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Policy of truth - Lindsey Kuper [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Lindsey Kuper

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Policy of truth [Mar. 22nd, 2015|12:24 am]
Lindsey Kuper

Alex left a CD of the 1990 Depeche Mode album Violator in our car a couple days ago, and I played it out of idle curiosity.1 Holy crap.

I'm embarrassed to say that I don't think I've ever really made a point of listening to this band -- but I'm trying to be more honest about this kind of thing, so there it is. I'd heard the live version of the song "Stripped" on the Say Anything soundtrack, which I have somewhere on cassette; I know I listened to that a few times, probably because it came right after "In Your Eyes" on the tape. I distinctly remember appreciating, as a teenager, what the liner notes by Joey Carnuba had to say about Depeche Mode: "These guys get applause for interesting chords." And I had heard some of their other, better-known songs here and there, never exactly realizing who the artist was. But I had never listened to an album from start to finish.

Anyway, I played the album a few times through and then went looking for more versions of the songs. Here is a circa 1993 live performance of "Policy of Truth" that I've probably watched and listened to thirty times today. I like the way the live arrangement emphasizes how the unforgettable main riff is just six notes -- six notes that have been burned into my brain since I was about nine years old, mind you; it's just that I didn't know until a few days ago that they were from this song -- and that the pitch-bendy bit that follows that is actually coming from a different instrument. Not that it's at all obvious what instrument, or even what "instrument" means in this context. If I had to guess, I'd say the six-note riff is being played live on the keyboard (in the video, you can see Martin Gore, the songwriter, playing it a couple of times -- he's the fellow with the sparkly silver outfit and blond mop of hair at the keyboard in the center back); the pitch bend might be a keyboard pitch wheel or it might be a guitar sample being triggered from another keyboard, but who's to say?

I'd love to be able to understand what is happening musically at 0:44, just after the first instance of the main riff followed by singer Dave Gahan's gleeful almost-involuntary "Hey!" yelp. Right after that, more drums come in, but as that is happening, there are a couple of chaotic cymbal crashes that sound like a spontaneous response to Gahan before the new, louder beat locks in. How does that even work?! Nobody up there is playing drums, as such! It's all keyboard-triggered samples -- isn't it? How did they get it to sound spontaneous? That's the first point in the song where I feel like something great is happening here.

The whole rest of the song sounds amazing (bzzt! bzzt! bzz-bzz-ba-bzz-bzzt!; the vocal octave doubling!), but the really off-the-hook atmospheric shit starts happening at about 4:25. There's a bit at the very end where Gahan turns his back to the audience and towards Gore and holds his arms out, dancing. This could be construed as Gahan showing off his ass for the audience, and yeah, honestly, it's probably a little of that. But I like to read it more as an act of ha-ha-only-serious Martin Gore worship. Anyway, I recommend this video if you enjoy electronic music from the early 90s, or boys in collars, or if you want to maybe wake up an old part of your brain.


  1. I think this story might explain something about why it is that, in 2015, I still really appreciate albums as physical artifacts. It's easier to stumble over them (literally stumble, sometimes!) that way, and stumbling can be serendipitous.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sonetka
2015-03-22 07:52 am (UTC)
Oh wow -- "Policy of Truth" is one of those songs where I'd heard the chorus somewhere but had no idea who played it. Now I do, and it just made an excellent end to my evening. Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-03-22 08:46 am (UTC)
Exactly! You're welcome!
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[User Picture]From: sonetka
2015-03-23 02:22 am (UTC)
You'll be pleased to learn that Veronica spent a lot of this afternoon dancing to Depeche Mode with a scarf tied around her head and curtseying gracefully after every song. It was great, and almost made up for the agony of walking Daniel through making his science fair board.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-03-23 03:15 am (UTC)
:D
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-03-23 01:34 am (UTC)
Well, that's what they looked like over twenty years ago, mind you! I think they all have considerably less hair now.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-03-24 02:39 am (UTC)
Oops, that came out 'splainy. Sorry!

What I meant to add was, yeah, I often make a point of finding out what musicians I listen to look like. I remember what a big deal it was for me when I realized that the Pixies don't look particularly cool. They're really sort of dumpy! It made me think that, wow, maybe a dumpy person like myself has the right to get on stage too.
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[User Picture]From: graydon
2015-03-23 01:15 am (UTC)
Second person in two days noting they really failed to appreciate depeche mode the first time around and maybe going to get into them now. Cusp of revival I'd say.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-03-23 01:32 am (UTC)
:D

Yeah, three days ago was (coincidentally!) the twenty-fifth anniversary of this album's release, and so it seems that people are revisiting it for that reason.

Also, in my defense, I was a little young "the first time around"! I didn't actually summon the courage (or the disposable income, but courage was the main thing) to go and buy music for myself until late 1998, when I was sixteen.
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[User Picture]From: graydon
2015-03-23 01:28 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-03-23 08:10 pm (UTC)
Reading the comments there, I wonder if I'm in the minority as someone who thinks that "Enjoy the Silence" is actually really cheesy. I mean, not that I don't like a good cheesy pop song, but..."the greatest pop lyric of all time"? Really?

Edited at 2015-03-23 08:10 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: blk
2015-03-23 02:40 am (UTC)
Man, I LOVED Depeche Mode.... um... way back when. Actually, I still do, but I haven't listened to any of their stuff in a while. I recall Personal Jesus being an awesome song to West Coast Swing dance to.
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[User Picture]From: joshua_
2015-03-23 05:23 am (UTC)
I think my immediate reaction to that is "that's about as rocking as Depeche Mode can get while still being Depeche Mode" -- it's neat to hear the contrast of them adding energy to a song that, by its nature, requires quite a lot of restraint.

(Of little relevance to this in particular, but I should note: I am mostly aware of Depeche Mode by way of Death Guild, the Bay Area Monday-night goth/industrial/synthpop/EBM club; if you sometimes wish you had the opportunity to dress in black and dance to Depeche Mode and other similar and different things, I recommend it!)
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-03-23 04:16 pm (UTC)
Dang -- it's been about ten years since I went to a goth dance night with any regularity. In a previous life, I went to Thursday nights at Neo sometimes...

I, uh...I may or may not have just checked to see if I still own those black fishnets.
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[User Picture]From: cos
2015-03-24 03:41 am (UTC)
... and do you?
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-03-24 03:53 am (UTC)
Yes, I do. I have suitable footwear as well.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-03-24 04:04 am (UTC)
Also, Monday a week from today happens to be my 33rd birthday! Could I convince my friends to come out and dance on a Monday night, do you think?
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[User Picture]From: joshua_
2015-03-24 04:12 am (UTC)
My housemate, jgrafton, goes every week, and I usually go every other week -- I plan to go tonight (it's the club's 22nd anniversary), but if you're planning on going, I'll go next week too!

Edited at 2015-03-24 04:12 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: cos
2015-03-24 03:42 am (UTC)
I didn't know which song of theirs that link was going to lead me to, but of course it's totally recognizable, and recognizable as them. I guess I never learned the titles of their songs when I was hearing them a lot.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2015-03-27 05:02 am (UTC)
Haha, why did I write "Robert"?! What a strange brain fart. Thanks!

Edited at 2015-03-27 05:03 am (UTC)
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