Book Review: Depeche Mode’s 101 by Mary Valle

When digging into the vast catalog of books from the 33 and 1/3 series (Bloomsbury), you get all sorts of approaches to the discussion of an album. You’ll the biographical, the narrative, the political, a “Behind the Scenes,” and even the autobiographical from time to time. When Mary Valle takes on Depeche Mode’s 101, she sort of skips around all the formats to craft her own approach, which is both successful, and not.

Valle begins her adventure into the book by claiming that 101 is a “literal Depeche Mode 101 class for generations of DM freshpeople,” which is perhaps where cracks appear. Personally, Catching Up with Depeche Mode seems like much more the “whet your whistle” sort, as a live album’s production, even when polished never seems to do the work justice; it’s also a bit more of pleasing appetizer with sprinkles of the glory that would follow. Still, Mary makes the point, and despite my own disagreements, she does a valuable job of solidifying the importance of tracks from each album that would appear on 101.

There are collective pieces of each album, often with interjections on Valle’s own lived experience with each song or album, then it pushes into some of the “Behind the Scenes.” You get a little bit of that, but it doesn’t have quite the bulky research you’d find in other books from the series. And, far too often the book delves into the important of KROQ, as both the party responsible for DM’s success in California and through that era of radio. Those digressions perhaps come across as a little short-sighted, but perhaps that’s because it feels like a conversation for another book entirely; it’s given far more time than perhaps necessary, at least in regards to the album or even the concert from the recording.

Through it all, however, Mary Valle’s voice is trustworthy and perhaps even a bit tongue-in-cheek; she uses song lyrics (not just from DM) on several occasions, perhaps poking fun at both the reader and herself. You get the feeling that when looking back, she’s able to trace her own rise in connection to the band’s arrival at rock stardom. Her closing moments and reflection are more direct, which is something that I imagine could have benefited the book as a whole.

Find more books from the series HERE.

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