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Comic Review: Metal: Jenny Finn
Jenny Finn #1Jenny Finn #1 by Mike Mignola

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gave my comic shop owner (and even longer time friend) grief over never ordering Dark Horse stuff when the latest lineup was announced. So I pretty much had to buy this.

(It's not new though. This was confusingly hard to find on the internet, but this is the same book that has seen the light of the day before. Most recently, it was a four issue series released by Boom (not Dark Horse) in 2011 as a black and white run. But it still looked vaguely familiar and I was not sure, and so it sounds like this was released in Oni back in 1999. I do believe I already have read this and probably have it stuffed away somewhere. Oh well)

I stopped picking up Mignola right around 2012. He was becoming a bit too prolific for me to keep up with. Although he was no longer at 100%, I don't necessarily feel his quality had dropped. As I said up top, I should probably get my comic book guy to keep ordering the titles. He is a great guy in all aspects, but he also is smart enough not to stock titles he can't sell.

Issue one is pretty great to me- separate from the Hellboyverse. It's a gothic horror with heavy doses of Lovecraft and Jack the Ripper tropes. The kind of book only Mignola could do, or surely pretty close (I can't think of anyone besides Alan Moore who regularly travels down the road).

It has the best things about Mignola- there's paranoia, terror, grotesque, ribaldry, and all delivered in a minimal style, because overexplaining wouldn't make it work.

Troy Nixey's art adds those essential elements. It has now been colored by Dave Stewart so it fits well with Mignola's other work.

Re-reading past reviews on this are brutal. Readers (Mignola fans and not) absolutely hate it. There are a few positive reviews from people like myself who really like that it is what it is, but others hate the lack of depth. It has also been close to two decades since (and if) I read it the first time, and I can't remember how the story plays out. Four issues are not much to work with.

Anyway, maybe everyone missed it in those days of over the top - post Grindhouse, post Saw, post Peter Jackson and Japanese and Korean horror. I like the Victorian kind of eerie steampunkish Ripper horror with nods to classic Stoker/Shelly books and a bit of the sea shanty element. I will have to dig this one back out or keep buying.

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Comic Review: Metal: Batman Lost
Batman: Lost #1Batman: Lost #1 by Scott Snyder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This appears to be the right book, though the Goodreads credits are slightly skewed (GR doesn't like you reviewing single issue comics anyway) Bengal does the awesome cover, Snyder is surely point person. but there is a team of creators.

I picked this up because it really caught my eye. I have been picking up the Metal miniseries. I am a Marvel guy, but I can't disagree with the popular sentiment that DC is kicking the House of M's a-- right now.

This is a oneshot tie in with a great set of collaborating writers (Snyder, Tynion IV, Williamson). I loved the idea. Bruce Wayne is telling his granddaughter various old Batman stories (these of course are tie-ins to the storyline).

But he half-remembers and his granddaughter figures out that all these stories literally cannot be true. It's a fantastic setup. There's misses in logic and in personality and in timeline.

To broaden it much further out, if it's all Batman, then how do you explain the difference between Gotham Adventures Batman and Dark Knight Returns Batman, or for that matter Adam West Batman and Christian Bale Batman. They are all the same one story right? That to me makes for an interesting road to go down. (Imagine Spiderman with as many times as that story has been re-written).

So like Metal, very Morrisonesque but in all of the best ways.

I also have to say a word about the art which is also incredible. I usually don't mention art, unless it is something out of the ordinary like Frank Quietly or if it's bad. The art in this book is incredible. It is hard to explain- it's just DC art, but big thumbs up to Mahnke, Mendoza, Jiminez, and Paquette. I know a couple of those names and they are good, but I was a big fan of the art.

As it being what it is, this is a tie-in to Metal, one of several, and thus has to stand alone. It works pretty well, though by its very definition is nonessential. I did enjoy it quite a bit.

