The Tapes Your Mother Laid Out for You
First Installment: Depeche Mode – People Are People (1984)
By Andrew W. Miller
The Depeche Mode that most are familiar with is a British New Wave act, popular for breakthrough hits like “Personal Jesus.” In fact, the group released six proper albums prior to Violator and had hits with songs like “People are People.” However, many of these early albums were only available in Europe and Australia. It was only after the release of “People are People,” originally released on Some Great Reward, that a North American audience was introduced to a rather improper album, also called People are People.
By all accounts this is a piece of shit B-side and singles compilation built around a few moderately significant hits. Allmusic gives it a lousy review. It stands to reason that some of the content here is not purported to be A-list fare. The album is also distinct in that it’s more upbeat than melancholic classics like Violator. “Not worthy of the Depeche Mode catalog,” some might say. I would disagree. Even at its corniest moment, this album is still great. I can assuredly say that every single song on People are People is memorable and deserves to see the light of day. I actually find it preferable to Some Great Reward, an album whose hit (“Blasphemous Rumours”) is arguably less interesting than some of these B-sides.
I guess the initial novelty of the title track is that the samples it’s built around were given to Depeche Mode by producer Gareth Jones, who got them from avant-garde industrialists Einstürzende Neubauten. Strangely enough, those unaccustomed to clanging metal won’t find the samples here jarring, but rather catchy and easy to shallow. In later years, Einstürzende Neubauten has certainly put out their share of listener-friendly tunes, but nothing like Depeche Mode. Here, singer Martin Gore is able to deliver cheesy lines like, “People are eople / so why would it be / You and I should get along so awfully?” and, “I can’t understand / what makes a man / hate another man / Help me understand,” with absolute sincerity. Somehow, these pieces add up to a great single.
The best track on the album is perhaps “Pipeline”, an alternative version of a song from 1983’s Construction Time Again. Here, unique sounds are used once more. Among them are a deep, scratchy hum and what appears to be the sound of a bouncing ping-pong ball. The structure of the song is simpler than most, but it earns points with me for innovation’s sake.
Tracks like “Work Hard” utilize clanky noises as well, though more scarcely throughout. In this particular case, what seems to be an array of typewriter sounds appears throughout. Somehow, “Work Hard” too passes the test of catchiness and credibility by using what are either sing-songy gang vocals or a convincing vocal echo to mimic them.
Other songs like “Now This Is Fun,” built on simple electronic drum kicks, synths, and wonky noise, are fun but fall short of the album’s main points of strength.
The final song, “Everything Counts” (a previous single from Construction Time Again), is another strong point. The lyrics could be abysmal if delivered in any other context, but somehow they work. “The grabbing hands grab all they can / Everything counts in large amounts.” And on that note, any further qualification would be bourgeois.
People Are People – Music Video
To hear samples / purchase: Amazon