After the somewhat lacklustre A Broken Frame release, Depeche Mode returned in 1983 with their third studio album, Construction Time Again – but with a crucial difference. Determined to create a unique niche for the band within the stereotypical, generic “synth” sound, songwriter Martin Gore added a new synthesiser into the band’s mix, a Synclavier – capable of recording and playing back samples. Inspired by the German industrial group Einstürzende Neubauten, Gore sought to use similar sounds and incorporate them into synth pop.
As a result of this, the album is littered with scrambled collections of random sounds recorded by the band, particularly the strange, hypnotic track “Pipeline”, (recorded entirely in a derelict building site) which almost passes as an ambient track, if it weren’t for the vocals. Throughout that track, and the entire album, various industrial sound effects are looped and blended together to sit behind the prominent synths, creating a genuinely unique atmosphere within the album, something that was sorely lacking in the band’s earlier releases.
The highlight of the album is “Everything Counts”, which pulls in similar industrial samples from “Pipeline”, but creates a much more upbeat, pop-friendly vibe. The song also features an incredibly catchy hook: “The grabbing hands / Grab all they can”, which is almost on par with “All I ever wanted / All I ever needed” from their later track “Enjoy the Silence”. This track hints at the sort of synth-based melodies that would become more prominent in later releases, particularly Violator. But still, “Everything Counts” is 80s synth pop through and through, but it’s a hell of a lot more of a refined, tighter track than most of what featured on Speak & Spell and A Broken Frame.
The album’s second side, though not particularly as memorable as its first, does demonstrate more and more effective usage of the Synclavier by the band. Various clanging noises, whistles and scrapes are scattered throughout the B side, the more notable examples being “Two Minute Warning”, “Shame”, and “Told You So” – this track in particular features what sounds like an echoed anvil banging against something, and it’s my favourite industrial sample on the album. CLANG! CLONG! CLANG! It’s a curiously infectious sound.
So, arguably Depeche Mode had not quite created their niche at this point, but the Synclavier is a welcome (and much needed) addition to the band’s repertoire at this point in their career. It undoubtedly gives the album substance and would help shape their later work. Definitely an important record for the band, and I daresay that devout Depeche Mode fans would point at Construction Time Again and say that this is where it really started. I’d probably be inclined to agree.