Never Let Me Down Again: Vince Staples and Depeche Mode pulsate the protest
Vince Staples has been on fire NBA JAM style with a trio of songs that have him vying with Kendrick Lamar for the California rap crown. Staples, who slightly resembles thunderous Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook (Staples did once poke fun at Russ' fashionista looks) is just as relentless with his barbs as the triple-double machine going full steam to the rim. Released in the thaws of February, "Bag Bak" is a 2-minute-and-40-second sprint, as Staples rips up the ghetto-tech beat like a machine-gunning Usain Bolt recast as Schwarzenegger in a Commando prequel. "Bag Bak" is the soundtrack of the bad-ass on COPS that fled in a hot pursuit and got away, it's Death Certificate-era Ice Cube with All Eyez on Me overalls swagger as Staples spits: "Clap your hands if the police ever profiled... Tell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now"
Staples delivers razor sharp diatribes that whisks the old-school ethos of a Too $hort and Eazy-E with the intellectual venom of James Baldwin and Noam Chomksy. Staples is not a villain but he's no easy mark either, always aware of his surroundings and questioning reality and calling out the bullshit society accepts. As a 23-year-old native of Long Beach, Staples evokes a wise beyond his years spirit, whose music seems to have been incubated in the fury of the L.A. Riots and OJ Simpson trial despite Staples not being of maturity to experience those events. His loose affiliation with Odd Future highlight the carefree side of Staples, who can switch his flow from anarchist to apathetic to match the beat.
Staples sparks a 4-alarm blaze on the opening track, "Ascension," from the new Gorillaz album Humanz. "Ascension" is a blistering apocalyptic answer to The Chemical Brothers' "Galvanize," the globalist Dubya-era electronic dance smash that became annoyingly overplayed. Capturing the current climate, Staples makes the dance floor feel tribal: "The sky's falling baby, drop that ass 'fore it crash." Backed by the most furious soundscape Gorillaz have composed, Staples takes the band from "Clint Eastwood" chill to Dirty Harry funk with a magnum force punch. With his delivery as sharp as a great white's bite, Staples' soon to be released sophomore album, The Big Fish Theory, is set to make a big splash.
Dave Gahan could always work-up a crowd. Depeche Mode's legendary 1988 concert at the Rose Bowl was highlighted by the singer whipping the audience into a frenzy as they waved their hands in unison to the sounds of "Never Let Me Down Again." With robotic ballads and synthesized jams mostly brooding on questions of love and faith, DM was never too concerned with current events. But "Where's The Revolution," the first single from their latest album, Spirit, is a bold marching order from the cool kids in leather who typically played the background and enjoyed the silence. In the song's stark B&W music video, directed by long-time collaborator Anton Corbijn, a sunglassed Gahan stumps from an over-sized podium as the lines "Where's the revolution/ come on, people/you're letting me down," are a slap to the masses.
Spirit features some of the sharpest late-period DM material since 2005's Playing The Angel and "Where's The Revolution" has grown on me immensely and could be the strongest single the band has released since '93's "I Feel You." Gahan's snarky social commentary fans the flames as the beat simmers until his pristine vocals soar over the crackling chorus. It's a wicked blend of the different sounds that have spanned the band's discography and perhaps the most realized. Underneath the computer blips and distorted buzzes, Spirit is bare-bones soul and blues, a sign o' the times album from grizzled men with perspective who have ran on 4-year campaign albums for the last two decades. There has been much change in the world since 2013's Delta Machine and Martin Gore's songwriting reflects the sinister state of things.
As U2 tours the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree and there is a reflection on how timely the wide-eyed Americana of that record is today, DM's Music For The Masses feels more of the moment. Maybe it's those seedy B&W music videos, Gore's coy androgyny or the depraved sexiness of "Strange Love," but DM's breakout record begs to be discovered by today's kids of the teenagers and twenty-somethings that had it blasting from their tape decks back in '87. Revisiting the haunting instrumental "Agent Orange" suddenly takes on a whole new meaning these days.