Spin It: Bleak Celebration

For much of the '80s, you couldn't get away from Depeche Mode--especially if you were gay. Their ultra-bleak lyrics and electronic accompaniment were required listening for youth sodden with sorrow over having a crush on the boy next door.

Depeche Mode certainly has had their share of hits--songs like "Policy of Truth" and "Master and Servant" are inextricably linked with '80s electronic music. They've also contributed to the all-too-small pool of gay artists in pop music, even though their most flamboyantly out member, Vince Clarke, left after the first record to form Yaz, and then Erasure.

But a tribute record? It somehow seems a bit much.

Sixteen fairly big names queued up to contribute to For The Masses--A Tribute to Depeche Mode ($16.98, A&M Records)--people with a style and a sound all their own. Alternative rock deities The Cure are here, along with luminaries like Veruca Salt and Dishwalla. Rumor has it that people as big as Björk were left out, because the project didn't span two discs. The best sort of tribute albums set out to show you what multi-faceted songwriters your tributees can be--how their songs can be interpreted in ways that lend fresh new depth--and one of the best ways you do that is by assembling a lineup that is talented enough to rethink the material.

That doesn't happen here. Though many musically exciting folks turn up, it was as if the producers wanted to make damn sure no one sounded too different from the beloved Mode. Everything is over-electronicized, and the vocals drone and drone. People you'd expect to warp the songs in skittishly fun ways--Meat Beat Manifesto covering "Everything Counts" for one--turn in cover versions so boringly faithful you'd swear you were at a wedding dance circa 1987. The only must-have track that turns up here is the Smashing Pumpkins' whiny, desperate version of "Never Let Me Down Again"--but that track has already been released elsewhere.

If your youth was spent worshipping at the altar of electro-depression that was Depeche Mode, this tribute is probably your Elysian field. But if you've always been a casual fan at best, you won't find anything here that will give you insight into why your peers loved moping around to this stuff.

 
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