Depeche Mode plays Seattle's KeyArena on Aug. 10.
Long live black T-shirts and synthesizers.
One of the most influential post-punk outfits, Depeche Mode has endured long after many of their electro-synth compatriots have faded into oblivion. And they’ve managed to do so without compromising their creative ideals: dark, hook-laden melodies, Martin Gore’s intensely emotional lyrics and Dave Gahan’s brooding vocals.
Now the members of the British trio are celebrating their (almost) 30th anniversary with a new album, “Sounds of the Universe,” and a blowout, 100-date, globe-spanning stadium tour that comes to KeyArena with openers Peter Bjorn and John on Monday, for a night that should be as big as, well, the universe.
“To be honest, I think at first when we found out it was going to be 30 years, I think it was, ‘Oh my God, how embarrassing. We’re really old!’ ” synth player Andrew Fletcher said recently in an interview with CNN.com. “But I think now we’ve really got our heads around it, and I think it’s something to be actually proud of.”
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And “Sounds of the Universe” is an album that certainly keeps Depeche Mode relevant, while celebrating their vast experience.
They’ve fashioned their version of roots music, using vintage analog synthesizers to layer in primitive, earthy beats. But this is no nostalgic time capsule. As its dramatic melodies spiral out into oblivion, it seems Depeche Mode is reaching both forward and backward simultaneously.
If you care to look backward with them, the group formed in 1980 in a London suburb. Original members Gore, Andrew Fletcher and Vince Clarke traded guitars and basses for synthesizers partially because they were lighter to carry.
They picked up vocalist Dave Gahan, named themselves after a French fashion magazine and made their debut album, “Speak & Spell.” That album landed in the Top 10 in the U.K., as would every subsequent album.
With their 1990 release “Violator,” they solidified their status across the pond.
They haven’t been a particularly critically recognized band. They’ve received just three Grammy nominations (and one was for best long form music video … not exactly the most contested). But they have a cult status that has earned and kept them an enormous fan base: Depeche Mode has sold 75 million albums worldwide.
Over the years they’ve goth-ed up their sound, but kept the hooks, scoring big with hits like “People Are People,” “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence.” Chief songwriter Gore has sharpened his chops, honing in on the meaty sides of love, sex, and death. Gahan has recently (and successfully) picked up some songwriting duty, and his vocals just keep getting better (the new album is solid proof as he stretches his falsetto to lovely results).
Groups like Nine Inch Nails, Ladytron, The Killers, The Bravery and many more all owe something to Depeche Mode. And their songs have been remade by everyone from Johnny Cash to Smashing Pumpkins toHilary Duff.
Like many bands, they’ve struggled with infighting (they lost Clarke, gained keyboardist Alan Wilder, then lost him, too), and drug addiction (Dave Gahan nearly died of a heroin overdose in 1996; he has since cleaned up).
And yes, maybe that wear-and-tear is showing a bit. They’ve had to cancel 12 dates on this tour — the first chunk for Gahan’s bout with gastroenteritis and subsequent removal of a tumor on his bladder, and then a second stretch when he tore a calf muscle.
But as synth music moves into middle age, you won’t catch Depeche Mode in a sweater vest. Unless maybe it’s black.
Joanna Horowitz: firstname.lastname@example.org