Review Summary: Mellow, tranquil, chilled, relaxed - none of these words are likely to spring to mind when you think 'Depeche Mode', yet they’re the only moods you’ll hear on 2001’s 'Exciter'. Arguably the bands least satisfying album so far.
Was 'Exciter' meant to be an ironic title? Because after listening to Depeche Mode’s tenth studio album, it’s difficult to see it as anything other than that, as the 13 more-mellow-than-a-stoner-after-an-all-night-weed-fest tracks do little to excite. The consistent theme of 'Exciter' is mellow, mellow and even more mellow. This wouldn’t be an issue for a band that gained its fan base for delivering silky soft songs like 'When the Body Speaks' or 'Goodnight Lovers' but that’s the problem - Depeche didn’t - they provided dark, layered, moody synth pop that earned them a cult legion of followers.
The album is far from awful though, as if you’re looking for a gentle, feather-soft set of songs to play as serene noise then ‘Exciter’ will surely do the trick; and if Depeche Mode’s mandate in 2001 was to create an album that fits aforementioned description (which it certainly feels like), then they did succeed in that sense.
The main issue is one that lasts from start to finish and first appeared on 'Ultra'. There’s just far too many uber-slow tracks that don’t go anywhere remotely exciting, leaving little in the way of melody or catchy hooks, just airy atmospherics and tranquilly that sound too empty and sparse to hold the average listeners attention for very long.
Having said that, the opening track 'Dream On' deploys a fairly catchy cushion-soft guitar riff and 'The Sweetest Condition' is sure to prick up a few Mode fans ears for its song title alone. It’s a continuation of the 'Violator' track 'The Sweetest Perfection' that dealt with drug addiction - fairly apt then, after lead singer Gahan had not long gone cold turkey. But apart from those two tracks and maybe a very fine spread of others ('Shine', 'Comatose'), it’s honestly hard to find anything memorable enough for 'Exciter' to be completely worthwhile.
Long-gone are the earlier dark days of Depeche Mode when they were a moody quartet producing midnight-black masterpieces like 'Black Celebration' in 1986 or the days of super sharp hooks like heard in 'Personal Jesus'. Even the more recent theme of a grunge rock/electro combo that succeeded in 1993’s 'Songs of Faith and Devotion' is completely absent and instead fans are left with (and its difficult to announce, but every band has to have one) a set of vacant tracks that regress from the bands earlier highs and ultimately amount to, arguably, Depeche Mode’s weakest effort yet. Still, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, as 2005’s 'Playing the Angel' was an immensely stronger album that returned to the darkness that fans craved, and unfortunately couldn’t find on 'Exciter'.