Ultra isn’t the best Depeche Mode album. (That’s Violator.) It isn’t even my favourite Depeche Mode album. (That’s Songs of Faith And Devotion.) But it’s the one that changed my life. It was 1997. I was battling through a medical degree that I had no right doing in the first place. And I fell in with the wrong crowd: the arts students at the university paper. With no proof that I could actually write, the clearly desperate Entertainment editor asked me to write something. Finally having realised the doctor thing was never going to happen, I obliged. It was a review of the Depeche Mode album I’d just bought.
It took ages to write and was no doubt quite rubbish (apart from the bit where I said the song It’s No Good should have been called It’s So Good). It probably made astute observations like Dave Gahan’s recent near-fatal overdose adding a rawness to songs like the ragged Barrel Of A Gun, and a newfound fragility to more tender moments like Freestate and Insight.
It definitely mentioned how producer Tim Simenon (of Bomb The Bass) and a slew of session musicians had almost managed to fill the void left by the departure of Alan Wilder, the band’s de facto recording mastermind. It no doubt made a dig at Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher‘s level of creative input (none, as usual). And it must have praised Martin Gore’s maturation as a songwriter, with tracks like Useless and Home amongst the finest in his oeuvre.
Despite the pretentious, self-important tone, it was published (see desperate Entertainment editor above) and eventually led to meeting my future wife, ditching that doctor nonsense, getting a journalism degree, and being paid to write pretentious, self-important reviews (and other stuff). The day job’s since moved on, but I still write whenever I can, and listen to Ultra whenever I like.
Ultra by Depeche Mode, 1997, chosen by writer and assistant editor Nils van der Linden