Review Summary: Destruction Time Again.
It's 2017, and Depeche Mode seem to be a little pissed off. Not an emotion usually associated with the band that adorned the bedroom walls of depressed goths in 1987, anger has nevertheless been present before, albeit in a hopeless, self-loathing form. With Spirit
, it seems to come to the fore as a type of righteous anger; the same guys that sang earnestly about a utopia on Construction Time Again
, now collectively shaking their head in disbelief at the world. It would be wrong to call this a political album, however. Spirit
is more about society at large, lamenting fake news, lynch mob mentalities and dehumanising technology. Killer opener 'Going Backwards'
sets the tone, doom-laden piano hammering down on the verses as Gahan pronounces judgement: "We can track in all the satellites / Seeing all in plain sight / Watch men die in real time / But we have nothing inside / We feel nothing inside."
Pretty heavy stuff for the Mode, and potentially dangerous territory for any cynic who wants to accuse them of being preachy. Cleverly, Spirit
avoids that with its lyrical focus on people rather than governments, which opens the door for such time-honoured Depeche themes as sex, pain and death, although religion is conspicuous by its absence. Gone are songs about angels, redemption and devotion, and in their place come bitter breakups ('Poison Heart')
and hilarious musings on the merits of apocalyptic snogging ('Eternal')
. Musically, James Ford has wisely created a vast sense of space for all the weighty subjects, especially noticeable on 'Cover Me'
, a track full of gorgeous synth washes and loungey, listless guitar. 'Poison Heart'
(how did it take thirty-seven years for Depeche Mode to write a song with that title?) sounds massively doleful, chugging along inexorably to a chorus with plenty of moaning, groaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth. 'Poorman'
is a glimpse into a parallel universe where a poor man's Robert Johnson has access to a synthesiser, but the big surprise comes from 'Scum'
. Their best rant since SOTU's 'Wrong'
, heavy distortion gives a bit of force to Gahan's hissing, spitting vocals.
Surprisingly, the true highlight of Spirit
is the only overtly positive one, 'So Much Love'
. Borrowing the driving rhythm of past classic 'A Question of Time'
, Gahan and Gore go full pelt, harmonising effortlessly over a life-affirming chorus that aims for 'gargantuan stadium song' and gets it dead centre with a gold-plated bullet. Perhaps that should have been the point for the majestic Gore-fronted closer 'Fail'
to come in, because, for all the space in the production, Spirit
does feel like it outstays its welcome by at least a couple of songs. 'No More (This Is The Last Time)'
, especially, feels like a b-side that crashed the party. The sheer world-weariness so essential to the general thrust of Spirit
also drags the listener down rather too much. But by dropping out of their comfort zone lyrically, and expanding (if not exactly innovating) musically, Depeche Mode seem to be saying, "Here's the evolution". It's not dramatic, but for a thirty-seven-year-old band as consistently good as they are, we should take what we can get.