A couple of months ago I was browsing iTunes (as I do frequently) and I came across a documentary about Depeche Mode and the making of the album “Songs Of Faith And Devotion” (SOFAD). (Technically it is titled “A Short Film (We Were Going to Live Together, Record Together and It Was Going to Be Wonderful) [1991-94]”). That really took me back, much like watching the VH1 “ Behind The Music” they did about DM. I think they showed it once and like most of those they were never shown again.
Anyway, the really took me back so I loaded my iPod up with all of the DM albums so could listen to them again (and I'm accused of never going back and listening to music a second time). I've focused mainly on SOFAD but have listened from that album on and I really feel, now that I have time and a modicum of maturity on my side, that DM is just as good after Alan Wilder left as they were while he was still with the band.
I think most people didn't really know about the “other two” in the band beyond Dave Gahan (commonly known as the dude that almost over-dosed on heroin) and Martin Gore (commonly referred to as the guy who looks gay (but isn't)). Much like U2 there are (or were in the case of DM) four members in the band and two are more widely recognized than the others. (It would help if the other two members of DM had written the main song for a summer blockbuster.)
What I'm trying to get at is that most people knew the music but not the members of DM so when word got out that Alan Wilder (one of the DM “Other Two”) had left the assumption was “Well they're going to suck now, if they don't break up.” Then, when the band does put out another album, most people turned into haters. It reminded my a lot of the the summer after break dancing peaked or the summer after the first Tim Burton Batman. People who used to be “fans” turned their nose up at them. (Most notable to me being Todd Durant who claims that fans would buy an album of DM “burping and farting”. I just think he's bitter now that his business is dying because technology has passed him by.)
Common complaints are:
Alan was the sound of DM and now they're not special: Go back and listen to Ultra (the first album without Alan). There are songs on there that sound very much like they would fit on Violator or SOFAD: “Home”, “It's No Good” and “Useless” being the ones that I'm thinking of. There's even a hidden track that pays homage to “Pimpf”, “St. Jarna” and other instrumental oddities called “Jr. Painkiller” (which I like more than those tracks, especially the remix).
They're not true synth stars now since they use guitars and drums and the like: Go back and study SOFAD closely, they branched out to using more traditional instruments while Alan was there.
I think that DM is just as good without Alan as they were with him. Why not go pester the Erasure fans because there is plenty to complain about on “ Loveboat” and “Other People's Songs” if you want to complain about a band hitting the skids. They came back and even DM can make an album that isn't so great. Just check out “Exciter” for a good example.