Release Date: Mar 17, 2017
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
In a time of sociopolitical upheaval, Depeche Mode emerged with Spirit. Dark, brooding, and painfully relevant upon its release, the collection is one of their most intense and aggressive statements, isolating the frustration, anger, tension, and dread coursing across the globe in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Brexit. With little subtlety, Depeche Mode take aim and leave few survivors.
Depeche Mode find something key in common with Devo on their new album. Four decades ago, that electro-shocked band declared that humans weren’t evolving, but rather devolving. In that same vein, Depeche Mode start their new album by announcing “We’re Going Backwards” before expressing exasperation and bafflement at “uneducated readers,” “patriotic junkies,” and “misguided leaders,” all of whom “have nothing inside.” “We're hopeless,” frontman Dave Gahan concludes at the album's close.
The Upshot: Who is the master, and who is the servant? BY JOHN B. MOORE Depeche Mode may not be as prolific as they were in the '80s, but they certainly make up for it once they deliver. Spirit, the band's follow up to 2013's Delta Machine, is a loud clarion call to anyone who questioned whether these synth kings were still relevant 30-plus after they started.
It's rare for any musician from the '80s to smoothly transfer its appeal past that era without seeming like they're trying too hard to update themselves. The alternative is embracing their '80s-ness to such a degree it's almost pastiche. Depeche Mode has avoided both these pitfalls with a musical and visual style so individual it transcends trends. The group's 14th album, Spirit, produced by James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence and the Machine, Foals), sounds fresh and current.
A painfully accurate record that portrays some of today's main political and social issues... Like clockwork, Depeche Mode have been dropping albums every four years since Ultra saw the light of day two decades ago. I must say I anxiously await them, because they never disappoint. For better or for worse, the band never released the same album twice.
F rom New Labour and Britpop to Donald Trump and Neil Young's Rockin' in the Free World, politicians' attempts to co-opt pop music seldom end well. But spare a thought for poor old Depeche Mode, recipients of perhaps the least welcome political endorsement since Margaret Thatcher killed the burgeoning career of 80s hopefuls Thrashing Doves stone dead by saying she liked their video on Saturday Superstore. Last month, American neo-Nazi Richard Spencer - best known as That Guy Who Got Punched on Live Television - described them as "the official band of the alt-right".
If you've ever wondered what the elegy for the 21st century sounds like, Spirit comes pretty close. Following 2013's Delta Machine, Depeche Mode (Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher) return with their 14th studio album, and most politically charged material to date. Spirit, the band's second release on Columbia Records, sees synth-pop's favourite princes of darkness return to form in a moving -- and mournful -- state of the union address.
But there was something missing from those albums, both produced by Ben Hillier, and despite working well on their first collaboration, 2005's Playing The Angel, it was the first time in their career where they'd misfired twice in a row. Neither were necessarily bad records, but they were missing that spark you'd become accustomed to - they sounded tired. Bearing in mind that musically Depeche Mode is a solo act with Martin Gore taking control of the music, he hasn't had a producer with electronic music credentials alongside him since working with Mark Bell on 2001's Exciter.
AFTER A TRILOGY OF RECORDS with producer Ben Hillier, Depeche Mode have changed up and turned to James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Foals) for sonic guidance. The result is their heaviest-sounding album for years, filled with thumping electronics matched to a furious state-of-the-world address which reaches a peak with the railing against political apathy in Where’s The Revolution and the distorted-voiced disgust of Scum. In contrast, amid the Angelo Badalamenti-styled soundscape of the Worst Crime, violent racism is tackled with affecting sadness, and the noir '60s-echoing, Dave Gahan-written showstopper Poison Heart spotlights the singer detailing a broken relationship with a femme fatale.
This album gets off to a barnstorming start. 'Backwards' and 'Revolution' are among the most anthemic things Depeche Mode have done this century, apocalyptic both in sound and lyrics and perfect for these dark times. Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford has done a fine job of making them sound like their stadium-sized selves while freshening things up with trippy techno twists, and Dave Gahan is in fine voice.
For nearly four decades, Depeche Mode have majored in gloomy meditations on their own personal shortcomings. But their 14th LP offers a bitter, sorrowful elegy for the outside world. Nearly every song on Spirit laments the death of human decency, often in disarmingly beautiful ways (see the fuzzy ballad "Fail," the forlornly crooned "Poison Heart").
The 14th studio album from synth giants Depeche Mode begins with frontman Dave Gahan declaring that "We are not there yet/We have not evolved. " It's the first of many admonitions Gahan issues on what turns out to be the most pointedly topical and compassionate effort in the band's career. Over solemn piano chords and a lockstep electro groove that hints at the cadence of a protest march, Gahan laments how "we feel nothing inside" as we "track it all with satellites" and "watch men die in real time.
After decades of premier league blockbuster fame, Depeche Mode's deluxe sex-dungeon soundtracks inevitably offer few fresh twists. That said, Spirit, their second album for the Columbia label, is still a pleasingly punchy, crunchy and angry affair. Making his debut working with the group, producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Foals) finds fertile middle ground between crackling vintage synthesisers and chunky rock beats, while Martin Gore's lyrics are the most politically explicit of his career, urging a revolutionary response to volatile times.
If music is indeed the soundtrack to our times, then Depeche Mode‘s first album for five years is a suitably bleak one. It’s a post-Brexit, Trumpian world now, and Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher obviously aren’t too happy about it. Over the course of just the first three tracks, we hear that we’re all going backwards, we’re being berated for not starting a revolution, and hearing about lynchings in a square.
The lead single demanded Where's The Revolution? and Depeche Mode's 14th studio album is as political as that suggests. "We're going backwards/To a caveman mentality," Dave Gahan proclaims on Spirit's anthemic opener, its stadium friendly heft more potent than a cry at a rally. Elsewhere, musical simplicity serves to underline the message; as on the dramatically drawn-out guitar ballad The Worst Crime, which tells of "misguided leaders" and features an image of a lynching.
Depeche Mode's 14th album may not be a direct rebuttal to the white US nationalist Richard Spencer's WTF assertion that Depeche were "the official band of the alt-right" - but it's as good as. By the time cosseted arena bands reach their 37th year, their need to engage with the real world is moot, but here's Martin Gore - DepMo's chief songwriter - lambasting greedy corporations (Poorman), asking where the revolution is coming from, insisting on a policy of truth. The main drawback is that hip producer James Ford isn't allowed to conjure up as much newfangled ju-ju as Spirit could stand.
Part of what makes for a great late-period album for an elder alternative band like Depeche Mode is a degree of resignation. Originality remains important but forced innovation sort of comes across like the musical equivalent of a fifty-something wearing tight leather pants. Take Brian Eno, Wire or David Bowie's last couple records: all of them are less about risk and more about confidence.
"We're fucked," sings Martin Gore on 'Fail', the final track on the new Depeche Mode album 'Spirit'. It's not exactly the uplifting, elegiac ending to an album that one is badly in need of by the end of 'Spirit', but as a summary of the prevailing mood, that lyric sums it up perfectly. This is not an album to listen to if you are remotely worried about the state of the world right now.