Black Celebration

Depeche Mode

Sire, 1986

REVIEW BY: Kenny S. McGuane


By 1986, Depeche Mode was one of Britain’s most adored and respected synth bands. They were and still are known as pioneers of the format, using anything they could get their hands on to sample new sounds and incorporate them into chief songwriter Martin Gore’s signature doom and gloom, goth-oriented synthy dance pop. In America, Depeche Mode remained sort of an underground success, mainly being played in dance clubs but steadily gaining momentum nonetheless.

Although Black Celebration was DM’s most cohesive record to date, it would be 1987’s Music For The Massesmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 that would catapult the band into the upper echelon of the world’s most successful and important pop music acts. Black Celebration is DM’s fifth studio album and by all accounts, it’s the darkest (the album’s title sort of cosigns this evaluation). It remains a favorite amongst fans, but even if examined objectively, the album seems to sum up more so than any other Depeche Mode album the cult culture to which the band had -- intentionally or not -- been playing since their inception.  It’s moody, it’s bleak and it’s beautiful, sort of like the girl sitting isolated in the back of the classroom in 1986 with her fishnets, white powder face and thick black mascara.

Unusual for a Depeche Mode album is the absence of any real pop singles on Black Celebration.  “A Question Of Lust,” “A Question Of Time,” and “Stripped” are all strong tracks and although they charted as singles on both sides of the Atlantic, they’re odd little songs and were perhaps too dark and/or avant-garde for mainstream radio at the time. “Fly On The Windscreen” had already been released as a moderately successful B-side and is found here in its “final” version. Black Celebration also has Martin Gore performing lead vocals on four of the album’s tracks, more than any other album; the rest of course are sung by Dave Gahan, who had already fully emerged as one of pop’s most recognizable male voices.

Black Celebration’s strength is found not so much in its individual songs -- although tracks like the title track and “Here Is The House” remain some of the best of the Depeche Mode catalog -- but rather in the overall presentation of the songs. The production and the unified aesthetics of the album draw the listener in for eleven tracks of some of the best synth-driven gloom-pop made to date. Black Celebration is far and away one of the stronger Depeche Mode albums, even if it’s largely experimental, and it sounds today mostly like a textbook for Gore’s unique musical vision.

Rating: B

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