Review: “So Cruel” as recorded by Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode and U2, Original photographs by Anton Corbijn
Depeche Mode and U2, Original photographs by Anton Corbijn

Sometimes perceived as unlikely rivals by each camp of fans, Depeche Mode and U2 have defied music critics and changed the course of alternative music for over 30 years. Sharing producers, collaborators and signature photographers over the period, it was only a question of time before their streams crossed. Thankfully, the result included on Q Magazine‘s AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered CD is  far from a catastrophe.

Depeche’s take on the Achtung Baby‘s non-single track, “So Cruel,” sounds like a perfect combination of DM’s signature sound of the noughties with a distinctly U2 vocal and melodic style. The overall instrumentation sounds like this could have been a B-side cut from Sounds of the Universe, with rhythms similar to Exciter. The intro greets the listener with the reverberating sounds of etherial analogue synths, reminiscent of “In Chains,” sans theremin. Dave combines his best Bono with his own unique vocals, executed smoothly and urgently.  True to the original, Dave stays in the higher notes throughout the song (though his voice is still naturally lower than Bono’s), and uses his higher-octave style as applied in songs such as “Fragile Tension” and “Precious.” On first listen, I thought that the song had been compiled using two layers of Dave, one high and one low, ala “Saw Something.” However, once I listened to it on a more precise system, I realized it sounds like Martin and Dave may have actually reversed their usual vocal style combination. Dave sings in a higher octave, and Martin in a much lower.

I will be the first to tell you that U2 fans would not consider me a hardcore, and I don’t own every album, but I’ve grown up with the band. I can’t really remember life without U2 in the cultural picture. My earliest memory of being spell-bound by music was hearing “With or Without You” on the radio in the late 80s, and I couldn’t have been older than five or six years old. Naturally, the announcement that two of my favorite things would be coming together in some way got me excited. I was hoping to hear DM take on “Ultraviolet” or “Love is Blindness,” but when it was announced “So Cruel” would be the song of choice, I went back and listened to it with open ears. I had a pretty good idea of how I thought it would sound, and I wasn’t disappointed.

If you live outside the UK and think you’ll have a difficult time getting the magazine and CD, you can purchase it directly from U2’s website.

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Rating: 4/5
“So Cruel” is not the best song on Achtung Baby by a long shot, but it’s definitely the better of the four tracks from Q’s special disk that I’ve heard so far. Depeche’s “So Cruel” bleeds with their signature sounds of the noughties without losing the sensibility of U2’s original, and leaves a pleasant warmth in the heart of the listener.

Amanda

Amanda is an enthusiastic, globe-trotting Mode fan who discovered the band in late 1998. Although she often feels like she got a late start in the Depeche Mode's career, she's survived nearly 20 years of the fandom, five new albums and multiple meetings with her love for the band intact (and stronger than ever). Amanda is a life-long creative, a classically trained graphic designer, working professionally as a User Experience Designer for one of the world's largest technology companies. When not at work or traveling for Depeche, she enjoys character illustration, comics, movies and Japanese Culture. And cats. Lots of Cats.

  • http://www.geneticjungle.com Orchidhunter

    I love this. It sounds so raw, almost demo-like. The minimalist approach carries a strong Martin Gore influence, in my mind. It’s a shuffling, throbbing analog synth take on the shimmering Edge guitar style. It really is “DM doing U2”, rather than “DM doing a U2 song”. Well-played, boys, well-played.

  • masmmas

    To be honest I found this cover a bit boring. In other words its a fairly safe version keeping to the original arrangement with the vocals. I am a DM fan through and through but felt let down. This was the moment for DM to crossover to a bigger audience and show non fans what they’re missing. The instrumention is standard and I assume Dave and MArtin did not involve a badly needed producer.