Review Summary: The masters of subliminal angst-rock-synthery...chill out (?)
2001. 20 years after Depeche Mode's
first album, they regrouped again to create Exciter
, an album ostensibly meant to make up for their 'difficult' previous album Ultra
. Unfortunately, though it's solid enough, it's not quite the return to form that all Moders were hoping for.
At this point, Gahan was five years clean, and though solo albums lurked in the wings for both singer and songwriter, they nevertheless put aside their musical differences to create this intricate soundscape of alternative, mellow songs that caress the listener rather than grab them by the throat. They're pleasant enough, and deal with suitably subversive topics such as sex, drugs and cynicism, but are they Depeche Mode?
, the first song and first single, is easily the best, and showcases an extremely catchy lead acoustic guitar riff, underpinned by a sharp electronic backing, revealing the influence of Mark Bell, producer of such fine albums as Bjork's Homogenic
. His influence is felt throughout on this rather minimalist, electro album. The song is suitably catchy without ever approaching raucousness. 'Shine'
is similarly laid-back, starting with Buddhist-sounding Wahhh-Wah-Ahh
-sounds, before getting all bitter after the second chorus - "You've been hanging from a rope of mediocrity/Strung up by your insecurities"
. 'The Sweetest Condition'
picks up where 'The Sweetest Perfection' (Violator)
left off; that is, it deals with drugs in a bittersweet manner; "A body in heaven and a mind full of dirt"
, and all to a bluesy backdrop.
'When The Body Speaks'
is such a simple song. A soft, sweet guitar line and some faint strings are all that is needed with Gahan's vocals to create a sublimely sentimental ballad. However, it must be noted that by this point in the album, you are in danger of falling asleep with the sheer weight of slowies thrust upon you since track one. So the engine-revving noise that features at the start of 'The Dead Of Night'
takes you by surprise, to say the least. This is a strange, Marilyn Manson-esque trip into pounding Goth territory and is totally unexpected, both from this album and DM in general. They carry it off (DM are never less than talented musicians) but you can't help but wonder why they took this route. Surely they had enough experience of up-tempo numbers to produce one that didn't go into nu-metal pastiche?
Still, never mind. The rest of the album continues its chilled-out course. 'Lovetheme'
is an instrumental that follows and is calm and spacey enough. 'Freelove'
features a great chorus, while the lyrics preach about the merits of casual sex (luvverly) and is followed by 'Comotose'
, which is exactly how it sounds - a non-melodic slowie whose rhythm meanders everywhere without going anywhere exciting. I thought this album was called Exciter
'I Feel Loved'
was therefore put in to bring the tempo up again, and unlike 'The Dead Of Night'
, this song actually succeeds in being memorable and is one of the highlights of the album. It's not quite a Donna Summer rip-off, but it comes pretty close. Having said that, the middle-eight is quite subversive and highly original - it remains the highlight of the song. 'Breathe's'
biblical references are just silly, and though the floaty melody just about saves it, you don't want Martin to make this mistake too often. After an anonymous instrumental, 'I Am You'
would bring the album to a comfortable close. It's an unusual mix of being anthemic and sentimental, especially that last chorus.
was chosen to end the album on a different note to 'I Am You'
. It's a whispered lullaby; you could imagine Gahan singing it to a baby, except it's a typically cynical song from Martin Gore about LOVE, of all things; "When you're born a lover/You're born to suffer/Like all soul sisters and soul brothers"
. It's a suitably mellow end to a mellow album.
So why is it called Exciter
? Well. Martin apparently named it so because he thought the production approach this time was exciting; in that he tried out lots of new, ambient ideas and sounds. Sorry, Mart, not good enough. Mark Bell did a good job here in terms of programming, and the album does have its serene moments ('When The Body Speaks', 'Freelove')
, but it's all too mono-paced to be one of their best. The band were to get a much-needed injection of energy in their superior follow-up, Playing The Angel
. Still, if you like the soft side of Depeche Mode
and want a sentimental, chilled-out album, you could do a lot worse. Expertly crafted, the dark side of Depeche Mode
is conspicuous by its absence. This is, essentially, music to sit in the lotus position to. In those terms, it's great. Just don't expect any songs like 'Personal Jesus'