Electronic Music Giants Depeche Mode’s 14 Studio Album makes political waves

By Adina J. Pernell

 

“Spirit,” Depeche Mode’s 14 studio album released March 17 of this year is definitely an album to “soothe your soul” in these turbulent times.

Depeche Mode fans will appreciate a sonic landscape that returns to the mood of the band’s iconic album “Playing The Angel.”

But rather than getting existential “Spirit” travels into the territory of disillusionment that reflects the current political climate, while hanging onto a tentative faith in humanity.

Abbreviated affectionately by fans as DM, Depeche Mode has been going strong for nearly 37 years and are as socially relevant and controversial as they ever were.

“Spirit’s” first single is an ode to apathy in a Trump-laced, bleakly technological era. Lead singer of Depeche Mode, Dave Gahan fairly shouts out guitarist Martin Gore’s searing lyrics in “Where’s The Revolution?” “Come on people, you’re getting me down,” he wails.

The smoky rhythm of “Revolution,” is influenced by Gore’s love of gospel and blues.

Lyrics that seem to allude to the Underground Railroad and the Freedom Train become a candid plea for political activism. “The train is coming… The train is coming. So get on board,” Gore and Gahan chant seductively in the chorus.

Their long time visual collaboration with director Anton Corbjin resulted in a video for “Where’s The Revolution,” that features images of White male privilege, totalitarianism, fascism and railroad tracks filmed against a stark relief of black and white.

Isolated images of the color red featured in the video could easily represent the revolutionary aspect of society that breaks away from the masses.

On “Scum” and “You Move,” the bold electronic approach of keyboardist and DM co-founder, Andrew Fletcher’s skills really shine for you, revisiting the club-friendly vibe of DM’s 2001 sleeper hit “Exciter.”

This is especially apparent on “You Move.” which utilizes the unresolved sounds of a skipped record, to keep your ears guessing while Gahan croons, “ I like the way you move for me tonight.”

A nod to Depeche Mode for always being on the edge of something innovative and working with producer James Ford, who previously collaborated with Haim, Florence and the Machines, Arctic Monkeys.

This marks Depeche Mode’s departure from producers Flood who has worked on the albums of many groundbreaking artists, including New Order, U2, and Nine Inch Nails and Ben Hillier who has worked with Blur and Smashing Pumpkins among others.  

Strangely enough, although the EDM tracks on “Spirit” are likely going to be dancefloor hits, they seem oddly out of place with the rest of the album, that is some of the most seriously reflective material DM has come out with since “Songs of Faith and Devotion” debuted in 1993.

“Cover Me” and “Poison Heart” written by Dave Gahan, Peter Gordeno and Christian Eigner return to the reclusive but inspired mood of some of songs on Gahan’s 2007 solo project “Hourglass.”

With “Eternal” and “Fail” both penned by Martin Gore, the first somehow melancholy and hopeful and the later revealing Gore’s despair of the human condition, we are transported back to the soaring electronic symphony of 1990’s “Violator.”

Corbjin’s signature style can be felt on the bold artwork of “Spirit’s” album cover. A gray background portrays black stick-figures of feet marching under black flags as in between the two images a smear of red announces ‘Depeche Mode.’

On the top right of the cover ‘Spirit’ is spelled out in all caps in a blurred, ghostly font that makes it seem as if the letters are about to fly away.  

For those who prefer the experience of a physical album, the deluxe album is design to look like a book. Listeners can flip through pages littered with artistic photographs of the band (some of which allude to albums past) and enjoy the vintage experience of reading the lyrics and liner notes.

There is something about the bound cover and the way two CDs are tucked into discreet little side inserts, that makes you want to cherish and keep it as a collector’s item or a musical souvenir of the analog days.

The first CD is the actual studio album. For those of you who remember cassette tapes, the second CD is a glorified B-side with remixes of some of the more dance orientated tracks.

The B-side consists of “Scum,” “You Move,” “So Much Love” and two slower songs re-envisioned with a liquid, hypnotic ambience.

But it is worthy to note that the remixes are not simply rehashed material, but they have managed to make the songs sound totally fresh and different.  

In terms of die-hard DM fans, there is something here for everyone. But it digs into a deeper and more cynical attitude that revealed just how much they have grown and continue to grow musically.

When critics look back on this album ten years from now, they will see that at first glance it deeply resonates with the pulse of an era, but that above all, it is a love note to all the music that Depeche Mode has created as they turn towards the future.