Meet Maxim Ultra, star of my next novel!Read More
As an author, you have a vision of what your characters look like in your head and most authors—if they’re honest—have an internal “fan cast” for their novels if they were ever made into films or TV shows. So, over the next several days, I’ll be posting intros for many of the novel’s characters and each will be accompanied by a photo of the actor or actress I’d like to see in the role. Some of these actors I’ve envisioned from the get-go, while others were just great fits. So, Hollywood producers—take note! Stay tuned!
MAXIM ULTRA is available April 16th on Amazon! PRE-ORDERS for the Kindle version are available now, but for some reason, Amazon doesn’t do pre-orders for paperbacks. If you want a physical copy, you’ll have to wait to order, unfortunately. Thanks for reading!
Update on my next novel, Maxim Ultra!Read More
Ultra, easily Depeche Mode’s most underrated album, turns 20-years-old today. For my take on the album itself, you can read my review here, but on this milestone anniversary, I wanted to share the memory of first obtaining the album on release day—which was technically April 15th here in the States—and then listening to it for the first time.
The memory begins on the day before Ultra was released in America. My friends and I were walking around New Brunswick, just off campus at Rutgers University in New Jersey. We stopped in an indie record store. I was hoping that I might be able to score the album a day early, because A) I was an obsessive Depeche Mode fan and B) I hoped the indie store would be a little lax on the on sale date policy. Then wonder of wonders, I found the album, but the front cover had a gold foil stamp on it that said it was a promo copy and not for resale.
Fuck it, I thought, I’m buying this shit right here.
So, I bought it and greatly anticipated my first listen. Then my buddy had to go and fuck it all up for me by saying, “You know, the band won’t see one dime of that money.” (I think he was interning with a record label at the time, so he knew the ins and outs of “The Biz.”)
I struggled with my desire to hear the album and my conscience. Yes, Depeche Mode wouldn’t be hurt in the least by not receiving my money for the album, but call me crazy, I think artists should be rewarded for their work (by the way, feel free to buy my book if you’re so inclined). So, against every instinct I had, I returned the album, saying something like, “I don’t want to buy a promo,” or something equally stupid. In my defense, the stamp really did ruin the cover.
Though I felt like I’d done the right thing, I was still pretty pissed. That feeling would only get worse the next day.
The following morning, I headed down to Sam Goody, or for those who remember them, Sam Greedy was probably more appropriate—and headed over to the Depeche Mode rack. One (major) problem: Ultra wasn’t there. I asked the clerk just what the fuck was going on—okay, I didn’t really say that—and was told that the delivery truck was late. Gah! The clerk took my number and promised to hold a copy for me when—or if—the truck arrived later that day.
With my free time dwindling, I headed off to class and sat restlessly through the lecture, all while devising different ways to punish my friend for denying me the opportunity to listen to the new Depeche Mode album.
After what felt like forever, I headed back to my dorm room and found a message on my answering machine—Ultra had arrived. Now, while I ran a bit of track in high school—early in high school—and played in a town soccer league until I left for college, I wasn’t the most athletic guy at Rutgers. So, when I tell you that I ran all the way down to Sam Goody, which was several blocks from my dorm, you’ll know that I ran.
I burst into the store and breathlessly asked the clerk for my copy of the album. Finally, I had Ultra in my hands—again. I threw my money at the clerk and then, despite my lungs being on fire, ran all the way back to the dorm. Once I got back—and resisted the urge to throw up—I loaded the album into my roommate’s stereo system and let Depeche Mode take me on a trip. Wait, that’s the wrong album.
I skipped the first track, “Barrel of a Gun,” because it had also been the first single and I had already played it to death. I was more interested in the second single, “It’s No Good,” the fourth track on the album. I had only been able to hear it once on the radio and I’d been dying to hear it again ever since. After listening to the song that would later become ensconced in my personal Depeche Mode Top 5, I decided to sit down and listen to the album in full, but still skipping “Barrel of a Gun.”
As soon as the opening chords of “The Love Thieves” sounded, I was transported and completely sold on Ultra, no matter what I heard after that. While “It’s No Good” sounded like classic Depeche Mode and “Barrel of a Gun” was the typically jarring first single that the band liked to hit fans with since “Personal Jesus,” “The Love Thieves” sounded like nothing Depeche Mode had ever done before. It was beautiful and a track that I never thought they’d be able to accomplish since musical architect Alan Wilder had recently left the band. Songwriter Martin Gore’s lyrics and guitar were gorgeous and Dave Gahan’s voice sounded better than ever, which was quite a feat after his very public battle with heroin addiction. He was healthy now and sounded like it. “The Love Thieves” may not be everyone’s favorite, but that song combined with “It’s No Good” made me fall in love with Depeche Mode all over again.
