Review Summary: 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. I admire them for venturing like this so far in their career, when they could easily just lay back and not care anymore. The blueprints are familiar, yet changing producers keeps a fresh input even during struggling times (see Martin's creative block throughout the Exciter writing sessions). After finishing the "Ben Hillier trilogy", the veterans opted for James Ford to work on the latest record, Spirit
. The younger musician became famous after working with Arctic Monkeys or Florence and the Machine, among many others, thus bringing a different vibe to the table.
is a truly interesting affair, being broken in two main parts both lyrically and musically. On one side you have the usual love themes this time set against strong political and social awareness. Although they flirted with the latter on the early works, here you can find their boldest & most vitriolic statements. On the other hand, musically, there's the vintage analog instrumentation that meets a more inciting side consisting of warmer moments. It's not that easy to pinpoint this record since it borrows several elements from different eras, while carving a niche of its own in the discography. There are pieces that could've been lifted off Delta Machine
or the mid-80's, especially when poignant synths take over. 'So Much Love' is an uplifting number that reminisces 'Soft Touch/Raw Nerve' off the above mentioned LP. The energetic industrial sound scapes topped by Dave and Martin's vocals really breathe life into the more subdued second part. 'Poorman' and 'Cover Me' fall into this old school meets 21st century Depeche Mode category too. Driven by sequencers, they are smoothly enhanced by a wide array of embellishments: guitar licks and brooding synth bass lines join in on 'Poorman', creating an interesting vibe, whereas 'Cover Me' grows from lush, hazy pads (echoing the ones on 'Enjoy the Silence') to krautrock-influenced grooves. There's a soothing tone while Gahan sings about leaving this place to find another life beyond the stars and the moment he stops, that dream "ensues" with the sequencer's appearance. As a departure from Delta Machine
's often suffocating arrangements, the guys left more room here for the music to expand without layering too much either and it really pays off.
Contrasting this side of the album, we receive a warmer counterpart represented by cuts such as 'Going Backwards', 'The Worst Crime' or 'Where's the Revolution'. Bittersweet piano lines and steady drum beats instantly greet us on the lovely opener, 'Going Backwards'. Again, highlights are the two members singing in unison, plus the song's progression, which becomes more and more urgent, but in an elegant way. As atmosphere builds up, the main political manifesto, 'Where's the Revolution' kicks in. At first, I was reluctant to admit, however, it's an excellent track that says so much with such few lyrics. Moreover, it will surely be a highlight on tour when sung by tens of thousands people at the same time. The moment the chorus starts and everything bursts is just golden. The simplicity offers that charm and the two men singing together doubles the message's power and catchiness. 'The Worst Crime' and 'Poison Heart' are a couple of slow numbers that bring that intimate side of Depeche Mode to the forefront. As the former reveals the mournful feel of Dave's work with Soulsavers, we are asked why haven't we done anything to make our lives better. We prefer to spread and comment on the misinformation we're fed daily, without lifting a finger to improve our situations or see behind the veil of lies. It's something we're all aware, but many latently pass by. Meanwhile, 'Poison Heart' deals with relationship deterioration, using this icy guitar strum and a slow, heavy drum kick accompanying it. Although Gahan's songs have been getting stronger with each album, it's nice to see him write again with live members Peter Gordeno & Christian Eigner who are accustomed to the band's sound.
Sitting somewhere in between these main styles are the two dancing numbers, 'Scum' and 'You Move'. Head scratching on a first listen, 'Scum' is definitely a grower. The hand clapping, distorted groove boasts pulsating synths that beautifully complement the overall mood. Full of pathos, Dave's performance lures you in while you dance to the beat, shouting "pull the trigger!". The target might be Trump or Richard Spencer, the American white supremacist, yet we are given only clues. Then, (the first Gore/Gahan track present on any DM LP's main track list) 'You Move' brings back the '80s entwined with a modern, deep bass lead, breaking the tension in the process. Although it might not seem, Spirit
is one of their most complex efforts in a long time. You really have bits of everything Depeche Mode have done, all compressed into 50 minutes.
In the end, Spirit
needs much like any of the band's albums some spins to truly reveal itself. In many ways, this is Delta Machine
taken into a more organic direction, offering glimpses of past efforts in the process. The decision to let the songs breathe through airy layers was wise, because you can easily focus on them this way. Thankfully, taking on different political and social issues we all face today recharged them. Even so, you can never tell where they're going to go next, so we have 4 years to digest this LP and anxiously wait for another. This is one of the few groups that remain relevant by simply following their strengths and never settle into a comfort zone. You can instantly recognize their music, still there's always something different to it, no matter how small.