Lastly, I am not a real big fan of the idea of that there is a long line of Batmen, there will always be a Batman, etc. I realize that is central to the Metal run, and it doesn't stop my enjoyment. I am just not really a fan. I don't think the character needs it. I think the origin is enough in explaining, and I think saying Bruce Wayne's Batman is predestined is a contradiction of that. I don't have a problem with other books that do that. For Bendis's Powers, it makes sense (that monkey issue aside). I am sure someone will school me on why it's better that way, and it surely opens up a realm of possibilities. It's just not my favorite thing.

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Book Review: Shakespeare: The World as Stage
Shakespeare: The World as StageShakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not necessarily a big fan of the Bard, but I am a big fan of Bryson, so I thought it might be worth checking out.

I like the idea of the Eminent Lives series. The idea is that you already have some idea of the person so you don't need a lot of general details you already know; but you also aren't interested in investing time in a 500plus page biography.

This was pretty fascinating to me. Essentially, we know next to nothing about Shakespeare. The pictures we have of him are unreliable. The same goes for the Globe Theater. Based on recollections years later. It is weird to think about this in a Instagram/Twitter age where we know literally everything about our stars. Still, no one thought to interview Shakespeare's children or any other matter of things to capture him for posterity.

It is a miracle we have what we have. The collections of his works weren't always reliable (not unlike today, where every funny song on YouTube is credited to Weird Al). The references we do have are when Will shows up in legal documents of the day. Instead of making things clearer, what we do have just increases the mystery.

So many of the phrases and quotes we take for granted came from Shakespeare. The book ends with some of the theories have had about The Bard not being The Bard throughout the years. While we know next to nothing about the real Bill Shakespeare, it is still quite clear he existed. It wasn't ghost written by a famous writer of the day. it wasn't a collective. It wasn't Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, or any of the suspected men or women over the years.

He clearly did exist. He just wasn't always the Greatest Writer Ever. As one suspects, even Bill had critics.

This made for some interesting reading and I really enjoyed this angle of telling the Bard's story. This made me realize what he contributed to our language, and what a genius he was. It was also an interesting reading of the time in which it was much harder to document things, and how much has likely been due to natural disasters, time and as with Shakespeare, sometimes good intentions.

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On the Shelf 191: Buckingham and McVie
I own up to my guilty pleasures and one of those is Fleetwood Mac.

Now, everyone loves Rumours right- and some times is it nostalgia and sometimes it's irony, but I get it. I am not sure if I can even give it an honest opinion just because a good half of it is etched into mine and everyone's conscience, as to not really know what the true impact is. Good songs, though.

It is with little doubt that Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham by themselves have elements of cool. Stevie's always cool and Lindsay has always skirted a line that puts him on the right side of hip.

It's Christine McVie that is not so hip. "You Make Loving Fun" and "Dont Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" tend to be closer to the types of songs that make you want to rebel and start a punk band.

Of course, it has nothing to do with hipness, it's just style, and McVie's style is standard pop. I will never prefer her to Stevie or Lindsay, but she's been the lead on some great pop songs- "Everywhere", "Little Lies" and the lesser known "Isn't it Midnight?" all off of Tango in the Night are fantastic songs (as is the similarly time framed "As Long as You Follow")

Tango in the Night is a bit of an anomaly. No worries. It did very well. It gets lost in 1987. Rap is on the ascent (Yo Bum Rush the Show, Bigger and Deffer, Criminal Minded, Paid in Full, Rhyme Pays). Metal is about to explode(Appetite for Destruction, Girls Girls Girls, Among the Living, The 5.98 EP). College Rock is about to break through (In My Tribe, Document, The Lion and the Cobra, Diesel and Dust) and its weirder kid brother Indie Rock is at creative peaks (Pleased to Meet Me, You're Living All Over Me, Sister, Locust Abortion Technician, Come On Pilgrim, Warehouse:Songs and Stories, Songs about F*cking) It's British cousin Modern Rock is at an apex as well (Music for the Masses, Strangeways here We Come, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, Floodland, George Best, The Perfect Prescription) and the esoteric post punkers are making unheard masterpieces (Children of God, Cleanse Fold and Manipulate, Within the Realm of a Dying Sun).