Then I heard “Home.” Holy shit, what an amazing song. Gore handles the vocals on this one and still to this day, it’s the best song on which he’s ever sung. The heartfelt lyrics combined with the driving beat and strings made for an incredible combination.
I liked “Useless” right out of the gate, even though it was a rockier song than Depeche Mode had ever attempted. Like all of the songs on Ultra, the lyrics are just great. While in some parts, the music isn’t up to snuff with what the band accomplished with Alan Wilder, the songs themselves are topnotch and some of the best Martin Gore has written.
Though I love it now, “Sister of Night” wasn’t one of my favorites when I first heard it. I think it’s the harsh opening, something that the band would repeat going forward with songs like “A Pain That I’m Used To.” “Freestate” was absolutely transporting and ethereal, the guitar on it reminding me a bit of New Order. I didn’t learn to appreciate “The Bottom Line” until much later, but now it stands with “Home” as one of the best Martin-sung songs in the band’s canon. The album’s closer, the light and airy “Insight,” was a bit disarming at first, but like with “Sister of Night,” I’ve come to love it. This beautiful track is one that I feel certain is about Wilder and his departure from Depeche Mode. It comes through especially in the lyrics:
And the spirit of love
Is rising within me
Talking to you now
Telling you clearly
The fire still burns
I’m talking to you now
The fire still burns
Whatever you do now
The world still turns
When it was first released, Ultra faced a lot of criticism from Depeche Mode fans. Some couldn’t accept the band minus Wilder—and he definitely gave Gore’s songs a life they never would have had without him—while others were taken aback by such a mid-tempo affair. Not me, though. I loved Ultra from the get-go and still do to this day. It sits in my personal ranking at number three, just behind Violator and Black Celebration, and it may even have been the inspiration behind the name of a character I hope my readers will get to know a lot better later this year. It’s a very mature Depeche Mode album and I think that even with Wilder’s departure, it still has his fingerprints all over it, probably due to longtime Depeche Mode fan Tim Simenon handling the production and the fact that the band had worked with Wilder for twelve years—something had to rub off. Despite the darkness that pervades the album, Ultra has a lot of great memories for me. And as any Depeche Mode fan worth his or her salt knows, Depeche Mode’s best music comes from the darkness.
“I don’t understand what destiny’s planned, I’m starting to grasp what is in my own hands..." - Depeche Mode, “Clean” written by M.L. Gore
In discussing the career of British synthpop band Depeche Mode, truer words were never spoken, sung, or written. There was never any big plan for the band when they began life in Basildon, England in 1980. However, ten years later, they were certainly grasping success in their hands. They had built a loyal live following and had success in Europe with their albums, but with the arrival of 1990’s Violator, Depeche Mode tasted world domination. Violator turns 25 this week.
Like their previous album Music for the Masses, the title Violator was supposed to be a joke—a title one would find on a heavy metal album or a porno. Music for the Masses proved to be quite prescient—that tour culminated with a sold out show at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in California—but the success of that album paled in comparison to Violator. A preview of the frenzy that would surround Depeche Mode in 1990 came at their album signing in Los Angeles just prior to the album’s U.S. release. The band members—Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Alan Wilder, and Andy Fletcher—convened at Wherehouse Records and found thousands of fans waiting for them, some had even lined up days in advance. The band stayed for about an hour before the situation got out of hand and they had to leave. Though a full-scale riot didn’t break out, some people got hurt in the resulting melee and the cops had to break it all up. It was a hell of an announcement that Violator had arrived.
Violator transformed Depeche Mode from a cult postmodern/alternative/new wave, (choose your label), band to one that everyone knew. Even those who might not have necessarily been into “new wave” music probably owned Violator. The album was the culmination of Depeche Mode’s growth in the public consciousness, leading them to sell out stadiums all over the world on their accompanying World Violation Tour. Though they can still fill stadiums in Europe, they have mostly returned to being the biggest cult band in the world. Amazingly, they still pick up new listeners with each album they release and they have the staying power of Violator to thank for that. It made electronic music—a genre consistently derided by “proper” musicians and critics—cool, changing the musical landscape. Nowadays, you’ll find more of Depeche Mode’s tools of the trade—synthesizers, sampling, etc.—creeping into more songs than ever before. For better or worse, electronic music is here to stay.
