Okay, this is an easy one. Everybody knows who Depeche Mode is.
Although they first entered my consciousness with "People Are People," it wasn't until the "Music for the Masses" album that I became a loyal fan. Something about that album's inscrutable, cold, deep, fat, orchestral melancholy. Crystal-clear vocals. Alan Wilder's brilliant keyboards. All sad and eye-clenchy angstiness.
That album will always remind me of a certain "Yearbook" party -- one of the few parties of my youth -- when I discovered that the cool and somewhat askew kids liked the same music I liked for a change. I realized there were other people in the world like me! And though the party ended with us watching "Alf," it was still a significant moment in my life, and "Music for the Masses" sums up that period of a teen's social-discovery.
"Violator," the next album, upped the ante. Superb all the way through (with the exception of "Blue Dress," maybe) and their darkest release yet, "Violator" was the soundtrack for the next stage in my life: dating, exploring, gaining confidence, and realizing that the world was a big scary place indeed. It was also the first time I fell in love with a producer: Flood (though Tim Friese-Greene had been on the periphery of my brain and my heart for some time).
My favourite Depeche Mode song off that album (and a wonderful video as usual): "Halo."
[Video excised when I realized that most of Depeche Mode's videos on YouTube are either crappy live clips or awful fan videos.]
My enthusiasm diminished afterward. "Songs of Faith and Devotion" had wonderful moments but sounded a bit messy, and when Alan Wilder left I began to wonder about "the point." The following albums have been lacklustre, but like a loyal dog I keep buying their music and sniffing their collective butts.
Come back, Alan. They need you!
That's not to say they haven't put out some great songs in the post-Wilder years. Case in point: "It's No Good" (and yet another typically brilliant Depeche Mode video):
Albums to buy? As above, "Music for the Masses" and "Violator." Albums to avoid? Their debut, "Speak and Spell," which seems to be mediocre no matter how you slice it. For fans only? The three CD "Remix" set, which has all those remixes that you loved on vinyl but couldn't find on CD...or most of them, anyway. Now that all the albums have been re-released in mega-format there's probably little a late-comer can't find at HMV.