Even pop music is stretching boundaries is modern, beyond Faith and Whitney and Bad, there's The Joshua Tree, Hysteria, Introducing the Hardline..., Kick, and Lonesome Jubilee, and even the old guard has adapted (Permanent Vacation, Crazy Nights, Momentary Lapse of Reason).

So no doubt Tango gets lost, but what a great album. The Mac made two albums in the 90s without Lindsey Buckingham. For the band that maybe had the longest strangest trip over the years, probably the most resilient is the Mac. it is at least on the short list of bands who have made dramatic changes more than once (Jefferson Airplane, Chicago, The Doobie Brothers, Pink Floyd to name a few), it is hard to imagine Fleetwood Mac without Buckingham fronting it. Similarly, with due respect to all parties involved, Buckingham seems to need Mac too. His solo work is interesting, his string of singles is wonderful, but he is best when he is backed by Fleetwood and McVie, not to mention the depth brought by Nicks and McVie.

This was followed in short order by a rediscovery of sorts that brought them back to the fore. The classic five got their honors in1997 and groups as seemingly disparate as the Dixie Chicks and Hole were claiming Mac as heroes. Mac had been labelled 70s pop nostalgia, and they finally were getting their due.

It all could have ended there, and most bands would be happy with that and going out and playing the hits every four years. Fleetwood Mac released new music in 2003. This time for the first time in a long time without Christine McVie. I like Say You Will alot. To me, it really captures what Lindsay has been trying to accomplish in recent years. The rhythm section is always fantastic. I love Stevie singing.

At 18 songs, it's probably too much, but I don't want to complain about value for the money. Critics tend to point out the absence of McVie as a negative. As I said I usually give her short shrift, I am a Lindsay and Stevie guy, but it's a fair statement. The criticism that it sounds like two solo albums mashed together isn't entirely untrue. Anyway, if you want to know where I am coming from, I do like that album.

The Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie 2017 disc is the flip. It is essentially the five expected Macs minus Stevie (or as has been joked "It's a duet album with the worlds best hired rhythm section).

You know my prejudices, but what McVie does really well is sing pop music. Even more than singing, "knowing" pop music- writing and delivering.

The album is a really good pop record. If you like the harmony style of pop rock, it's hard to say anybody does it better. it can't all be grunge and thrash, right?

Again, critics have pointed out it's not a true duet album with Lindsey and Christine taking turns at vocals. It is pretty close thematically though. i doubt many would even notice without the critical ear.

Anyway, I really like it. There are moments when it goes a bit too sweet for me, and Buckingham still has his tics (why does he like the Big Love "ohs" and "ahs" so much? They show up in the otherwise perfect "In My World"). In any case, it shows that the band still makes interesting and relevant music.

Like back in 1987, I don't know where radio stations would play this. It's not for the Pitchfork crowd, though if this were anyone else, it might be indistinguishable. It's not country, though pop country owes more to Mac and the Eagles and Jimmy Buffet, than it does Hank Sr or Willie. It is certainly an odd fit in today's pop environment, and it's too soft (despite Lindsey's guitar heroics) to remotely fit in the rock world.

And after all these words, you probably won't like it if you don't like Fleetoowd Mac anyway, but I do.

All from a pair of 70 year olds who have nothing to prove and probably don't need it. How punk is that!

On the Shelf : Flogging Molly
Speaking of the Pogues and Gogol Bordello (one time labelmates on Side One Dummy Records), in my mind of all the second-generation Pogues influenced celt-punk bands, the one with the best songs (and the worst name) is Flogging Molly.

They are one of my favorite bands of the new century. However, as I pointed out in the last review, it's hard to sustain momentum. Barring some serious left turn like Reflektor, Kid A or Achtung Baby, how do you keep the formula fresh.

Which is where I land with Life is good. It is a fine listen, but like so many of the 80s punk bands that I grew up with, there's a time when you are not doing anything new. You can look at any number of punk bands, especially the 90s Epitaph roster. Even some of the finest bands like The Ramones, DOA, Bad Brains and Motorhead had duds of albums. You can name a whole list of California and British bands that have slugged out for three decades or more- The Business, Sham 69, Cockney Rejects, UK Subs, Youth Brigade, the Dickies, 7 Seconds, and many more.

