Depeche Mode – Spirit (Album Review) – 16/03/17
Depeche Mode were one of the first bands that I really got into. It was 1987 and a school-friend lent me his nearly worn out cassette of Music For The Masses. By this time they had well and truly out grown their early 80’s new romantic phase and were developing a much darker sound and aesthetic. From the moment Dave Gahan’s baritone voice boomed ‘I’m taking a ride with my best friend’ into my eardrums I knew there would be no turning back. Fast forward 30 years and the band are now a full blown stadium filling juggernaut with a devoted army of fans all over the world and are on the cusp of releasing their fourteenth studio album, Spirit.
Whilst Depeche Mode have never been a political band in the past it is evidently apparent that main songwriter Martin Gore has turned his attention to what is happening in the world at the moment, especially in the United States. On their new single Where’s The Revolution, Gahan offers a rallying cry of civil disobedience ‘Where’s The Revolution, come on people you are letting me down’ and once again on album opener Going Backwards ‘We’re going backwards, turning back our history, going backwards hailing on the misery’. Gore did have a crack at the greed of multinationals back in the early eighties with Everything Counts but this time around it is a lot less nuanced and by the end of the album he throws his arms up in the air on Fail and sings ‘Our souls are corrupt, our minds are messed up, our consciences, bankrupt Oh, we’re fucked’.
From a musical perspective Spirit differs from their last album, the blues synth rock infused Delta Machine (admittedly Depeche Mode have been going in this direction since 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion) and has a lot to do with their new producer. James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco adds a deft minimal electronic influence to the album that complements Gore’s passion for analogue synthesizers and experimentation. Cover Me starts off as a slow burning ballad by Gahan but then turns into a shimmering ambient force of nature that loops endlessly on itself. In contrast You Move is cloaked in a claustrophobic miasma of dense basslines, crystalline synths and a looming sense of dread that something bad is going to happen.
For a band that has been around for more than 30 years it goes without saying that Depeche Mode have an array of anthems to draw on for their live shows. On Spirit there are quite a few tracks that would translate well live and Scum is definitely one of those. The track starts off slowly with Gahan’s heavy distorted vocals hanging threateningly in the air until he unleashes the mantra ‘Pull The Trigger’ amid jarring blasts of abrasive synths. Trent Reznor eat your heart out. So Much Love is Depeche Mode at their synth pop best with a sing along chorus that ticks all the boxes and wouldn’t feel out of place on some of their earlier long players. Overall Spirit is a solid record from a band that hasn’t lost their inner fire.