Incorporating The Music Fix
4th November 2005 19:00:00
Posted by Simon Rueben

Depeche Mode - Construction Time Again

1983 was an important year for Alan Wilder, the year he was finally allowed into the studio with Depeche Mode. In Christmas 1982, it was announced that he was to join as a full time member, after a year of playing live with the band. The 23 year old multi-instrumentalist had played in bands and worked in studios for years. His middle class background, he feels, meant he never totally felt part of the “gang” the Basildon boys had formed, but he brought much to the sound of Depeche Mode, evident here in their third album.

Wilder’s first trip into the studio was for the single, “Get the Balance Right”, felt by some to be the first true recording of “house music”. This piece of pop galloped along, with its infectious bass and melodious keyboard lines (though not everyone agreed, in later years Martin Gore declared it their worst single). In fact, Alan Wilder contributed the b-side, “The Great Outdoors”, the first of only a handful of songs he would give the band. Two more of his songs formed the basis of “Construction Time Again”, Martin Gore providing seven others.

It was on this album that the band started to explore the possibilities of using “found sounds”. With producer Gareth Jones at a studio in Shoreditch, the band scoured the East London neighbourhood armed with tape recorders, looking for things they could hit and bash and record. Using an early sampler, the Synclavier, these sounds were fed into the music, providing an original tableaux of sound far removed from the keyboard pre-sets other bands were using. Concrete bashed with hammers, old cars battered with metal pipes, everything they could lay their hands on was scraped, smashed and pummeled in the search for interesting noises. This technique pays of on the track “Pipeline”, a song made up almost entirely of sampled noises, a shower of tapping and hammering over a light keyboard line and a breezy vocal from Martin Gore.

Album opener is the second single, the hissy “Love in Itself”, a fine song spoiled slightly by bad production. It ends with an annoying trumpet solo, but features a fine Dave Gahan vocal. This blends into “More than a Party”, a frantic track, full of excitement and whirling sounds. Again though, it is the lyrics that let this album down, all songs on side one featuring some appalling rhymes, none more so than on lead single “Everything Counts”, which manages to rhyme “career” with “Korea”. This aside, “Everything Counts” is an excellent track. Superbly constructed, it features the sound of a sampled “shawm”, a Chinese oboe that adds much to an already fine track.

Side two is very distinct from side one, and seems to follow a theme - the songs are packed with thoughts, and ideas, and political statements on a variety of issues - from the environment, to religion, to good old fashioned “why can’t we just get along” ideology. However, the lyrics let these songs down. First track is Alan Wilders “Two Minute Warning”; practically indistinguishable from Gore’s songwriting, it burbles along, with a strong Gahan vocal on the chorus and lots of metallic bashing towards the end.

Next track is “Shame“, a fan favourite, packed with interesting sounds as it scratches and slithers along, more Pippin Fort drums thrown into the mix. “The Landscape is Changing” is the second Alan Wilder song and opens with an annoying sythn line, and then descends into appalling obvious lyrics about the environment, the chorus almost unbearably bad: “I don’t care if you’re going nowhere, just take good care of the world”. These are in fact the better words - the entire song is takes a very superior tone and threatens to alienate the listener. Better lyrics are in “Told you So”, a completely bonkers track where condescending Christians gets a thorough telling off. This track sounds like it was fun to record, full of original ideas and often just plain odd.

The last song is Martin Gores “...And Then”, an excellent song, but again full of really bad lyrics. This tale of peace and harmony makes no sense at all, the words contradicting themselves right the way through - “All that we need at the start, Universal Revolution (that’s all), then if we trust with our hearts, we’re find the solution”. Anyone? And perhaps my favourite - “I took a plane, across the world, and got in a car - and when I reached my destination, I hadn’t got far” - just because, I suspect, far rhymed with car. However, it’s has a lovely melody, and if you close your brain up to the words, it is a very fine song. The album then closes with a great reprise of “Everything Counts”, sure to send wanabees scuttling to their keyboards to see if they could play it themselves.

This album is the best of the first four Depeche Mode albums, and would be a recommendation if you wanted to sample their early work. I feel that it works really well as a “head-phones” album, the sort of music to have on if you are walking around town or on a train journey. The mix is very good, the sounds (apart from on the first track) very well balanced and easy to listen to. It is not a classic, nor is it a complete disaster. Instead, it is the sound of a band really developing, a vast improvement on their second album. It sees them growing in confidence and finding out what they are good at, as they make music together.
Track List
01 Love In Itself (4:29)
02 More Than A Party (04:45)
03 Pipeline (05:54)
04 Everything Counts (04:20)
05 Two Minute Warning (04:13)
06 Shame (03:51)
07 The Landscape Is Changing (04:49)
08 Told You So (04:26)
09 And Then... (04:36)
10 Everything Counts - Reprise (0:55)
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