So Life is Good is fine. it has some really good moments. It probably slaughters live in concert. It just isn't Swagger or Drunken Lullabies. It is probably a great listen to anyone who has never heard the band. But dang! It's hard to stay innovative.

In reading up on the new album, I discovered David King, the band's lead singer has an unusual past. He started in the 80s with a band called Fastway, that included Fast Eddie Clarke (yes from Motorhead)and a drummer from Humble Pie.

I don't remember them, though I suspect my 80s rock connoisseur friend would. It's a great generic rock band name like Head East. from there, he went to Katmandu.

I do remember Katmandu. Likely from the pages of RIP magazine, which I devoured each month. Anyway, Katmandu is a name that isn't easy to forget, and I remember a lot of hype. I don't know that I remember the actual music, though a quick listen conjures up all that was 1991. Think second tier bands like Bang Tango, Love/Hate, Dangerous Toys and Blue Murder. They certainly were better than some hair metal bands but wow, this didn't age well at all.

It's hard to imagine it's the same guy, though King's strong vocals are one thing that help set Molly apart.

Anyway Life is Good is fine, but likely just for the diehards.

On the Shelf 189 : Gogol Bordello
Gogol Bordello is one of my favorite bands, and I always go back to the Pogues for comparisons. Although I wasn't there (and they weren't released in the States), the first two Pogues albums are masterpieces. They created a style of music that hadn't been hard before, and stands up to anything released since.

The Gogols did likewise (and I was an early fan), except combining Eastern European elements to punk rock. The Pogues followed up their largely unheard first discs with two albums that captured the band maturing and not changing the sound, but finding a mainstream niche for it.

Gogol did the same. "Gypsy Punks Underworld Strike" is that moment. As masterful and majestic as "If I Should Fall From Grace with God". Starting with album 5 (although I try as much as I can to like "Hells Ditch") things get dicey. There's some great songs (Tuesday Morning, of course, "Living Ina World Without Her" and their version of Dylan's "When the Ship Comes In"), but there isn't anything I rate in the latter day Pogues or Shane's post-Pogues records.

None of the Gogols albums have been bad, but they couldn't keep the momentum up. But lets's take the obvious comparison, and look at any band. Even the greatest bands rarely make it over that four album hump. It's why we rate bands like the Clash, the Smiths, the New York Dolls, Nirvana, the Pixies, the Stooges and the Velvet Underground so high. We rip on rock juggernauts like The Rolling Stones, the Who and U2, but even bands with as much talent as the Jam, the Cars, the English Beat or some of the ones I mentioned, or bands interfered by fate like the Doors and Joy Division would have likely made a clunky album number eight.

So, I hesitate to make comment on Seekers and Finders, the seventh studio album (not to mention EPs and remix albums,etc). It's not for lack of trying. Eugene Hutz and company try to keep the spice level up. It generally works, and the only thing that works against it is the heights of the band's other records.

The guitar (a band highlight) is high in the mix which works well to drive the songs. There is a rabblerousing duet with Regina Spektor that offers something slightly new to the formula. Still, they straddle that line that can be summed up by "Saboteur's Blues" which has everything that makes the band great, but ultimately fights with the feeling you have heard the song before. It's a great listen, but a year from now, will i still reach for it?

It's the same problem Joe Strummer had when he was trying to make a similar World punk music. Sometimes he succeeded, sometimes he failed, though even in his failure, he was still the most interesting man in the room.

Saturday Night Fun : Iowa Wild
We saw the opening night of the Iowa Wild, AHL affiliate of the NHL's Minnesota Wild.

This is Des Moines's second attempt at an AHL franchise, and the Wild have been awesomely community minded.  They also print a little newspaper quarterly which talks about the team, and is a big source of the information for this post.  They also do a lot of community events especially for youth.

The breakout star of the Iowa Wild s Luke Kunin who is age 19.  He was drafted 15th overall and just missed the roster cut.  It was lucky to see him as he won't stay here for long (and he won't.  He has since been called up and sent back) and he is pegged as the Wild's best young future superstar.

