Depeche Mode Songs of Faith and Devotion

Remake/Remodel No. 4: Depeche Mode – Songs of Faith and Devotion

One thing that I think is worth noting as we get deeper into the Remake/Remodel process, is that I like all of the albums I’m writing about. It’s just that I think they might work better in a slightly different order, with some slightly different tracks. Take Depeche Mode’s Songs of Faith and Devotion for example: On an individual song basis, there’s some excellent material here. I actually bought it on vinyl, so I must like it enough to have a physical copy of note. “Walking In My Shoes” is one of my all-time favorite Depeche Mode songs, and deeper into the tracklist there are other gems to be found. But there’s also some filler, and it’s sequenced in such a way that the energy deflates a little too soon. On the original album, for instance, the two big singles are placed back to back as tracks one and two, which gives away too much too soon. By comparison, two of Violator‘s singles were on Side B (the two best ones, actually). You need something to build up to. The other thing about SOFAD is that, on the surface, it seems like a concept album with Biblical themes, which it is, sort of. But there’s no real storyline to speak of. Also, Dave Gahan sort of looked like Jesus at the time, so he just sort of went with it. So without a specific narrative thread, there’s no reason to keep the sequence intact, and I didn’t. Let’s get started:

1 “In Your Room” [Zephyr mix]

I don’t really care for remixes usually, but I like the dramatic build of this, from a haunting dirge of sorts into a much bigger track. It builds tension better than the noisy blast of “I Feel You,” and while Depeche Mode almost always drop a single at track one, I’d prefer to take the “Black Celebration” route and start off a little slower.

2 “Walking In My Shoes”

But not too slow. This track always seemed like a perfect fit at track two. Whether or not it’s as timeless and powerful as “Enjoy the Silence” is debatable, and most would probably say “no it isn’t.” But it’s close, and I like this small piece of instant gratification as it is, right here.

3 “Mercy In You”

So, one of the problems with the sequencing on the original album is that it goes from two singles to a ballad. I like “Condemnation,” but when you build up so quickly just to deflate it, the album loses a lot of momentum quickly. So, let’s keep it turnt up.

4 “Dangerous” [“Personal Jesus” b-side]

My goal in sequencing this album was to make it flow more like Violator, which is a perfect 10. (Don’t argue with me, it is.) So why not pluck a b-side from that era? The Violator b-sides are better than the SOFAD b-sides anyway. I almost placed “My Joy” here, but it doesn’t really work well with others. “Dangerous,” however, is subtler and more brooding, and almost worthy of being a single itself.

5 “Judas”

The average Depeche Mode album has two songs fronted by Martin Gore, compared to 7 or 8 fronted by Gahan, but in this case, I only kept one. “One Caress” is rote Gore, basically just “Blue Dress” rewritten, or “I Want You Now,” rewritten. And we don’t really need a third one of those. “Judas” is a much more interesting song that gets fleshed out properly into something bigger and with more depth. So it’ll close out what’s ostensibly side one.

6 “Condemnation”

OK, now we get to this one. It seems like a good start to the second half, like the hangover after the previous side’s indulgence. Or the confession after the sin. And though Depeche Mode really ran the religion thing into the ground after a while (“Personal Jesus” is 25 years old, just for reference), this is a gospel motif used really well.

7 “Rush”

Here’s a fun, noisy one, Depeche Mode playing a bit more at being Nine Inch Nails. And it works pretty well, actually. They did more of this sort of thing on Ultra (and pretty well, too) but this might be peak-industrial-rock DM.

8 “Higher Love”

This is a fine song, but as a closer, it seems a bit on the nose. But maybe we sequence the album like a live set. This is what seems like the closer—a longer, slower, more introspective track to bring the lights down.

9 “I Feel You”

But then we get the encore! And the noisy screech at the beginning, with “In Your Room,” returns anew with this bluesy banger. It’s more or less “Personal Jesus Part Two,” but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. A rockin’ closer with energy and a sense of fun that the actual closer misses out on.

Nirvana Nevermind remake/remodel

Remake/Remodel No. 3: Nirvana – Nevermind

Three albums into this project and I’m already committing acts of sacrilege. But then again, we’ve all heard Nirvana’s Nevermind so many times, is it really so wrong to want to make it more interesting? I wouldn’t think so. Once upon a time, I thought this was a perfect album. But looking back, after not listening to it very much (because you can hear these songs on the radio all the time, anyway), I’ve come to realize that there are definitely some clunkers, and for that matter, the tracklist order might work better if changed up a little. And when you add a couple rarities and b-sides to the mix, what you get is an album that’s far more interesting to my ears. Here’s what I came up with.

1 “Stay Away”

It seems to me that Nevermind, in its existing form, blows its wad a little too quickly. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the band’s anthem, and sure, starts the album off strong. But I also think it’s better to build up to it, get some kindling burning first. “Stay Away” has that great Dave Grohl drumroll beginning to get things started, so it’s a fun alternate start.

2 “Breed”

This was a backup plan for a first track, for my edits, but it makes a little more sense to come after that first blast of energy. This one’s a little sludgier, a little more proper grunge. A nice one-two punk of the band at their most direct and immediate.

