the following decade. And for all but their last single of the decade after that as well.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Apr. 26
1982
DEPECHE MODE Meaning Of Love (Mute MUTE022)

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