What does it sound like?:
After nearly 40 years, you’d think that a new album would be full of competent, straightforward songs with some nice touches but nothing too alarming. The previous two albums delivered on that promise and it is only now, after delivery of an enigmatic and edgy collection of songs that I truly remember why I loved them in the first place.
Cast your mind back to 1982, when Messrs Fletcher, Gahan and Gore found themselves without their main songwriter. They somehow cobbled together OK album with some very clever studio people. Alan Wilder then came to their aid as the only naturally musical member, working with the top-notch studio blokes. Demos were rough and sketchy – but Wilder and the production team, under the guidance of Daniel Miller used studio alchemy to turn the material into pop music of the highest quality.
With Wilder leaving in the mid-90s – the three of them were exposed again. They are obviously talented musically but they need a translator, a diplomat, a representative to articulate what they want. They communicate badly between each other – they know this. They need a parent, an arbitrator and a leader to guide the ideas into the Depeche funnel. One of the reasons why this band is remarkable is that they are not led by personalities with fully formed musical ideas. They have the ingredients, but they can’t find their way around a kitchen.
So with this album we have, for the first time, James Ford. He has taken the material and delivered the kind of sound that produces the spine tingles I associate with Depeche Mode’s finest work. It’s not just the songs with this band, it’s how they make you feel that’s the thing.
The acid test is when Gore delivers a song with an embarrassing lyric. The Worst Crime, lyrically, is a catastrophe. Head-in-hands stuff. But after a few listens you get the vibe and the chatter that accompanies it and it is a haunting backdrop of extraordinary dignity. Gahan’s voice is kind, strong and purposeful and it eventually wins you over.
There are straightforward songs here, Going Backwards, So Much Love will do the business live I’m sure. However, after about 6 listens it is clear that Cover Me is the highlight. It’s a remarkable song – connecting emotionally, even though you are not quite sure what the lyric is about. There is a Depeche Mode Moment after Gahan breathes/sings “Superstars”. It’s a minute or so of bliss that I haven’t experienced from yer Mode for a long time.
On first listen,you might not like this – but I remember thinking that of Violator. This is a slow burner and when, on first listen, the songs sound disjointed – once you get used to them they make perfect sense.
There is a political slant to many of the songs and religion, sex, guilt and suffering report for duty too. I must say though, that the final song “Fail” is grim, even by their standards. It’s so bleak that I find it amusing like that phenomenon where people burst out laughing at funerals.
What does it all *mean*?
As the Wonder Pets often say, teamwork is the thing. In all walks of life you may find a group of people who can do magical things – but they need someone they trust to bring out the best bits and have the courage to defy them sometimes. With Spirit, I think Depeche Mode have found someone who “gets” them and may well push them to new areas, if they’ll let him. This uncertainty makes every new Depeche Mode album an adventure.
Goes well with…
You can listen to this alongside Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion and know that this is the same band.
Might suit people who like…
“Imperial Phase” Depeche Mode. After all this time, I still cannot say with certainty that fans of band X or Y will like Depeche Mode. They remain out on a limb.