Sylvain Chauveau has made a name for himself over the course of the past couple years with a varied range of releases. In addition to appearing on several different compilations, he has put out four solo albums of understated electronic/acoustic releases under his own name and teamed up with Steven Hess for Your Naked Ghost Comes Back At Night under the name of On. Oh, and he's also a member of three other groups, including an avant rock group and an ambient collective. Keeping up his prolific pace, he has now collaborated with Ensemble Modern for a stripped-down take (comprised completely of acoustic instrumentation and vocals) on the work of Depeche Mode.
Although I haven't followed the group closely for their past couple release, I have to admit that at one time I was a huge fan of Depeche Mode. After several solid albums, the group seemed to hit their stride around the time of Some Great Reward, following fairly shortly with their popular double-live album 101 and finally with their album Violator, on which it seemed that just about every track was a popular single. In terms of sheer sales and critical acclaim, that release was probably the high point for the group, although they've fortunately managed to chug along and age a bit better than some of their contemporaries since then.
At any rate, Down To The Bone finds Sylvain Chauveau and others re-creating Depeche Mode songs in an acoustic mode, although it's not completely pure (there's some digital trickery here and there), and while it's an interesting effort, the overall effect just isn't nearly as successful as the originals. The disc starts with the appropriately-titled "Stripped," and Chauveau adds his franco-tinged vocals (sung in English) to strirring string arrangements and sparse piano. "The Things You Said" takes the same sort of instrumentation and adds some soft clarinet for another wrinkle. The interpretation of "Death's Door" is easily one of the better pieces on the album, taking the track and placing it against an acoustic guitar backdrop that is manipulated in soft ways that accent the song.
Towards the end of the release, the digital manipulation that Chauveau is so good at comes into play more, and it's a welcome addition to break things apart more. "Freelove" is roughed up with some jagged edges and alternately granular shimmering passages, and it's a gem, while "Blasphemous Rumours" opens with some of the same elements as previous tracks but slowly deconstructs them as the track progresses, fitting nicely with the lyrical content of the track. Of course, Depeche Mode has done acoustic versions of their own songs, and I'm reminded of the vigorous workout that they gave "Personal Jesus" on the EP for that track. In large part, it's the lack of energy and dynamics that is one of the main problems with the release. The majority of the eleven tracks are rather languid, sapping the tracks of much of their original strength and turning them into somewhat drippy ballads. If you're a hardcore fan of Depeche Mode, you'll probably want to pick this one up, but others (especially those who haven't heard the group before) will definitely want to go elsewhere.