The team has acquired some new talent to go with some returners.  Gerald Mayhew, who I  saw this Spring was back and scored a goal.  Defenseman Alex Grant was one of the big acquisitions.  He has played a few NHL games with the Anaheim Ducks and Arizona Coyotes  Landon Ferraro is another big acquisition with 75 games played in the NHL and has been called up to Minnesota.  Cal O'Reilly shared Centre duties with Kunin and Ferraro, and has spent the last decade playing over 100 games in the NHL  Ferraro had an assist, and O'Reilly a goal.

Rounding out the group of newcomers as Goalie Niklas Svedberg, an AHL all-star and played 19 games in goal for the Boston Bruins.

The exciting thing is that Christoph Bertschy, Zack Mitchell and Ferraro look to be part of the Iowa Line up in Minnesota.  With injuries, they look to get playing time as Line 4.

9255 were in attendance for the opener.  Good numbers, but they were simply outplayed by the Milwaukee Admirals 5-2

RIP Gord Downie
Although we knew it was coming, it was still sad to see Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie go.

I was a teen in the late 80s and early 90s and living in the country, it made us not a cable house, but a satellite dish house.

I spent nearly every waking moment watching MuchMusic (at least when I wasn't watching The Comedy Channel) which was Canada's version of MTV.

MuchMusic appealed to me so much more than MTV. Although I loved MTV as well, MuchMusic felt more like the original MTV, the budget was minimal and had more of a diy-appeal, the VJs were a gang- it was all of the things that I would have had with MTV if I had been slightly older, but they were now moving on into big budget production.

Best of all was that it was music pretty much 24/7/365. Like Early MTV, that meant they played a lot of stuff to fill the time. It was more of a potpurri. MTV would play Anthrax, Boogie Down Productions and Big Audio Dynamite sure, but they were each relegated to a specific place and time in the lineup. MuchMusic would play them back to back.

The other redeeming quality was that they had to follow the Canadian content rules and play home grown music. These rules weren't as basic as they sound- it was a mix of the performer, the producer, the writer, band members and who knows what else. Which made Rod Stewart a Canadian artist but Bryan Adams not.

Canada had a lot of great homegrown music and indeed The Hip were top of the list. For me, the best were The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, The Northern Pikes and blues rocker Collin James. I indeed loved Cowboy Junkies and The Pursuit of Happiness which made some inroads in the alt-rock scene. There was a great unconventional wave too (Barenaked Ladies, Moxy Fruvous, Rheostatics. I could go on and on with great Canadian bands that are fairly obscure this side of the border- 54-40, Jann Arden, Bruce Cockburn, Holly Cole and others. Given time, I couldn't name them all- 70s/80s Rockers like Rush, the BTO/Guess Who family, Chilliwack, Kim Mitchell, Red Rider, Gowan, obscure punks like the Viletones and Payola$, Madonna wannabes and pop divas like Mitsou and Alanis (Morrissette), female rockers like Lee Aaron and Sass Jordan, 90s grunge hopefuls Moist and The Tea Party and a whole list of those who hit big in America at least for a moment like Jeff Healey, Sarah Mclachlan, Our Lady Peace, Alannah Myles and Celine Dion.

Even from a rap point of view, Maestro Fresh Wes surely deserved a bigger audience in the pre-Biggie and Tupac days and would have been a great addition along the likes of Kid N Play, Kool Moe Dee and Heavy D. Jazz influenced 90s duo The Dream Warriors were deserving of recognition when they appeared with the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets and De la Soul.

In any case, the Tragically Hip were great. They have been called Canada's REM. In retrospect, there may have been better comparisons, but that was the go to description for any late-80s college rock band with traditional roots influences.

For me the band is defined by their early hits- like "Blow at High dough", "38 Years Old", and "New Orleans is Sinking". This was way before Amazon and you could find any album you want and get it. If you can't find it on Amazon, it's going to be on the internet somewhere- either a digital download from Bandcamp or from the band itself.

The Hips first record- 1987s eight song EP was only released in Canada. I was lucky to be that kind of person who looked everywhere and found it in a pawn shop.

