Depeche Mode - Spirit

by Gerry Hathaway Rating:6 Release Date:2017-03-17

The trepidation that is often echoed by legions of Depeche Mode fans prior to the release of a new album is something that is becoming as legendary as the veteran synthpop act themselves. Many feel the group’s last several albums have yielded diminishing returns, while even more (perhaps not unjustly) attribute the decline in quality to the absence of key member Alan Wilder – who has been out of the fold for over 20 years now. Certainly, Martin Gore’s continued preference for buzzy, distorted modular synth explorations has resulted in a specific lack of variation between albums since 2005’s Playing The Angel.

For a band that became famous for stirring heartfelt melodicism and upbeat dance tracks, a lot of Depeche Mode’s recent material comes across overtly dour and plodding. Despite this however, Dave Gahan & company have still managed to deliver some solid tunes that sit well stacked against their classic records. Spirit continues this trend of hit-and-miss, fortunately with greater payoff this time around.

The record opens with Going Backwards, which sets the mood (and the tempo) for every track that comes after it. It’s slow, stomping synth blues the vehicle for Dave Gahan bemoaning present-day humanity. The refrain of “we feel nothing inside” feels especially Depeche and oddly catchy. First single Where’s The Revolution is one of the record’s strongest tracks. The chorus is especially dark and crunchy. Those who choose to focus on the dubious political references will be missing out.

The real surprise is Scum, which stands out as the best cut on Spirit. It’s an angry, seething track with icy synths and a nice thumping beat. The shouted chorus of “pull the trigger” confirms the band are not mellowing with age one bit. Cover Me is another highlight that brings back some of the classic Depeche Mode sentiment, if only briefly before seguing into some smooth electronica. Poison Heart and No More (This is the Last Time) service the album well after repeated listens though the slow pace does little to strengthen their staying power.

You Move is an interesting dub/trip hop mash-up hampered by uninspired lyrics (I like the way you move for me tonight). The biggest offenders on Spirit are Fail, The Worst Crime, and Eternal which could be added to the same list of forgettable Depeche Mode tracks that also house songs such as Little Soul, Broken, and Macro.

When weighed against the unrealistic demands of devout fans, Spirit is no doubt another disappointment in a series of lackluster records over the last decade. However, when setting aside Depeche Mode’s legacy for a moment to judge the record on its own musical merits, there are still at least a handful of excellent tracks here. At this point in the band’s almost 40 year career, what more should anyone expect from them? Not a return to form by any means, but there is still some fun to be had if you can withstand another dose of pain and suffering.

Overall Rating (2)

5 out of 5 stars