Depeche Mode are really one of the most underrated bands of the 80s aren't they (and the 90s to a certain extent)? At least, I always feel that way when I go through an intense phase of listening to them nonstop, which happens more than a few times a year, and is happening now.
It's not like they weren't popular. It's not like they still aren't. But, perhaps like a heavy metal act (and, from what I understand, THE heavy metal act, Black Sabbath, at least for a while), any critical respect for them is fairly begrudging. Once a band has millions of fans, and a critic has been enlisted to write about them for a national paper, their article usually must contain some acknowledgement, usually a backhanded compliment, that, yes, people like them.
But even with their millions of fans and millions of albums sold, they still somehow feel like perennial underdogs to me. They don't fit the narrative of rock music, of course, nor hip hop, and their influence on electronic music was to inspire numerous people to pick up synths and make music that didn't sound like Depeche Mode. They've only been "repaid" by spawning countless bootleg remixes of their tracks.
They only get a page in Rip It Up and Start Again. Christgau hates them (of course). But Daniel Miller signed them. They worked with Gareth Jones, Flood and Francois Kevorkian* in the first decade of their career, and hired Anton Corbijn to do what I think is some of the best work of his music video career. The worst you could say about them is that many of the lyrics are too straightforward. On the other hand, the composition is excellent, the arranging, especially during Alan Wilder's years with the band, is excellent, the sound design is outstanding, and Music for the Masses and especially Violator are some of the best-engineered albums I know (admittedly it's easier when the instruments plug directly into the mixer). They brought (admittedly post-experimental-phase) OMD and Wire to play the Rose Bowl with them. Most laudable of all, perhaps, is how well they balanced integrity and success. Their records got darker and less tied to conventions of pop songwriting and they got more popular because of it. When does that happen?
Anyways, today's pick:
*really, this group along with Alan Moulder were a big part of a sort of "texture-focused" branch of the music narrative of the 80s and 90s that I think will eventually be looked upon as just as fertile as the line one could draw around and through the Velvet Underground, Roxy Music, Eno solo and as producer, David Bowie and Iggy Pop in the 1970s. I mean, check the discographies!