Over the past ten years, we have been deluged with CD reissues from many of the finest in pop music history that have brought their previous works up to a higher standard of audio fidelity. While some artists seem to make a second career out of re-packaging their past, I always wondered why Depeche Mode, whose albums were so technologically advanced to begin with, could not dip into the past just for a moment to bolster up their older albums.
The Depeche Mode CD back catalogue, particularly the pre Violator releases, left a lot to be desired. Those discs contained skimpy linear notes with the ‘inside cover’ artwork just in black and white, and the weak sounding audio of so many CD’s back in the formats early days. Depeche Mode fans have been clamoring for these hotly anticipated discs for the last six or seven months and I must say that the news of these reissues certainly had my “New Wave mojo” workin’
To give it to you straight: these Deluxe Editions are absolutely incredible! Aside from a few minor complaints (more on those later) these discs are everything that a reissue should be. Since much has been said about the content on these albums, I will focus on what makes these re-issues so essential.
Each individual album comes housed in a digipack case with a sharp-looking slip cover on the outside. The booklet/Liner notes are nicely done with an informative essay written by long-time producer and Mute Records founder, Daniel Miller. The first disc contains the original and newly remastered albums, which all sound fantastic. In the case of “Speak and Spell (SAS)”, we are graced with the twelve song UK pressing of the album which has a different track order to the US version. This pressing also includes the single version of the era-defining classic, “Just Can’t Get Enough” along with the track, “I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead”. I always found it odd that the US CD contained the 12” ‘Schizo Mix’ of “Just Can’t Get Enough” and not the far superior single edit. That situation is thankfully rectified here and we can now have “SAS” as the band originally intended.
“Music for the Masses (MFTM)” contains the ten tracks that the vinyl edition had in 1987. The original CD and cassette (remember those?) contained four bonus tracks that attempted to entice us into leaving our vinyl behind in favor a bold move into the sonic future. Of course now, those tracks, which were originally add-ons, seem like part of the album to anyone owning the CD, so having it end after ten songs is a bit jarring takes some readjustment.
The second disc is where we find the DVD content: surround sound audio, b-sides, bonus tracks and a thirty minute video documentary on the making of each album. We are treated to three different audio streams on each disc: PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1; all of which sound fantastic! These surround mixes reveal so many layers of sound that were buried in their previous stereo mixes, one might feel like they were hearing this for the first time since you will hear sounds you have never heard before.
While “SAS” benefits from this beefed-up mix, “MFTM” and “Violator” lend themselves beautifully to the surround format. Since the band had a considerably larger budget for these two releases, the orchestrations and sounds contained therein were incredibly lush; almost symphonic. The DTS mix easily trumps the Dolby mix with its extended bass response and more aggressive use of the rear surrounds. “Violator” has long been revered as a hallmark of electronic pop music but in this format it is elevated to being the most amazing surround sound experience I’ve had! Nothing can prepare you for the envelope of electronic textures and dance floor grooves that embrace you from every angle throughout the albums duration.
While I love the surround mixes, an SACD mix would have made this set perfect. This is a glaring omission on the part of Rhino and even more so because the UK import version all have a CD/SACD hybrid for disc one! Not a smart move. Hopefully this will not happen on the remaining catalogue releases.
The second disc from each set also features the appropriate b-sides from the album’s singles but since the additional tracks are on the DVD, you are unable to put these tracks into your ITUNES or on a computer. It is understandable to keep the first disc the way the artist intended the original album to be but in an ‘expanded’ format that ends up only shortchanges the user since they will now have to turn on the DVD player, the TV and navigate through menus to access the bonus tracks. Plus, one can not take their IPOD and groove out to “Ice Machine” while walking down the street, if they are so inclined.
“SAS” features four additional tracks, including that darned Schizo Mix of “Just Can’t Get Enough”, which is great as an extended version, not an album track. These tracks are presented in the three aforementioned audio streams.
“MFTM” has a total of eight extra tracks; four ‘bonus 5.1 audio mixes’ and four ‘additional tracks’. If this sounds a bit odd, it is and makes for my second gripe with the sets. The ‘bonus 5.1 audio mixes’ are the previously mentioned tracks which appeared on the “MFTM” CD and cassette. In keeping with the “SAS” bonus tracks, these are in PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Sounds good so far, right? But then we arrive at the four ‘additional tracks’ which are not in ANY of the previously mentioned audio streams, just plain stereo! Since they are on the DVD, we are, of course, still forced to fire up the TV just to hear them. If Rhino is going to add bonus tracks on the DVD’s, put them ALL in surround! Better yet, have the same content on each disc, bonus tracks and all, with one being stereo, the other with surround mixes.
The “Violator” DVD is expanded with six fabulous B-sides but unfortunately, they too are only in presented in stereo. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the six songs (three instrumentals, three with vocals) are begging to be mixed in surround.
The DVD disc of each set also includes a thirty-minute documentary on the making of its respective album. Major kudos go out to the film makers since they include past band members, producers and all of the major people in the DM camp over the years. This obviously includes the current three-man lineup of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher. The films achieve a depth that belies their thirty-minute running time as they delve into the band’s creative process for each album while capturing a point in music history as it pertained to the group.
One of the most important facets of any reissue aside from those sonic benefits is that they should present the album program in a way that feels as if you were listening to it for the first time. This is what makes a reissue great and these three discs have that quality in spades. These are essential and well worth the wait. Now if only U2 would do the same thing with their catalogue!