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Pop Music Review : Depeche Mode's Dark Message

July 15, 1986|CHRIS WILLMAN

Let's have a black celebration tonight, to celebrate the fact that we've seen the back of another black day . . . .

"Sing it!" exhorted singer David Gahan cheerily, prompting the masses to join in during the opening number of Depeche Mode's sold-out Forum show Sunday. "Come on!"

Death is everywhere . . . . There are flies on the windscreen . . . . There are lambs for the slaughter . . . .

"Come on!" the prancing and preening singer implored minutes later, inviting more audience participation before launching into the first of many hip-thrusting episodes.

Boiled down to its basics, Depeche Mode's message would seem to be: Eat, drink and wiggle your rear, for tomorrow we end up squashed like bugs on the cosmic windshield of life. Of course, it's not quite that simple--to be fair, the quest for love also figures into the equation--but it is that obsessed with death.

And given young Angelenos' penchant for dressing in black even before Depeche Mode recorded a song called--you guessed it--"Dressed in Black," it shouldn't be as great a shock as it is to discover that, while some of us weren't paying attention, the English quartet has apparently become the band of choice among white L.A. teen-agers. (In addition to the Forum date, shows at Irvine Meadows Monday and tonight also sold out.)

The group's immense popularity locally--as opposed to the rest of the country, by the way, where Mode-mania is not nearly as rampant--has given pause to more than one adult. Parents worried about the band's overriding morbidity and rock purists perturbed over the band's all-synthetic instrumentation want to know one thing:

What's the matter with these kids today?

Probably nothing that wasn't the matter back when Pete Townshend was hoping he'd die before he got old. Depeche songwriter Martin Gore has a sharp way of articulating the loneliness, anxiety and fear of impending doom and/or nothingness that seem to particularly afflict teens in the midst of a pre-pre-pre-midlife crisis.

Combine that with irritatingly catchy melody lines sung in a minor-key monotone over danceable industrial rhythms, throw in a geeky-looking haircut or two, and voila! One order of depresso-techno-pop coming up.

The rock-haters who get so up in arms over the comic-book devilry of the heavy metal bands would better spend their time studying why an audience of more than 15,000--nearly all between ages 12 and 19--so readily sings along with the bitter "Blasphemous Rumours," which facetiously professes belief in a cruel, sadistic God.

The subject matter is heavy, the all-synthesizer sound mostly brooding and oppressive, save for an occasional upbeat ditty like "Just Can't Get Enough." So the Mode's means of keeping things moving on stage is singer Gahan, whose dancing antics--including enough pelvic thrusts to give Prince pause--often seemed at odds with what he was crooning.

The predictably more subdued Gore took center stage to sing a couple of his compositions in a vocal range more pleasing than Gahan's, though his charisma lay entirely in his costuming.

You have to wonder what's going on with a guy who writes a song like "Master and Servant"--which presumably takes a stance against the unequally yoked role-playing of the title--and then appears on stage in what looks like a leather domination outfit, complete with handcuffs dangling at his side.

"I said, are you having a good time?" repeated Gahan, doing the usual rock star amenities late in the evening. Earlier he'd sung that "It Doesn't Matter," because all the good times are going to end sooner or later--but then, No one here gets out alive isn't a very savvy taste to leave with a departing crowd. When you're selling out the Forum, even a black celebration can be a happy affair.

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