However, the members of Depeche Mode would tell you—rightfully so—that all the electronics in the world can’t disguise a bad song, so it all starts there and Violator represents the band’s tightest, most-concentrated shot of great songs in one package—save any compilations, of course. The first three singles off the album are a triad of classics: “Personal Jesus,” “Enjoy The Silence,” and “Policy Of Truth.” If casual listeners have forgotten Depeche Mode over the years, these three songs will remind them how great an album Violator is. The fourth single, “World In My Eyes,” is not only a fantastic album-opener, but is arguably the band’s sexiest song in their catalog. The rest of the album is not throwaway by any stretch of the imagination, with each track worthy enough to be a single. The best part of all is that the songs still hold up today. You could play any one of the tracks off of Violator now and it would sound as fresh as it did 25 years ago.
The album was my gateway drug into the world of Depeche Mode and I’ve been addicted ever since. Depeche Mode has been my favorite band for 25 years and it’s all thanks to Violator. The album had some help from my friend Warren, who quickly introduced me to the live album 101, as well as a few other albums in their catalog, but Violator was the best. I couldn’t even count all the mix tapes I made in the wake of buying Violator and hunting down the maxi-single cassettes with all the remixes. Yes that’s right, when I first got Violator, I had it on cassette. This led me to initially short-change the two last songs on the album, “Blue Dress” and “Clean,” in favor of finishing off “Policy Of Truth” and flipping the cassette back over to start over with “World In My Eyes.” I corrected my ways since and now both songs are two of my all-time favorites.
That level of quality extended to the album’s B-sides: “Dangerous,” “Happiest Girl,” and “Sea Of Sin.” All these songs were strong enough to be added to the album, but that would have disrupted the perfect balance and length of the album. In this age of stuffing albums full of subpar songs in order to fill out a CD, Violator is perfectly economical—just long enough to fill up one side of a 90-minute cassette.
Another element that added to the album’s perfection was its simple, but iconic album cover by Anton Corbijn. The single red rose on a stark black background has come to define Depeche Mode and their music in a single image—beautiful, delicate, dark, but with some bite. Corbijn began working with the band in 1986 and steadily took on more and more of crafting Depeche Mode’s image. By Violator, he was doing the album art, single art, all the videos, and designing their stage setup for their tour. The videos became just as iconic as the album cover, with “Personal Jesus,” “Enjoy The Silence,” and “Policy Of Truth” all receiving heavy airplay on MTV. Corbijn also made videos for “World In My Eyes,” “Halo,” and “Clean,” collecting them on the video compilation Strange Too, a follow up to Strange, which collected the videos from Music for the Masses. “Enjoy The Silence,” with Dave Gahan dressed like a king and roaming the planet, is probably their most recognizable video, though the visit to the brothel in “Personal Jesus” is tough to forget. Though other projects have kept Corbijn too busy to totally control Depeche Mode’s visual output, he still did the album sleeve and concert DVD for their last tour.
Violator changed everything for Depeche Mode. It made them worldwide megastars and though the glow of that success has faded over the years, they still draw massive crowds whenever they tour. It is a fantastic album and Violator’s still-modern sound is a testament to its quality and staying power. On this, its 25th anniversary, take a listen to it and discover Depeche Mode all over again.
The news has recently broken that Spider-Man will now be allowed to appear in Marvel Cinematic Universe films, (Translation for non-nerds: Spider-Man can now be in The Avengers). The only person who probably isn't happy about this? Wolverine, or more specifically, Hugh Jackman. Jackman has publicly campaigned for Wolverine to appear in the Avengers films, but honestly, the X-Men contract with 20th Century Fox is even more binding than Spidey's with Sony, so the hope for ever seeing Wolverine and the X-Men teaming with Iron Man and Captain America is very dim indeed. Dirty A and I will be podcasting about all the Spider-Man hubbub very soon with our good friend, author Matt King. Stay tuned!
That's right, friends! Great Big World: The Trouble with Dr. Beamo is now available in ALL formats!! Click the picture below for the format you want:
For those who have already purchased a copy, thanks, and thanks for reading! For those who have yet to join the Greene Street Gumshoes on their adventure, I hope that you'll join them and when you do, that you enjoy the ride!
In the midst of getting Great Big World ready for publication, I found some time to contribute another essay to The Retroist! This one is about one of my all-time favorite video games, The Legend of Zelda, and whether it is indeed the greatest of all video games. Head on over the site and check it out!
The day is finally here! Great Big World: The Trouble with Dr. Beamo is available for purchase! As of right now, only the print edition is available, but digital editions will be available very soon! Head on over to my page for Great Big World to get the scoop, or just click the image above to head over to my personal store at Createspace to purchase a copy!