Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Personal Jesus"

I found this moody wonder hidden away in a dark corner of my iPod last week, and it's been on repeat a fair amount ever since. I'd forgotten what a shock this was when I first came across it around 1990, how different it was to everything else I'd heard from Depeche Mode, and just how good they'd suddenly become.

It's about relationships, about dependency of a sort, and how we look for redemption in a partner. Maybe it comes from a nagging worry that we, I, you, aren't worthy unless we're saved by a relationship that consecrates us, validates us.

And that's slightly worrying, in a sense. I'm sure we've all been told that relationships are supposed to be a meeting of equals, where strengths and weaknesses are complemented, and where neither partner holds the upper hand, the moral advantage. So it must be a shock when some of us reach adulthood and realise that we're not necessarily strong, or brave, or whatever the adjective is, to approach a relationship without uncertainty, a lack of self-confidence and the resulting feeling of inadequacy and dependence.

As if by magic, I'd just written the paragraph above when the relationship between Pierre and Marie Curie popped into my head. Both were scientists in the 19th century - he worked on the properties of magnetism, while she pioneered the study of radioactivity. Together they won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 (she won a second, in chemistry, in 1911).

They came together through their studies and recognised in each other an equal - no "Personal Jesus" there, rather a corresponding pair of intellects and interests. But are they the exception rather than the rule?

Look around at the never-ending parade of public marriages (for they're the ones we get to observe on a daily basis), and they're often out of balance; one partner is more prominent, successful, fulfilled. The other tends to be a background figure - the power behind the throne? - or a happy soul that feels no need to find balance in superficial things. Look around at your friends. We're more likely to be equals - we find a balance in the things that each partner does well.

All of which is to say that while Depeche Mode obviously saw the dependence and imbalance in Elvis and Priscilla Presley's marriage, it may not be something we all feel.

Doesn't stop this being a cracking song, though. For a start, it's a Depeche Mode song with real guitars, a simple, powerful riff backed by a stamping beat that kicks off with real intent. Slide guitar and synthesiser filigree decorate the simple marching rhythm, and the whole song is wrapped up in a sense of menace that's hard to place and hard to describe. It's menacing like the Polyphonic Spree's version of "Lithium" but without the added diabolical glee. Enjoy.

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