1989s Up to Here saw a bit wider release, and I was able to find it pretty easy in the Amazon-of-that-day The Columbia House Music Club.

Not to speak ill of the dead, but I am less of a fan of the bands maturing work. Specifically, I am talking about what is considered their masterpiece -1992's Fully Completely.

Now that we are 25 years on, I remember that album getting quite a bit of promotion. The local newly launched alt-rock station played the single "Courage" a lot, and that song and "At the 100th Meridian" were definitely heard by a lot of American ears. Yet with the wave of 90s Nostalgia, I never hear about The Hip.

Wikipedia seems to do a bit of explanation. While Fully Completely was supposed to break America, they stopped American production after two weeks. To be fair, "Courage" may be good, but it's not quite as striking as the biggest songs of some of their contemporaries- Gin Blossoms, Live, Verve Pipe and Toad the Wet Sprocket.

I stopped following the band but they continued to turn out their art, and so maybe that is my loss. In any case, it indeed is a loss in that they were a great band and brought joy to a lot of people.

Concert Review: Old 97s
I finally got to see of my favoritest (sic) bands ever. Old 97s played in Des Moines which I dont think they have in many years if ever, and also found some of my friends are big fans as well.

They were even more awesome than my very high expectations. Rhett Miller sounded as great in person as he does on record. The band was lively and had a good interaction with the crowd. Rhett gets all of the attention, but let's not forget Ken Bethea is a smoking guitar player- surely as good as anyone in punk or surf. Murry Hammond is another great personality, has great vocals and is a great co-frontman.

Opening act was Lilly Hiatt. She is the daughter of John. She was very good. A friend said she was somewhere between Dolores O'Riordan and Loretta Lynn. For sure, she is unique with Americana and country pop influences, similar to a Roseanne Cash, Lydia Loveless or Gillian Welch. You can google her and you should.

Old 97s played mostly the classics for the "Old Schoolers, New Schoolers, and the Middle Schoolers...ok, no middle Schoolers".

A setlist might make it online but I also have doubts, so I definitely remember Doreen, Timebomb, King of all of the World, Rollerskate Skinny, Barrier Reef, Dance With Me, Curtain calls, Big Brown Eyes, Designs on You, Curtain Calls, and from the last two albums- Longer than You been Alive and Let's Get Drunk and Get it on (from Most Messsed Up), Good with God, Jesus Loves You, Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls (from GraveYard Whistling) I am about 95% sure that is as accurate as to all the songs the played as you will get now that two days have gone by and I didnt take any notes. "Question" was the obvious encore.

If any weakness, some of the new songs were not as good as the old ones. Which 1) the last two records are incredible and 2) this is only in comparison, they were still fantastic. Likely, a song like "Longer than you been alive" works best on record. Again, no slight here, and it may have been the club which didn't have great sound for the opening act either.

They were amazing and from here, I probably would just keep writing variations on "They were awesome" over and over. As a plus, my concertgoing days all predated cellphones, and you only get crappy pictures in a club but hey, there you go. Lilly Hiatt joined for the Brandi Carlile part of "Good with God", which smoked.
I also dont miss the days of leaving a smoke filled club or the 100 mile drive to get home.

On the Shelf 188: Depeche Mode
Depeche Mode have a special place for me.  For me, 1988 was a special place for music.

There is a triumvirate of Post-Modern bands and they are the Mode, the Cure and New Order.

Although I would never have been allowed to see any of these bands in concerts, I did rock the ubiquitous Mode 88 shirt.

DM had released the masterful and grandiose Music for the Masses.  New Order re-released "Blue Monday" in a remix that plays every night somewhere since it was released.  The Cure's most recent release was "Kiss Me" x3 which had their finest moment "Just Like Heaven".

In the next five years, despite being on the fringe of the radio were playing stadiums and having massive hits.

From an American chart point of view, it certainly is a triumvirate, though the discussion is incomplete without The Smiths as their final album and Morrissey's first were brand new in this time frame.  The Moz similarly got play on MTV and was even able to break into the radio Top 40.  Nor is it complete without mention of the self-titled Echo and the Bunnymen album of the same time- their biggest American cultural moment with "Lips Like Sugar".

