9 January 2012

The Hitmen - I Still Remember It

Label: Urgent/ CBS
Year of Release: 1980

Whether you appreciate the fact or not, Depeche Mode are one of the most unique and wonderful pop bands to emerge from Britain in the last thirty years. Such a statement often seems unusually bold to somebody from their homeland - I've had to put up with scoffs of derision for a long time now, usually from people who have only bothered to listen to a few early singles - but it makes absolute sense if you say it to most people in Germany, Russia, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and even America. To the average member of the British public, there appears to be a sense that the band started out as a squeaky pop band then spent the rest of their careers over-reacting against that. This seems both illogical and a shame if you consider the fact that Radiohead were just angst-rock lite when their careers opened with "Pablo Honey", and nobody holds that against them now. Nobody scoffs "Ha ha! They wrote a song about not being able to cop off with girls!" when a friend comes home from the record store with a copy of "The King of Limbs". Some bands, it seems, are forgiven their early image and output.

That said, I'm not one of those Depeche fans who is utterly oblivious or blind to the band's shortcomings, and there have been a few slips along the way and some very public mistakes - and some which are rather more buried. Alan Wilder joined the band in 1982 following Vince Clarke's departure, and the main fact given about his past career at the time was that he had been "a member of the group The Hitmen". "Who the hell were they?" was probably the response on most people's lips, and certainly mine. Despite having a contract with CBS, The Hitmen had made precious little impression on the record buying public, and merely sounded like an act with a rather unimaginative name to most. Had this been the age of the Internet, some of us might have investigated more closely on YouTube and file sharing websites, but life was not as simple as that back in those dark days.

Wilder would go on to play a pivotal role in Depeche Mode's development, crafting and arranging Martin Gore's songs to create something more substantial than the slightly shiny, brittle, metronomic synthpop which had characterised the band's sound beforehand (some of the more experimental moments on "A Broken Frame" aside). Many fans believe that the bolder, almost symphonic sweeps found on albums like "Black Celebration" and "Music for the Masses" owe a great deal to him. If, however, he had any similar ambitions in The Hitmen, it's not obvious from their output. Of their previous single "Ouija", a music critic was (somewhat prophetically) moved to comment: "The winning thing about the Depeche Mode single (and their last, and Soft Cell's) is its simple enthusiasm, its complete lack of cynicism. The Hitmen are so calculating - even down to the clever, clever name - it's unbearable; the only remotely comforting thing about all this is that they haven't a dog's chance of ever getting a hit." Slightly harsh, perhaps, but still not terribly far off the mark. The follow-up "I Still Remember It" would, despite its hopeful title, fail to grab the attention of many. It's unobjectionable and sounds passable, but there's a clear lack of identity apparent and nothing to set the band apart from the numerous other pub rock bands gigging at the time. It's refreshing and punchy, but is a bit too simplistic and clean to leave a lasting impression or create a desire to hit the "play" button one more time.

Despite Wilder's involvement, The Hitmen's material remains unissued on CD, and there appear to be no plans in the pipeline to rectify this. This is an odd way to treat the material of a pivotal member of a globally successful act, but hopefully the below tracks will assuage people's curiosity.


klepsie said...

As chance would have it I picked this very single up in a charity shop this week for the princely sum of 20p.

23 Daves said...

It couldn't be further from being a collector's item, could it? Which is interesting when you consider the band's history and who is involved.

djbethell said...

Just discovered the Hitmen. I can't agree more. Incredible songs throughout.
Now I'm off to track down anything downloadable that I can. x