Review Summary: Never let me go.
Depeche Mode have been one of the most reliable groups, feeling as if they could go on releasing tight records forever. The unexpected hit, however, in 2022 when founding member Andrew Fletcher passed away. It was a wake-up call in a way, because as a fan, you just want to see your lifelong favorite bands active and productive for 100 years if possible. It’s especially easy to take a consistent act like DM for granted. This unfortunate event, plus the increasing time gap between Spirit
and Memento Mori
, became reasons to believe we might not hear from the band again. Thankfully, the two remaining members ultimately decided to regroup, in order to once more show everyone why they are a world-class act more than four decades into their career.
Their darkest tune in decades, “My Cosmos Is Mine” fittingly opens Memento Mori
with stomping beats and rather ominous industrial synths. It's quite a surprise to be honest, as this could have easily been a sonic path to further explore, especially on an album with a vibe like this. The lyrical repetition and unfolding layers become mesmerizing, before dissolving into eerie sound scapes towards the end. The only pair to this excellent cut would be the final moment on the LP, “Speak to Me”. One of Gahan’s contributions and a highlight is a touching ode to lost ones, as well as pondering one’s purpose of existence. From the main melody, it gradually intensifies into a sequenced coda with glacial synths around it. The final beats share the same sound as the ones on “My Cosmos Is Mine”. They are somehow connected, the former looking inward, while “Speak to Me” seeks guidance on a similar topic. Meanwhile, “Ghosts Again” is a bittersweet ditty focusing on mortality, although the main guitar lead easily detracts from the sadness the lyrics embody. It is the catchiest single they crafted since 2005’s “Precious”.
Despite the darkness surrounding Memento Mori
, most of the songs here are lighter than you would expect. Dave and Martin want to celebrate life too and appreciate the ones close to them. “Wagging Tongue” transitions from moody arpeggios to steady grooves just as we are told to relax and enjoy the ride. Then comes “My Favourite Stranger”, whose rhythm struts along and gets busier by the minute. Various sonic layers build up amid the few verses sung, leading to a feedback-laden, dissonant guitar solo at the end. It’s a familiar Depeche Mode track, yet very satisfying. Also, “People Are Good” is an interesting throwback to the Music for the Masses
era, but with a darker touch overall, whereas “Always You” takes its cues from ‘80s disco with applied HEALTH filters. The haunting synths nicely embellish an otherwise simple, straightforward number. Moreover, “Never Let Me Go” shamelessly wants you to dance over its Gorillaz reminiscing, minimalist sequenced notes and Dave’s passionate performance. This is quite a change of pace from the more somber first half of Memento Mori
Overall, the tunes’ structures follow similar formulas to Spirit
(they worked again with James Ford), although benefiting from a wider sonic palette this time. They aren’t cluttered, usually driven by a beat or a synth with a couple of details at a time around them. Martin’s guitar has more presence here though, whether distorted or clean, which is a plus. Memento Mori
’s biggest flaw is the middle section, as the respective songs don’t really stand out. Of course, they remain decent at the very least, “Before We Drown” being perhaps the one to return to most. Other than that, this is another solid Depeche Mode album with a handful of highlights that fans should definitely add to their playlists. If this is the last one we receive from them, it’s a fitting end. Whatever may come after, it will be a welcomed bonus.