NPR logo Depeche Mode: One Vivid Syllable

Depeche Mode: One Vivid Syllable


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Depeche Mode, for better or worse, has made its lengthy career in contradictions and extremes. There's the psychosexual tug-of-war in the lyrics, where pleasure is only worthwhile if it's been earned in pain and egotism alternates with self-doubt. Then there's the music itself, which is often structurally primitive — an argument could be made that Depeche Mode is one of today's most popular blues-rock acts — but texturally futuristic, awash in nearly three decades of synthesized blips and gurgles. Finally, and especially today, there's the issue of aesthetics: The band can exemplify cosmopolitan-rocker cool or sound just plain hokey, following its penchants for melodrama and technology into synth-pop corn. Even Depeche Mode's discography presses hot against cold: The albums are uneven (1990's Violator is a glorious exception), but the singles are consistently excellent.

Wednesday's Pick

  • Song: "Wrong"
  • Artist: Depeche Mode
  • CD: Sounds of the Universe
  • Genre: Pop

Wrought with self-loathing, Depeche Mode's "Wrong" sacrifices story for pure attitude. courtesy of the artist hide caption

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courtesy of the artist

Wrought with self-loathing, Depeche Mode's "Wrong" sacrifices story for pure attitude.

courtesy of the artist

"Wrong," the Martin Gore-penned first single off this year's Sounds of the Universe, is an example of what happens when Depeche Mode follows its better instincts. A burning, deeply rhythmic electro-romp, it brings to the fore the imperious quality of Dave Gahan's baritone, and deftly snowballs in intensity before ending abruptly with the same ominous shout that began it. Its lyrics, wrought with self-loathing, are imprecise but effective, sacrificing story for pure attitude. The overbearing repetition of the title itself is enough to make listeners appreciate how vivid that single syllable can be.

In short, "Wrong" is the sort of computer-rock banger Depeche Mode does best. (Its video, a nightmarish sequence directed by Patrick Daughters, is an absolute must-see.) Arriving at a time when electronic pop means beats or Animal Collective-style abstraction, the song argues that Depeche Mode's unlikely contrasts still have much to offer.

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