I was talking with a friend a couple weeks ago about music, and specifically artists that either made their mark before we came of age, or with whom we just weren’t that familiar during their initial rise to prominence. Some of these bands and singers achieved lasting significance, but always seemed to exist in the bubble of their time. Then there was music, I argued, that while marked by certain signifiers of its time — instrumentation, lyrical preoccupation, and outside imagery either embraced or manufactured — seemed to exist in a zany slipstream of timelessness. While I had a few other suggestions, Led Zeppelin, The Smiths and Depche Mode were the groups that my friend and I most readily agreed upon as being of this category.
With each of these acts, there are tracks, if not entire albums, that sound as fresh, unscuffed and shiny new today as the day of their release. For electro-pop Depeche Mode, 1990’s throbbing Violator remains an absolutely essential rock album — a stirring work bristling with moody despair, hormonal foreboding, spiritual angst, rubbed-raw hope, and anger with the status quo. It’s only nine tracks, but it feels deeper and more substantive: “World in My Eyes,” “Personal Jesus,” “Enjoy the Silence,” “Policy of Truth” and, arguably, “Waiting for the Night” each battle for godhead status, imparting vastly different perspectives. Nearly two decades on from their most notable chart-topping, their Stateside star might have dimmed, but the band continues to release new and challenging material on a regular basis, and tour and perform in front of large, appreciative crowds.
It makes sense, then, and doesn’t seem an ill-timed grab at nostalgia, an unauthorized feature-length biography like Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression. Running 97 minutes and stuffed with insightful analysis, this movie traces the almost surreal development of the group, from their flirtations with New Romanticism in the early days of their career through the urban industrial landscapes envisaged on Construction Time Again and Some Great Reward into what’s been called “the dark hollow” of their later work. Featuring interview material with all the band members, as well as contributions from friends, colleagues and contemporaries like Gary Numan, Thomas Dolby, OMD’s Andy McCluskey and Daniel Miller, The Dark Progression also benefits greatly from its ample music clearances. Yes, that means you get archive clips and rehearsal footage of such tunes as “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Stripped,” “Never Let Me Down Again,” “Walking in My Shoes,” “I Feel You” and the aforementioned songs. Band biographer Jonathan Miller lends exhaustive chronological order to the proceedings, and Depeche collaborators and producers like Gareth Jones, Dave Bascombe, Phil Legg and Steve Lyon also provide wonderful anecdotes and insight.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover with a nice color cover photograph and sepia-toned shot on the reverse side, The Dark Progression comes presented on a region-free disc in 4:3 with a decent stereo audio mix. Supplemental extras exist in the form of contributor biographies and extended clips from said talking-head interviews. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) C (Disc)