3 “In Bloom”
4 “Come As You Are”

I like the pairing of these as they are on the album, so no need to mess with what works.

5 “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

OK, here we go. With THE HIT at track five, it gives the album some time to build some suspense before it reaches this climactic release.

6 “Polly”

This kind of works as a good breath of fresh air after “Teen Spirit” does its thing. I’m not sure if these six songs would fit on a side of vinyl, but it’s a good end to the first half.

7 “Drain You”

And this, by comparison, makes a perfect beginning to a side two. Again, this was another song that was on my shortlist for replacement opening track, but I felt that it made a better fit as a gateway to the album’s back half. It’s definitely one of the best songs on the album, and like “Teen Spirit” (which I don’t actually think is one of the best songs on the album) I wouldn’t want that currency spent so quickly.

8 “Verse Chorus Verse” [from No Alternative compilation]

You know, this is actually sort of an odd fit, since this was recorded later, and (I’m guessing) came from the In Utero sessions. But musically it shares more in common with the songs from Nevermind. The band never treated it with that much attention; in fact, on No Alternative, it was a hidden track, so it’s almost like it doesn’t exist. But it’s always been one of my favorites, and I’m just gonna put it right here.

9 “Lithium”

So, this song. I could absolutely go without ever hearing it again. But I also think it brings something of value to the album. And I like it in this sequence, because it has more of a show-stopper quality. The first half of the album that Nirvana actually released felt a little too hit-heavy in the first half, so this side could use some more.

10 “Aneurysm” [“Smells Like Teen Spirit” b-side]

It seems odd to me that this song became a hit in its live version five years later, but then again, after Kurt Cobain died, radio stations pretty much played every Nirvana song they could get their hands on. But this is such a powerful, intense song that I kind of think it rivals or bests a lot of songs that are on the actual album. And it’s a great way for the album to almost end.

11 “On A Plain”

But this is where the album should actually end. I’ve always thought “Something In the Way” was kind of boring, while “On a Plain” would end the record perfectly. I like it when an album ends on a high note rather than a sleepy ballad (that works fine a lot of the time, but this is more fun). And the way the vocals continue after the music drops out just seems like a great touch, like there’s an echo after the band stops playing. A perfect album ender right here.

Joanna Newsom Have One On Me

Remake/Remodel No. 2: Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Joanna Newsom. I saw her live back around 2004 or so, when her first album came out, and I couldn’t get past the idea that this weird, harp-plucking music was probably meant for Renaissance Faires. She’s changed her approach a bit since then, and has gotten a lot more ambitious in the process, adding string arrangements by Van Dyke Parks and making some really long songs. And I applaud the efforts, but I also found myself throwing up my hands in disbelief when Have One On Me was basically at the top of every year-end list in 2010. It’s three discs of harp-pluckin’ folk. Who on earth has the patience for that? I spoke ill of the album a lot that year, probably inadvertently losing some friends in the process (probably not, but you never know, I was pretty unforgiving).

Here’s the thing though: It’s not a bad album. It’s actually a very good album. It’s just way too long. Three discs is excessive, and too much fluffy harp folk just turns my brain to mush. But there’s a lot of gems on the album, and if you cut out half the tracks, it goes from being an overstuffed album to one that flows perfectly, and without the strongest tracks losing any of their potency. So I trimmed it from 18 tracks to nine. It all fits on one CD, and on vinyl, it would make for two 30-ish minute LPs. Still a little long, but not two and a half hours. So let’s dive in and see how Have One on Me becomes Have JUST One on Me.

1. “In California”

It might seem counterintuitive for me, right after saying this album is too long, to start it off with a nine-minute song. But you sort of need a subtler, longer song to really let the listener know what they’re in for. This track reminds me more of Joni Mitchell, and it unfolds slowly, opening up with a pretty, meditative sound. It’s a good stage-setter, but one that doesn’t reveal too much too soon.

2. “Good Intentions Paving Company”

I almost made this the last song, since it’s the most fun and the one that sounds like a pop song. It’s like the encore! But it seemed more fitting to push it up higher on the tracklist, as if to say, “Hey, this album isn’t all quiet, introspective folk!” This is definitelly one of the best songs here, and you sort of need something to capture interest—mine at least—before it gets too ethereal.

3. “’81”

Following the catchiest song on the album with the shortest seems like the most logical course of action to me. Knock out the hits before getting to the more long-winded stuff. And this three-minute song is definitely one of the catchiest, so you probably wouldn’t want to bury it too deep.

4. “You and Me, Bess”
5. Have One On Me”

“Have One On Me” is the longest song here by a few minutes, and while I could trim a lot by excluding it, I do think it’s one of the more successful songs here. Paired with “You and Me, Bess” it’s a strong side B.

6. “Easy”

If this were a double LP, here’s where Side C would begin, with one of the strongest tracks on the entire album. Here, Joanna Newsom sounds more like Kate Bush than ever, with an elaborate arrangement featuring piano, strings and a rhythm section. It’s the right amount of drama to give the second act some momentum.

