Depeche Mode – One Caress

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More ambiguity. Dark music with minor and diminished chords, striking, dramatic strings strings, but a gently lilting, swaying melody in 12/8. Lyrics that are an appeal to a girl, yet with focus on darkness as salvation, whatever it is. It’s mostly the word darkness that makes the song mysterious, since it’s usually presented as a negative thing.

There is a religious aspect with talk of sin and how the girl’s darkness can somehow be redemptive. It’s the theme of the album Songs of Faith and Devotion, which is, as I’ve mentioned before, a reference to Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate, and how he also blends the secular with religious love, although mostly on later albums.

The girl might not be an actual human being, but a symbol of something else, be it illicit substances or death itself. Where do we seek salvation? In the middle of desperation we can cling to anything, ultimately to the notion of death as an end. Or the song can be heard as some kind of vampire story.

It is not clear who is doing the seducing. The narrator is pleading, but it’s almost like he’s the one asking to be seduced, hoping for a solution when the world leaves him unimpressed. The caress of a beloved, the caress of death, it’s all conflated in this religious imagery. Yet the soft singing and the impassioned arrangement is seductive in itself.

I remember listening to this song in the dark when I was a teenager. At the time I often listened to music with the lights out. It was somehow comforting. But darkness with music is different from darkness without. With music you can focus on other people’s emotions, escape from reality. Without it you have to face the emptiness of the night, its vague feeling of threat, or then your own thoughts, emotions, and your own emptiness. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with that, even when they say they love the dark.

It’s the darkness enhanced that’s seductive, a reduction. Mundane daytime phenomena are removed from the equation and it’s easier to see life to be simple. Perhaps that’s the true seductive notion, however we may pursue it. We’d like things to be simple, love and peace of mind to be attainable, and whatever object we attach to it, we call it a solution, salvation. That is what creates a sense of religiousness. Even the mundane becomes otherworldly when we ascribe such life-transforming powers to it. And to place such high hopes on a human being is inadvisable. It’s a burden to that person as much as oneself, even if it may sound somewhat flattering.

We may be saved by others, but they’re not saviors; their existence shouldn’t be defined solely by it. Even if we met some truly enlightened being who has limitless love, defining them as a savior means we’re already giving up on the notion of developing compassion for ourselves. Even better than compassion is the ability to inspire it in others. That kind of saving I’d hardly call darkness. But that’s just a label, as any description of comfort is bound to be symbolic. Darkness, light, green in blue. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Some people do thrive on it, trying to save one person, only to become darkness themselves. Mutual destruction, a whirl of despair, clinging to each other as the last hope in the world, and the more the two cling to darkness, the more hopeless the rest of the world seems. It might be better to just look outside for a while, find something else worth admiring. Holding only one thing dear sounds like a recipe for depression as well as its symptom. And when one loses the only thing that mattered, what then?

Well, maybe. Leonard Cohen: “Only one thing made him happy and now that it was gone everything made him happy.”