Since Martin and Fletch started dropping hints in the press about Depeche Mode’s new album (slated for early 2013 release), speculation over who will produce it – or who fans want to produce it – has been running wild. This week’s hot topic is whether Ben Hillier will return for a trifecta with the Mode. An article running over at Hot Press has indicated it will be so:
“Ben is about to head to the USA to embark on his third album with Depeche Mode in 2012, which will see him again work closely with Martin Gore, Dave Gahan and Andrew Fletcher.” – Hot Press, Feb. 6, 2012
Official channels have not yet confirmed this news, but Home is reporting a connection between Ben and the mixer for Dave’s Soulsavers collaboration project, Dan Supple – both working through production management company 140dB. As we wait for an official announcement, fan reactions have been mixed.
To say Ben is a very capable producer and mixer is an understatement – based on his previous work, there’s no doubt in my mind he brings quality to the projects in which he is involved. Speaking strictly about his work with Depeche Mode, I am a huge fan of Playing the Angel (all of it – not just the first half). The album was completely different than Exciter, and presented something new and challenging to the band and the fans. All the gritty, analogue sounds were awesome and the album works well together. Several of the songs stopped me in my tracks and made me want to listen to them on repeat. However now that I’m a few years away from the release of Sounds of the Universe, I can say it was more of a disappointment for me. It’s a consistent sounding album theme-wise, but I didn’t feel like it ever came to full fruition. The exception is “Wrong,” which takes DM the closest to rap pentameter than they’ve ever been, and a couple quality B-sides. There were songs that sounded good, songs that I enjoyed, but none that I really inserted themselves into my personal “Best of Depeche Mode.” Overall the album made me feel like it had a lot of lost potential. I don’t know if it was from over working the songs or underworking, but it was underwhelming on the whole. Still better than a majority of albums out at the time, but not as strong as I know Depeche can be. It sounded like the step-child of Exciter and Playing the Angel – two of my favorite albums – but not nearly as personally impactful as either on its own.
A lot of fans put a lot of stake in a producer, but ultimately the band is the one writing the songs and making decisions. It’s a mixed bag. I’m not of the camp that things anything good would come of moving backwards – getting Flood in isn’t going to create a new Violator, and working with Alan won’t give us a new Songs of Faith and Devotion. This line of thinking boggles me. I was really hoping Depeche Mode would go for someone completely new and different in order to challenge themselves, but I can’t begrudge them for working with someone they really like (don’t fix it if it ain’t broke?). Ben was behind one of my favorite albums, and one of my least favorite albums. I think the three-peat is a toss-up. Complacency is the enemy of creativity, so I do hope that Ben and the band will challenge each other and themselves to do something new with a comfortable relationship.