From a personal point of view, I also include the Best of OMD which was also released at this time and is fantastic.  "Dreaming" was a chart hit, but their chart days were behind them.  Their massive pop success puts them in a different discussion in the US, but for me they are just as important.

Surely, part of this is the excitement of youth, but the next year gave us PiL's 9, Elvis Costello's Spike and The Cult's Sonic Temple were all touchpoints of excitement.  Then there was Doolittle and the Stone Roses and the floodgates were open.  Also, I was discovering (as was much of America with the resurgence of) The Doors. 

In any case, in my nostalgic haze, i have lost my point.  Music for the Masses was and is a classic.  Everyone knows "Strangelove" and "Behind the Wheel" and "Never Let Me Down Again", an anthemic conversion of the band's 80 s sound.

Still, if Masses had never been made, Depeche Mode had made their mark.  You can make similar arguments for Black Celebration.  This was another great beginning to end listen. The goth/not goth shroud covers this album and some people prefer it to Masses.  In any case, all of the elements were there.

Yet, the discussion doesn't end there.  1984's Some Great Reward would stand as the standout album if the band had never recorded another note.  Critics are never kind to electronic music and this album gets short shrift.  Same goes for Yaz, Soft Cell and many other pioneers who more often than not get ignored for traditional guitar-based bands like U2, the Clash and the Smiths, or at least traditional in terms like Bowie.

In the US, things get muddy, since most of us picked up the compilations Catching Up with Depeche Mode or People are People, but many of these songs are legendary in the alternative community- Blasphemous Rumors, Master and Servant, People are People, Everything Counts and others.

The story probably should end there.  Having conquered all, the Mode grew their hair and picked up guitars (while on the other side of the spectrum Metallica cut their hair and picked up electronic influences).

We weren't sure what to make of the new look and the new sound which culminated in the commercially successful Violator.

What is my take on Violator almost three decades later?

I still listen to it all the time.  It's perfect.  I still listen to Mode a lot but I never tire of Violator.  Although it might not be the "cool"est of choices, it's on my short list of greatest albums ever. 

Anyway, so you know where I stand.  I am not a big fan of the last 30 years of the band's recorded output.   Credit to the band for being willing to push their sound.  Indeed, electronic music is more challenging in that aspect than guitar-bass-and-drums.

In recent years,the Mode seems to have a love affair with Delta Blues music and are trying to incorporate those sounds into theirs.  This eventually made its (il)logical conclusion in a cover (ish song) of Son House's "John the Revelator".

The DM albums have all been interesting in their own way, but nothing really grabbed me.  Finally, the closest that they have come is when Dave Gahan collaborated with soundscapists Soulsavers.

The secret to what 21st Century D Mode needs to sound like is in that ambient sphere perhaps.  Electronic based bands like Pet Shop Boys and OMD have tried various things to recapture that old sound, but our ears have changed.

Indeed, bands influenced by Depeche Mode have had entire careers and their own influence passed along-  electroclash and ddarkwave bands that  have pushed their own boundaries-  The Bravery, She Wants Revenge, Rammstein, Apoptygma Berzerk, the Faint, Fischerspooner, the Killers, Ladytron, Goldfrapp, the Crystal Method- this list obviously goes on and on- but these are all bands that have come along since Songs of Faith and Devotion and have had beginning to end careers.

Spirit comes the closest they have in awhile to making a release that matches the best of their output.  They have teamed with producer James Ford who has worked with Florence and the Machine, Arctic Monkeys, the Klaxons, Peaches, Everything Everything and Haim.

The lyrics are political, though they kind of let the band down.  They are the weakest moment, though you can't blame the band for the thought.  It just isn't Dave Gahan's strong suit.  Though he does deliver strong vocals, so maybe it's Martin Gore's lyrics which can be summed up in the song Scum ("Hey scum, what are you gonna do when karma comes").

In any case, I was ready to write Depeche Mode off, and this album has done quite a bit to reverse that position.  It's not essential by any means but it has some moments that prove they still can be vital.


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