God Lives Underwater in Depeche Mode
One member of an American band has come up for air with For The Masses, a tribute to its British mentors. ~ Paul Zach, 07 Aug 98
PERKIOMANVILLE, Pennsylvania sounds like an improbable place for a quintessentially British synth band such as Depeche Mode to make much of an impression.
“It was like myself and two other people who listened to them,” said Jeff Turzo, 27, half of the American band God Lives Underwater.
So moved was he by the Basildon, Essex band’s dark spin on Eurodisco when he was a teenager that he formed his own keyboard-based outfit. He took its name from a quote that he found inside Depeche Mode’s 1986 album Black Celebration.
“It was their album, Catching Up With Depeche Mode, where I really started getting into it. Then came Black Celebration — I wore that album out from just listening to it over and over and over again,” said Turzo, in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where his band is now based.
“My partner David Reilly and I started making music together right after that, in 1987 pretty much. We started to get to know each other musically and it sort of had a profound affect that we were both into Depeche Mode (French for ‘fast fashion’).”
That is readily apparent on God Lives Underwater’s second album, Life In The So-Called Space Age (1500/Polygram), released three months ago.
But it is even more obvious on a project released this week, For The Masses (1500/A&M), a so-called tribute album to his British idols, who themselves return next month with a singles compilation, one new track and a major world tour.
For The Masses covers 16 Depeche Mode tracks, including versions of Never Let Me Down Again by the Smashing Pumpkins, World In My Eyes by the Cure, and To Have And To Hold by the Deftones. Turzo, and 1500 Record Label co-founder Gary Richards spent three years putting their labour of love together.
“We started with our friends basically, such as the band Failure,” he said. “We called Matt (Mahaffey) from Self, who is also a friend of ours. First, we went to people we knew wanted to do songs.”
After recording a few songs, word of mouth got around and the publishing company of Depeche songwriter Martin Gore was helping him make contacts.
“They were excited about it because it was new life for these songs,” Turzo said.
Before long, more than 25 bands from around the world wanted in on the project.
Interest even came from unexpected quarters, such as one of Depeche Mode’s own ’80s British rivals.
“It really surprised me that the Cure would do it,” he added.
Leader Robert Smith explained why in a note issued before the release of For The Masses, which could apply to his own group.
“For the past 13 years, I think Depeche Mode have shown great style from their innovative use of unusual sounds, through their often weird juxtaposition of lyrical emotion and musical precision, to their instantly-recognisable graphics and visual image,” he said.
Yet, it is the lesser-known bands whose work stands out on the release. Self turns Shame into a bouncy techno-pop ditty for the late ’90s that is better than anything on the new Garbage album.
One of Depeche Mode’s rare Stateside hits, Violator’s Enjoy The Silence, sounds better with guitars than synths. The back-to-basics treatment by Failure is anything but.
“Andrew Fletcher (of Depeche Mode) felt that Failure’s Enjoy The Silence was better than his band’s original version,” Turzo said.
German metal madmen Rammstein record their first track in English, sort of, with Stripped from Black Celebration. The result is a hilarious Spinal Tap-type send-up of the sort many of Depeche Mode’s smug songs deserve.
Turzo’s own God Lives Underwater takes one of the band’s best tracks, Fly On The Windscreen, and marries it brilliantly with Rock And Roll Candy Man by the obscure 1971 one-hit wonder group, Bloodrock.
Meanwhile, on its Life In The So-Called Space Age album, GLU, as his band is known for short, even seems to reach back as far as ’60s two-hit wonders, Vanilla Fudge, not to mention obvious touchstones like Kraftwerk, Gary Numan and Nine Inch Nails, with occasionally interesting results.
There is an old-fashioned chilly charm to tracks such as the first single From Your Mouth and Can’t Come Down, as acoustic guitars mingle with electronic beeps and burps laid on beds of white noise.
Medicated To The One I Love boasts not only a priceless title but also backward vocal loops ala Strawberry Fields.
Furthermore, it is the only kind of ballad anyone can take seriously in this day and age.
Turzo turned livid when confronted by the popular notion that there is no soul in electronic sounds.
“I think that’s rubbish. I’ve used synths and stuff my whole life, so it just feels natural to me,” he said.
“There’s no difference between turning the knobs on an amp and turning the knobs on a keyboard and hitting the keys on a keyboard and hitting the strings on a guitar.”
Indeed, compared to the flood of mediocrity that radio is drowning in these days, some of the music made by God Lives Underwater sounds as deep as the ocean.
Original Date: 1998-08-07