I like a theory. I'm always working on a few, mostly ridiculous, ones. Like for a long time I had this whole matrix of food choices that was supposed to say something about your personality (Wheat Thins vs. Triscuits, spearmint gum vs. peppermint gum etc), and while I am not willing to abandon this entirely, I'm also open to a few more theories of personality and humanity.
(Actually if you want to know the truth right now I think the fundamental division in life is between cat people and dog people, but that's a bit outside the scope of this blog.)
The other night, with the help of my dear friend Cecilia, I had a brain-flash of another theory. It's called, tentatively, the Depeche Mode - Erasure Theory Of Life Balance. And this is what it is.
The song: Depeche Mode, "Shake The Disease"; 1985
To start with, here's one of my favorite Depeche Mode songs, which I also feel is pretty representative of them in general. (Incidentally, it was my dad who gave me the tip that Depeche Mode is great music to work out to, and he was so right!)
I really enjoy Depeche Mode but nobody can deny that their music is dark. Which is part of why I love them. The songs are hard-driving and multi-layered, the vocals are melancholy, and the lyrics often refer to alienation, isolation, or other social maladies.
Depeche Mode are also considered to be one of the greatest electronic music acts of all time. If you don't believe me check their Wikipedia page, which mentions that they've been included on several of those "50 Rock Acts We Really Like" sort of lists that rock criticism outlets just looooooooove to assemble. (But they never call it "50 Rock Acts We Really Like", do they? It's always "50 Greatest Rock Musicians OF ALL TIME" or "75 Bands Whose Like Has Never Been Seen Before Or Since In Any Known Universe". Hyperbolic. And meaningless, in my opinion. Why does everything have to be ranked and numbered?)
In any case, I'm not arguing that Depeche Mode's popularity and renown are not well-deserved, because I love them as much as the next person who owns a black trench coat.
What I am saying is, every yin needs a yang.
The song: Erasure, "Take Me Back"; 1994
This song is from Erasure's 1994 album I Say I Say I Say, which was released a few years after Erasure had hit its prime in the opinion of many rock criticism outlets. I bought it on CD from the Zen Buddhist Temple yard sale back in September and have been enjoying it ever since. It's an excellent album, particularly if you like electro-pop.
Erasure, I should mention, is the project partly of Vince Clarke, who was a founding member of Depeche Mode. He is a keyboardist/synthesizer-er and songwriter. (The other half of the duo is Andy Bell.)
I have a weakness for artists releasing albums once they're "past their prime", because to me it shows that the artist has a certain level of "don't give a damn". (Which is a quality I admire and respect.) Even if it is critically or commercially not successful, the music still goes out there to influence and entertain the general populace. And who knows! Maybe one of the general populace is about to form his or her own electro-pop band that will carry the DNA of this album forward. That's one of the coolest things about music.
"Take Me Back" is the first track off I Say I Say I Say, and what I just LOVE about it is that it starts really quiet. When I listen I always think "man this is too quiet, I gotta turn it up!" and then I turn it up, and then that moment where the song bursts into life (around 0:35) it just nails me to the wall. That is clever. That is a really cool way to start an album, and it's a good use of technology. (Music struggles with that sometimes.)
What's also notable about Erasure is that their music tends to be on the less-tortured side than Depeche Mode's. While there are many undercurrents of yearning and isolation in the songs, Erasure's music is known for its pop-y sparkle. (They released an EP entirely of ABBA covers, need I say more?)
I think the music of Erasure is more sheerly beautiful than the music of Depeche Mode although I enjoy both bands very much. Erasure inspires feelings of warmth, happiness, and appreciation in me rather than stoking my persistent fire of anger, melancholy, and loneliness.
It's all about balance.
What I mostly mean to suggest here is that it's necessary to have elements of both Erasure and Depeche Mode in your life, for whatever that means to you. The outlet and the window to the darker side that Depeche Mode provides is very valuable, but it can't be overdone. Sometimes, music should take you away.
I also think it is interesting that Depeche Mode is the band that has attracted much more attention and many more cookies from what I can't seem to stop referring to as the "rock criticism outlets" although I know it makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist. It makes me wonder if there is something about darkness that we perceive to be inherently more serious than lightness.
I really feel that to be true, and I feel strongly that it's a destructive and limiting mindset. It reminds me of a great line from Nick Hornby's classic of the music-writing genre, High Fidelity: "Did I listen to so much pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to so much pop music?"
There is something to be said for the idea that like increases like, and that miserableness in music feeds the miserableness of the soul. It's also true that miserableness seeks an outlet, which it can often find in pop music.
But what if you, like me, are tired of feeling miserableness? That's what the Erasure side of life is for. You can take that seriously too.