Depeche Mode
Playing The Angel



by USER (2 Reviews)
February 25th, 2006 | 22 replies

Release Date: 2005 | Tracklist

Despite somewhat embarrassing beginnings as a synthpop boy band in the early 1980s, Depeche Mode has made a career of evolving poppy keyboard rock into darker layers of textured synths, brooding lyrics, and stinging guitars. It is somewhat surprising that the band behind silly pop hits like 1981's "Just Can't Get Enough" is the same band that would eventually release disturbingly catchy singles like 1984's "Blasphemous Rumors", which quietly condemns God for perpetuating the cruel joke of human existence. This transformation culminated in Violator (1990), which spawned the megahits "Enjoy the Silence" and "Personal Jesus", the latter of which has recently been covered by contemporary musical "messiah" figures Johnny Cash and Marilyn Manson.

While Violator marked the culmination of the band's goth/electronic/pop/alt rock fusion, it also signaled the end of an era, for the band's output throughout the 1990s was often disappointing, perhaps underlined by lead singer David Gahan's 1995 drug overdose, and the departure of longtime keyboardist/drummer Alan Wilder. It would have seemed that Depeche Mode had gone the way of so many other rock groups, burning brightest just as they were set to burn out, eventually becoming aging parodies of their former selves.

Those who still remembered the band had reason to both rejoice and fear their 2001 comeback, Exciter. The album somewhat surprisingly made the mainstream radio rotation with "Dream On", a gentler Depeche Mode track that still managed to make good on many of the synth hooks that had carried the band through its heyday. However, most fans and critics alike saw Exciter as an echo of past glory and were well convinced that Depeche Mode's best days were far behind them.

It would appear that these people (myself included) were sorely mistaken. 2005's Playing the Angel shows the band to be capable of meeting and even sometimes surpassing their best work from the late 1980s. The album's first track, "A Pain That I'm Used To", commences with a barrage of heavy distortion, quickly transitioning into a catchy synth beat over which Gahan chants anthems as dark and catchy as any he's ever sung: "All this running around, well it's getting me down / Just give me a pain that I'm used to / I don't need to believe all the dreams you conceive / You just need to achieve something that rings true". The song continues to build, occasionally exploding with further blasts of distortion that show Depeche Mode to be able to pack a punch as strong as they ever could.

The album then transitions into "John the Revelator," a fierily contagious goth pop anthem that fuses a myriad of religious imagery with that trademark Depeche Mode anguish. Give it a few listens, and I dare you not to find yourself singing along to the overpowering refrain: "John the Revelator/he's a smooth operator". Some listeners may be put off by the angsty rhymes and pseudo-goth pop hooks, but when they're layered over such well-nuanced textures and coherent songwriting, it's hard not to give in.

Other highlights include the US radio single, "Precious", a synthetic dreamscape that picks up where Exciter's "Dream On," left off, but with much more strength and vitality this time around. "Nothing's Impossible" stands out as an enchantingly mournful lullaby that casts a dark shadow over themes of hope and redemption. "Lilian" features layered synth textures and an invigorating beat over such lyrical gems as "Pain and misery always hit the spot / Knowing you can't lose what you haven't got". The album comes to a close with "The Darkest Star," a darkly atmospheric song that, like all of the group's best efforts, relishes in the bittersweet pain of love.

With the 80s rebirth craze reaching its pinnacle in 2005, it's surprising to find a dark electronic rock album that still manages to sound as fresh and powerful as Playing the Angel. Perhaps this is because Depeche Mode have no need to imitate the best alt rock acts of the 80s - after all, they have always been one of them. Furthermore, Playing the Angel stands as proof positive that Depeche Mode is not a mediocre band that occasionally released a few good songs; rather, they are a great band that occasionally released a few mediocre songs. And when they are able to give us an album as great as Playing the Angel, it's hard not to forgive them their vices and sins.

Standout Tracks:
A Pain that I'm Used To
John the Revelator
Nothing's Impossible

user ratings (520)
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Tom93M (4.5)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
February 25th 2006


You did a nice job the review. It was the perfect amount of length and I didn't detect many grammar errors.
I have never been into Depeche Mode that much. I've heard many good things about the band and the album and now is the time to finally go download a few tracks.

February 25th 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

Lead singer is Dave Gahan, not Martin Gore. Gore is the lead songwriter, guitarist and does sing on a couple tracks per album.

I agree with your highlight tracks.

This is a good album, but they'll never touch Violator.

February 25th 2006


Good review, minus the Dave Gahan oversight.

February 25th 2006


I've faded away from commenting every beginner's first review, but this is a exception I'm more than willing to make. Fantastic review, especially for your first.
You get a much patented Scruples thumbs up:

February 25th 2006


I don't like the stuff I've heard from them. But your review was good, even though I have a feeling I will strongly dislike this album anyways.

February 25th 2006


nice review, especially for a first, it seems like you've been doing this for a while. although im basically into punk, i find depeche mode to be a guilty pleasure for me. im excited to hear this, and marylin manson destroyed personal jesus, the only good cover i have heard of a depeche mode song was the enjoy the silence cover that it dies today did.

February 26th 2006


Album Rating: 3.5

It's a solid album. Great review.

John the Revelator is a great track, although the lyrics sometimes seem too "cheesy" ("John the Revelator, put him in an elevator"....)

February 26th 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

Yeah I'll agree with you 100% on that. Depeche Mode lyrics are either really great or really, really cheesy. I think Gore is too fond of that rhyme dictionary.

July 13th 2006


'This is a good album, but they'll never touch Violator. '


July 17th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

The guitar hook on Suffer Well is amazing, but I agree with the other tracks you recommended.

December 16th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

Great review, you pick out all that was good about this album.

'Macro' and 'Damaged People' let the side down, but 'John The Revelator' will go down as one of their best. It is IMPOSSIBLE not to scream along with the chorus!

December 20th 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

Yeah John the Revelator is tops. I haven't listened to this album in a few months but that and "A Pain That I'm Used to" still get stuck in my head.

February 4th 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

Excellent record. Not quite as good as Songs Of Faith And Devotion or Violator, but pretty damn close.

Digging: Glassjaw - Material Control

July 24th 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

this is a really good album. i was put off initially, being how disappointing Exciter was, but Dave's songwriting abilities really shined with PTA!!

August 14th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

Guys, please stop mentioning Violator. It was classic. End of.

PTA successfully embraces the modern world while sti;; sounding like DM. "Suffer Well" and "The Darkest Star" are probably the most brutal and memorable on the album.

August 14th 2008


Album Rating: 3.5

brutal eh?

the only brutal song this band has is Just Can't Get Enough

January 19th 2009


Love the album; and a great review to boot.

November 13th 2009


favourite songs are Nothing's Impossible, followed by I Want it All and Precious.

Digging: Beastmilk - Climax

May 15th 2010


Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I happen to like The sinner in Me and Suffer Well. Overall... very good disc.

Staff Reviewer
February 22nd 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

this is so good, first DM album i ever bought.

Digging: Fleurety - The White Death

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