Camouflage: Voices & Images

I grew up with this album but only tangentially.

I bought a 7-inch single of Camouflage’s "The Great Commandment" without really knowing what I was getting. (That was the equivalent of visiting a site such as thesixtyone back then.)

I played it for my brother who was into Depeche Mode at the time, and he ended up buying the band’s debut album Voices & Images. I played it for another friend of mine, who then bought the album on cassette.

I pretty much take Depeche Mode on a case-by-case basis, a behavior rooted in the idea that the band "belonged" to my brother, and Depeche Mode-adjacent bands suffered from guilt-by-association as a result. When I found Voices & Images in the bin at Cheapo Discs during SXSW 2009, I decided to give it a shot.

Damn, those Germans can be a dark bunch.

The song titles pretty much reveal all: "Helpless Helpless", "Where Has the Childhood Gone", "Winner Takes Nothing".

Singer Marcus Meyn bears a striking timbral resemblance to David Gahan, and keyboardists Heiko Maile and Oliver Kreyssig use just about every string pad and synth bass fashionable for 1988. Aside from Meyn’s slight accent, it takes a lot of thin slicing to distinguish Voices & Images-era Camouflage from Music for the Masses-era Depeche Mode.

Despite all the similarities, Camouflage’s saving grace is the fact they are not … Depeche Mode.

By that time, Depeche Mode was as much adjective as band, representing a specific aesthetic and the target market to go with it. (Made me wonder how my brother got into them.) Camouflage certainly rode the coattails of Martin L. Gore and co., but they could siphon some of the same listeners without carrying the baggage of being Depeche Mode.

Voices & Images is, in fact, a really well-written album, the songs possessing far more dance-floor appeal. Camouflage does indulge in a few fillers — "Music for Ballerina" =~ "PIMPF" — but the album is just a shade brighter than what’s expected from post-Joy Division drear.

Personally, I prefer the self-titled debut of Los Angeles duo Cause & Effect, but that will have to wait for another review.