7. “Baby Birch”

Here’s another long one, but I love the build of it, as it grows from a lullaby into a much bigger song. After the bombast of the previous song, it’s good to have something that slows down a bit, but doesn’t entirely descend into soft balladry. There’s even some scratchy guitar at the end, which is a nice touch.

8. “Go Long”

It’s funny—”Go Long” is maybe the most Newsom-y song I’ve included. It’s harp mania! But it’s also goddamn beautiful. I think what makes it work is how intricate it is—and she doesn’t hold back on the musicianship. Weirdly enough, I think she tends to succeed when she goes more ornate and elaborate. And it’s a great penultimate track because it presents a strong juxtaposition to…

9. “Does Not Suffice”

… one of the most simple songs on the album. It’s a piano ballad in the tradition of Carole King (and inspired in part by gospel and R&B, and by the end, more Kate Bush—come to think of it, you can pretty much make this into a great Kate Bush album with the right moves), and it’s just a good melody. It doesn’t need much, and the soulfulness of it makes a proper end to a much shorter, but still massive album.

Anyway, I fully expect to hear people tell me I’m a philistine for chopping up this album. I don’t care. I like it much better this way.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Remake/Remodel No. 1: Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Don’t worry, I haven’t stopped Autobiographical Order, I just wanted to give myself a brief break before diving into the next LP, which is kind of a bummer (I like it, it’s just an album about some heavy stuff, and I’m just giving myself time to wake up before doing that). But today, I’m introducing a new weekly feature: Remake/Remodel.

Here’s how it works: Every week, I’ll take an album that I like, but think could be improved, in some way, by changing the tracklist. This might involve removing songs, adding songs, putting them in a different order, putting two discs on one, etc. You might remember Stylus Magazine used to do this in a feature they called Playing God, which I always enjoyed, even if I didn’t always agree with their choices. But what makes it fun is just the experiment of it.

For the first one, I’m tackling an album that I both love and find super frustrating: Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I’ve written about this album before, about how it represents the best and worst of Billy Corgan’s ambitions, and how it’s a bittersweet album, since it was the last one to feature the original lineup. But it’s just way too long. A lot of filler songs clutter it up, and as impressive as it is to see all the ideas they cram into it, there’s absolutely no reason why it has to be 28 songs. So here’s where I come in: I cut it in half, made it into a lean 14-track, 52 minute album. It’d still have to be on two LPs, I reckon, but it fits on one CD, and flows much better, in my opinion. Feel free to argue in the comments. Let’s dive in:

1. “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”

The piano instrumental that opens the album is the first sign of what’s wrong with the album. Considering how strong of a start Siamese Dream had with “Cherub Rock,” I think this album deserves similar treatment. “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” isn’t as good as that song, lyrically, but it at least has the energy and momentum to get this thing off the ground.

2. “Zero”

Another song with a few cringe-worthy lyrics, but otherwise great. And it makes more sense higher up on the tracklist, keeping up the uptempo rock pace while easing into a dark groove.

3. “Here is No Why”
4. “1979”

Some argue that “1979” is the best song that the Pumpkins ever wrote. I disagree, but it is a great tune, and it’s a shame to have it buried way down on disc two like that. It deserves better, and after two rock jams, it makes for a good follow-up to one of the first signs of relief from the grunginess.

5. “Jellybelly”
6. “Thirty-Three”
7. “Muzzle”

This is sort of how I envision the first side of the album ending, with the underrated anthem “Muzzle” being the climactic end to the first act. And with seven tracks instead of 14, that first act flows much better, and keeps my interest without descending into goofy shit like “Cupid de Locke” or “We Only Come Out at Night.”

8. “Where Boys Fear to Tread”
9. “Bodies”
10. “In the Arms of Sleep”

So, I kept this sequence pretty much as it happens on the album. Disc two starts off strong, with three songs that are basically unchanged in their placement. No need to break what ain’t broken.

11. “Through the Eyes of Ruby”

This is the real epic of the album, the one that has everything that’s awesome about a Pumpkins track: Hooks, bombast, guitar solos, etc. “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” is fine, but I’m keeping this thing lean. So here’s your heroic, seven-minute track, probably the best song on the album, which makes a great late-album climax in the journey toward the end.

12. “Stumbleine”
13. “Beautiful”

Before we get to the big finish, a couple slower, prettier songs from the album to let some of the pressure off after “Ruby” inflates this thing into nigh-rock-opera proportions. To Corgan’s credit, there are some really good ballads on Mellon Collie. There are some not-very-good ones too. But this is where he gets it right on.

14. “Tonight, Tonight”

This is maybe my favorite part about the reworking of this album. Put the first(ish) song as the last one. “Tonight Tonight” always sounded more like an end than a beginning—a nice tune to wrap up all of the festivities. And with that, one of the best songs of the record, it closes on strings and just a touch of the dreamy fluff that Corgan overstuffed into the album.

There you have it. A good balance of the conflicting and contrasting sounds of the album, made to be more compact and digestible. Give it a try. Maybe I’ll make a Spotify playlist of my ongoing experiments. Next week, I’ll take another flawed classic and get it more to my liking. Until then, Autobiographical Order will return with the Records Of Our Lives. (or mine, I guess)