“So lie to me / Like they do it in the factory /
Make me believe that at the end of the day
Some great reward will be coming my way.“
While OMD, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet were celebrating New Romanticism, penning songs of love and sex in the grand tradition of most rock ‘n’ roll genres, Depeche Mode dared to tell me the truth. There were no “I can’t live without you babe“s or any “you mean everything to me“s. No, thanks to Martin Gore, in the same year that I had ‘health class’ where I learned about sexual reproduction, I also got the skinny on relationships, real relationships, that is.
Before Some Great Reward, there were hints of this kind of honest songwriting in Depeche Mode’s songs, as in the virtues of selfishness in “Get the Balance Right,” greed in “Everything Counts” and shame in, well, “Shame.” But nothing prepared me for the life lessons in this groundbreaking album. It wasn’t groundbreaking as far as sound; we had all heard this kind of pop dance music before. Nor was it new in terms of subject matter, though never presented in this manner. It was groundbreaking in that it was one of the first to combine pop accessibility with such challenging themes, and they did it so effortlessly.
The first song that really struck me, and I mean struck me, like with an anvil, was “Lie to Me.” As I mention this song in nearly everything I write concerning DM, most people know that to this day I still consider it one of their best. The album’s title, and even the cover image, revolves around the lyrics to this sensuous track. Gore gets to the truth, ironically, in this song by admitting that sometimes all it takes to continue a relationship is a little lying. The ‘great reward’ of the title, as mentioned in the lyrics printed above, equates the promise of sex with the promise of work benefits, both fantasies.
“Master and Servant,” on the other hand, introduced me to a whole new world of the alternative styles of loving. With school and home force-feeding us the absolute tripe of candy-coated whitewashed sex, Gore and Dave Gahan were talking about positions, role playing and getting on one’s knees like a dog. “Blasphemous Rumours” had the same effect on me regarding the subject of religion. There were always questions and doubts that were within me that I never felt comfortable to ask, which is exactly how they wanted it. DM confirmed my skepticism with an O. Henry-like story of irony involving a 16 year-old suicidal girl who finds God and dies anyway. The subtle composition behind the not-so-subtle words make the song work, becoming a quick fan favorite, especially amongst soul searching teens like myself.
Finally, there was Martin Gore finding his own voice in “Somebody.” Gore revealed to all of us awkward and lonely teenagers that it was okay to express our feelings, no matter how embarrassing or corny. He shares with us his laundry list of what he wants in a relationship, baring it all, merely wanting someone who will understand him. But not only is he sentimental, he is also self-aware, telling us that though these sappy romantic ideas ‘make him sick,’ he figures that in this instance all will be forgiven. He’s right. In their next album, Gore would follow-up this stellar performance with its sister song, “Sometimes,” which would have similar ideas about being somewhat embarrassing.
For me, Some Great Reward was like the comic book hidden behind the history text. It was direct and accessible, yet somehow taboo, and not what I was ‘supposed’ to be listening to. The album made me a Depeche Mode fan for life, but now, as we all well know, comic books are really, really popular.