Artist: Depeche Mode
Release Date: 1st February 2013
Label: Sony Music/Columbia
Every time DEPECHE MODE releases fresh music there's a major turmoil amongst their super-massive global fan base. And in the past this happened weeks and months before the actual release date as the new music always leaked on the internet way before the release hit the shops. This time it is different as the DEPECHE MODE camp managed to lock away the new single 'Heaven' until the release day on February, 1st. Well, almost, because thanks to a Russian fan forum the single leaked two days prior the release. It took less than an hour until the DEPECHE MODE fan world was upside down and a few hours later 'Heaven' was heavily debated on the net, in particular on Facebook and of course in all the fan forums, and the hash tag #depechemodeheaven was soon one of the most popular tags on twitter.
So let's take a look at the real deal, that is the two formats of this single release. 'Heaven' comes as a two-track cd single and as a maxi-cd with the album version and a couple of remixes, with a vinyl version on 12” and with further remixes to be released later. The sleeve design is done by famous Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn again, and it actually looks quite nice. There's a new DM logo and on the back of the card board sleeve a picture of the band somewhere in the swamps near New Orleans, Louisiana. A nice nod to the title of the forthcoming album 'Delta Machine'!
You have to give DEPECHE MODE some credit for trying something different with 'Heaven'. Usually the band likes to start a new campaign with a big bang. Just think of 'Wrong', 'Barrel of A Gun' or even 'Personal Jesus', for example. They all set a buzz as the first singles from their respective albums with their in-yer-face approach. 'Heaven' is quite the opposite of these classic lead singles: A tender and sparse ballad with singer Dave Gahan crooning over a fragile and melancholic piano theme, low-key Gretsch guitars and Martin Gore delivering the backing vocals – the voices of Gahan and Gore are still an irresistible combination, and their vocal performance in 'Heaven' is nothing short of brilliant!
Martin Gore said in a recent interview “Heaven is really different for us, it sounds to me like our take on 70s Rock, reminds me of Rod Stewart almost“. Well, I'm not sure about the ROD STEWART reference and 'Heaven' is definitely not Rock but I'd would through some 1970s PINK FLOYD, late-period BEATLES or even RADIOHEAD into the equation. Fact is that the (still numerous) synth purists among DEPECHE MODE's following have rashly disapproved 'Heaven' as too acoustic, too organic and too slow. The bonus track of the single package, the Gahan-penned 'All That's Mine' offers some consolation for this lot! It starts with swirling bass sequences which even remind a little on early NITZER EBB for a moment and 'All That's Mine' is surely way more electronic than the lead song of this single release. But you shouldn't get your hopes for a DEPECHE MODE dance track too high, as the mood stays rather bluesy and contemplative again. However, a very strong song and just once more the combination of Gahan's and Gore's voices will give you the chills!
For all those craving for a more electronic and dancier version of DEPECHE MODE there are a couple of remixes on the maxi-cd version of this release, even though remixes have been a mixed blessing for DEPECHE MODE fans in the past. While DEPECHE MODE undoubtedly have always been pioneers in this area and released some brilliant remixes by up and coming artists, there were certainly also a number of remixes which didn't do justice to the remixed songs. The good news is that 'Heaven' is refined with a bunch of good to great remixes, first and foremost the OWLLE remix of 'Heaven'. A very beguiling and lush version of the song which adds a touch of Progressive House and maximizes out the Pop quality of this song, as well. It's quite safe to predict that this one is going to be a fave among the fans! Thankfully, this one as well as the other remixes make full use of Gahan's vocals.
Something that wasn't granted all the time in the past – we all know a remix or two which hardly resembles the original song besides from the odd vocal sample, don't we? Definitely worthy of mention is the 'Steps To Heaven' remix by Swiss Techno pioneer THOMAS FEHLMANN. His take has a somewhat surprising Reggae/ Dub flavour to it, and the trippy feel indeed becomes the song! Quite ok but a bit too dissonant is BLAWAN's version of 'Heaven', arguably the most radical remix of the package. Finally there's the remix of 'Heaven' by MATTHEW DEAR and AUDION, just like the FEHLMANN remix a very trippy adventure, fuelled by a psychedelic groove. A good remix but probably not one which is bound to stir enthusiasm among the DEPECHE MODE fans. You might hear it at your local Reggae club in the middle of the DJ's Downbeat/Dub set, though. A pretty weird thought when talking about a DEPECHE MODE release!
The bottom line? 'Heaven' is a simple but beautiful Pop song, and while it might seem an odd choice for a first single off an album you cannot deny that the band managed to surprise us once again. 'All That's Mine' (and the song 'Angel' which was presented at the band's press conference in October) point to a different direction so let's wait and see how the forthcoming album 'Delta Machine' is going to turn out. I have a feeling that 'Heaven' isn't too representative for the rest of the album.
One of the most pleasing aspects of this release is yet unmentioned: The single, as well as the entire new album, is mixed by producer legend FLOOD – and it truly shows! The 2009 album 'Sounds Of The Universe' was at times feeble and lacked punch, while 'Playing The Angel' (2005) sounded so horribly muddy and overly compressed that it even became a prime example in the discussions about the “loudness race” of modern music production. 'Heaven' and 'All That's Mine' with their great dynamic contrast, brilliant harmonics and an utterly transparent yet powerful mix are definitely a departure from such audiophile grievances! Thank you, Flood!
01. Heaven [04:03]
02. All That's Mine [03:23]
01. Heaven [04:03]
02. Heaven (Owlle Remix) [04:48]
03. Heaven (steps to heaven rmx) [06:07]
04. Heaven (Blawan Remix) [05:43]
05. Heaven (Matthew Dear vs. Audion Vocal Mix) [05:59]
A1. Heaven (Blawan Dub)
A2. Heaven (Owlle Remix)
B1. Heaven (steps to heaven voxdub)
B2. Heaven (Matthew Dear vs. Audion Instrumental Mix)
(note: the vinyl version will be released later, presumably on March 18th)
Dave Gahan - vocals
Martin Gore - instruments, programming, backing vocals
Andrew Fletcher - opinions, being cool, touching a key
Produced by Ben Hillier for 140dB
Programming by Christoffer Berg
Engineered by Ferg Peterkin
Add. Programming und Vocal Recording: Kurt Uenala
Mixed by Flood for 140dB
Mix Engineer: Rob Kirnan for 140dB
Recorded at Sound Design (Santa Barbara, CA)
and Jungle City (New York, NY)
Total: 9 / 10
Side note: The first cover version of 'Heaven' is already announced as LEATHER STRIP's Claus Larsen promised his Facebook fans some time ago that he will do a cover of the new DEPECHE MODE single (as part of his cover series) no matter how the song would actually sound. So expect an up-tempo interpretation of the DEPECHE MODE ballad by the Danish EBM master being released on bandcamp.com very soon!