There are quite a few albums that helped define the 1980’s, but few bands were bigger or more influential than Depeche Mode, and Music for the Masses was their stamp of superiority on the decade of decades. If you’d been following their career from the beginning you might be surprised that they survived their teen pop idol beginnings. Playing to matinee crowds with their faces plastered in teen magazines across Europe, losing their chief songwriter in Vince Clarke, and struggling to be taken seriously was how Depeche Mode began the 1980’s. On the flip side of the coin, thanks to the momentum behind Music for the Masses, they ended the decade playing to a sold out crowd at the Pasadena Rose Bowl where the audience sang the chorus for Everything Counts for almost 10 minutes after the band finished their set. Why the sea change in public opinion about the band? Let’s take a closer look.
For me, Depeche Mode started getting really serious with Some Great Reward. Martin was coming into his own as a songwriter, Dave’s pipes were starting to form into one of the all time great baritones, and Alan Wilder was finally able to bring his wizardry to the production of the band’s work. Once Black Celebration hit, the band was well on their way to becoming one of the biggest bands in the world. It was dark, it was brilliantly written, and it was memorable. It also benefited from the new visual approach the band received by hiring Anton Corbijn to direct their music videos. In the mid-1980’s a good music video could make or break you, and Corbijn streamlined the appearance of Depeche Mode just as MTV became a phenomenon. Watching the video for Strangelove leaves you in awe of how damn cool they look.
It’s on the heels of these major progressions that saw Music for the Masses releasing on September 28th, 1987. Funny enough the album was met with mostly positive reviews, but it wouldn’t get across the board acclaim until retrospective opinions would see the record marked as one of their best. As a whole, Music for the Masses was considered a minimalist affair, especially when compared to the competition (remember, the 80’s were known for excess). The worldwide success of the singles Strangelove, Never Let Me Down Again, and Behind the Wheel pushed the album forward and saw the album reaching platinum sales here in the States and creating the insanely popular Music for the Masses tour that ran through the summer of 1988. This tour would spawn the popular 101 double LP live record and documentary film by D.A. Pennebaker of the same name.
For me, Music for the Masses is the coming of age record and marks the end of an era for Depeche Mode. It saw the band shedding the 1980’s and welcoming the 1990’s far ahead of the rest of the other bands out there. Multiple songs from this album remain fan favorites and live staples to this date, proving that even to the band it is a milestone in their careers. I’ll never forget the first time I put this record on and heard the intro to Never Let Me Down Again, or sharing it with my sister and getting her hooked on the band as well. It was an important album then and it remains so on its 30th birthday.