My favorite 100 albums of all time: #53 ("Black Celebration")
No instruments were harmed in the making of this album. Well, no instruments were used in the making of this album, anyway. I kid, of course, but I remember debating fiercely with friends in the 1986-1987 time-frame whether Depeche Mode made "real" music because the bulk (if not all) of the music was made with synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines.
I believe we've come down firmly on the side of yes, you can make music with electronic instruments, especially when you consider influential works like Black Celebration.
Previous Depeche Mode works had a much bouncier, poppy sound than Black Celebration. This album, overall, has a more ponderous and almost orchestral approach, starting with "Black Celebration." The album borrows elements from industrial music, but without sacrificing any of the accessibility of Depeche Mode's earlier work.
"Fly on the Windscreen – Final" opens with some raspy samples before plunging into darkness with the lyrics "death is everywhere." Somehow the band manages to make doom and gloom almost danceable. It's worth noting that the vocals on this album are perfect. "Fly on the Windscreen" manages to straddle the line between doom and sensuality, which is pretty nifty if you can swing it.
Actually the entire album is filled with lust and cynicism. "A Question of Lust" and "It Doesn't Matter Two" are tender but resigned. "Sometimes" is stripped down to voice and piano, beautiful but despondent. "You can't tell me honestly, you're happy with what you see… you must be, as embarrasing as me. Sometimes."
"A Question of Time" is a more aggressive, driving tune. It picks up the pace of Black Celebration considerably. At the same time, it's a really dark and skeevy song. The song seems to be about wanting to protect a 15-year-old from the inevitable attentions of older men. Innocence about to expire is a well-mined topic in this album. See also "Here is the House" and "World Full of Nothing."
"New Dress" is strangely optimistic, and I like the tune, but the lyrics fall a bit short in my opinion. I get what they're going for, but it's a little blunt and doesn't quite fit on the album. It doesn't really detract from the album, but it doesn't add a great deal either.
But that's really the only flaw in the album. Black Celebration is a high point for a band that has produced a lot of great work. If you're an 80s kid, you no doubt have already heard most or all of Black Celebration. If not, check it out and you'll probably notice a lot of elements that have influenced later bands from Marilyn Manson to Nine Inch Nails.