Depeche Mode On An Upset Stomach: Waiting For Spirit

4 years.  A typical undergraduate in college stays for four years.  Presidential terms--four years.  The incubation between Depeche Mode albums also follows a four-year time span between releases.  So here we are.  Four years from the release of Delta Machine, the new Depeche Mode album entitled Spirit gets released March 17th, and I'm both excited & concerned.  Excited, because I'll have new Depeche to listen to & a tour to anticipate.  Concerned, because the last two decades of releases have left me at times disappointed, feeling strange or, in some cases, fucking baffled!  Before I proceed further, I should establish my credentials as a lover of all things Depeche & not some critic who's never had an appreciation for the band.  

In 1981 I was a teen in the basement of my buddy John's house with friends Bernard, Go Go, &  James partaking in the geeky exercise of playing Dungeon & Dragons (don't judge!).  We had the fledgling MTV on during the wee hours of the night as a bit of background noise while battling imaginary Orcs & rolling 12 sided dice.  Then I heard the now iconic opening synth notes of "Just Can't Get Enough" & I couldn't ignore it.  Bernard noticed my lack of concentration on the compelling D&D action and said, 'You're really into this band.'  He was so right.  From the Speak & Spell LP through Violator in 1989, Depeche was the band I identified with the most.  I won't say they're my favorite only because that changes from day to day or even hour to hour depending on mood, etc.  At any given movement my favorite band/artist could be The Smiths/Moz, The Cure, Elvis Costello, New Order or Depeche Mode.  But there's no doubt that Depeche Mode is the one band that I feel most personifies my aesthetic.  So what follows are opinions & thoughts from a rabid longtime fan of the band.  An enthusiastic, typically intrepid fan.  

We surely didn't look this way around the D&D table...  Fuck!  We did...

We surely didn't look this way around the D&D table...  Fuck!  We did...

Looking forward to Spirit, I realize there really hasn't been a 'great' Depeche Mode album since Songs Of Faith & Devotion was released in 1993.  Almost exactly 24 years ago.  And there are some Mode fans who would claim that LP wasn't truly great, although I vehemently disagree.  I purchased & listened to the first release from the upcoming album, the politically charged "Where's The Revolution," the day it was released. I hate to say it but I felt queasy--physically uncomfortable on first listen.  It's like having dinner with a close friend in public restaurant & there's a bit of dumpling stuck to their chin.  In public, you'll use discretion in helping them remove the unsightly morsel.  In private, you might giggle, mention the dumpling blob immediately or even just wipe it aside yourself.  Consider this a private dumpling removal from the chin just between the two of us.  So I won't be subtle.

Depeche isn't known for making political statements, although through the years there are some examples of them excelling in that arena.  "People Are People" & "New Dress" come to mind. "People Are People" hasn't aged well, in fact, it 'sounds' dumb listening to it 33 years later.  If I'm truthful to myself, I didn't much care for it a year after release in 1984.  I was just happy for the band.  They finally had an American radio hit.  Outside of that, it was ham-fisted lyrically & sonically boring for a band that's typically neither.  "New Dress" was a much better.  It was more nuanced, both lyrically & musically, an attempt at a political statement. Still not normal 'Mode' fare, hence, the upset stomach hearing "Revolution" for the first time.  I had that 'here we go again' feeling.  For one, it's not immediately catchy.  Second, it has that same ham-fisted feel of 'People Are People'  in the sloganeering chorus.  Third, it sounds like the simultaneous aural orgasm of "I Feel You," "Barrel Of a Gun" & "Wrong" at the height of a messy threesome!  Cleanup is not a 'breeze.' 

So listening to "Revolution" got me thinking, 'Why hasn't Depeche Mode produced a great album in 24 years'?  The immediate answer--the lack of Alan Wilder.  Wilder left after the Songs Of Faith & Devotion tour.  Exhausted.  Spent.  He arranged, composed & partially produced everything on that album & was the lead engine for what ended up being two straight years of touring for the album.  Dave Gahan was fighting personal demons. Martin went hands off once his writing was done (according to reports) & Andrew Fletcher was relegated to band P.R. while battling depression.  The loss of Wilder is the one thing I can point to for the loss of the Depeche Mode magic.  He was the lynchpin.  Wilder was there from 1983-1995.  Undoubtedly the most prolific & profitable times the band ever experienced.  Alan has gone on to do great work recording with guests producing music under the moniker Recoil.  But it appears as though he has no intent of reuniting with the three remaining members.

1.  It's No Good                                     1:29             Ultra (1997)

2.  Home                                                7:22              Ultra (1997)

3.  Shine                                                 12:59            Exciter (2001)

4. Freelove                                            18:25           Exciter (2001)

5.  Precious                                           24:30          Playing The Angel (2005)

6.  Suffer Well                                     28:34          Playing The Angel (2005)

7.  In Sympathy                                 32:19           Sounds Of The Universe (2009)

8.  Miles Away/The Truth Is        37:07           Sounds Of The Universe (2009)

9.  Soothe My Soul                           41:01           Delta Machine (2013)

10. Heaven (Owlie Remix)            46:36         Delta Machine (2013)                         

Thankfully, they soldiered on but the glory of the work they produced during the Wilder years is noticeably absent.  Indulge in this 20-year synopsis while I eat:

1997 Ultra
In hindsight, a good album.  Over half the LP is too 'precious' but it does have the gems, "It's No Good", "Home" & "Useless."  Tasty enough.  Is that a hint of curry?
2001 Exciter
My stomach is gurgling.  Exciter?  Really?  The 1st song is "Dream On" & it does not 'excite'.  I think I like "Shine"?  Maybe I can hypnotize myself into liking the un-danceable 'dance' tune "I Feel Loved?"  Burp....
2005 Playing The Angel
Took a Tums & the belly is kinda settled.  There are good moments here.  "Precious" is classic Depeche without sounding overly derivative.  "A Pain That Used To" & "Suffer Well" are good additions & "Lilian" sounds like a great B-Side.  The rest is saltless crackers.
2009 Sounds Of The Universe
What did I eat?  "In Chains" is kinda nice but too long & repetitive.  "In Sympathy" is worth being on Depeche best of playlist.  Do I like "Miles Away"?  I do, I do.  But the stomach is starting to cramp.  The rest of LP feels like heartfelt filler.  Did I fart?  
2013 Delta Machine
Cramps!  "Heaven".  No, not the album version.  The best song isn't on the LP!  It's a damn remix!  Excuse me.  I need to relieve my Depeche Mode 'load' on a throne made of porcelain.

I'm better now.  So there's a quick synopsis of Depeche's last 20 years.  2017 & I was obliged to play "Where's The Revolution" during Rotten Radio a day after its release.  It was only my 3rd listen. I was messaging my friend Dave in New Hampshire, a long time listener to the show, while it played & expressed my mixed feelings.  But as the song played, about midway through, I felt a little magic.  I replied to Dave, "I think I like it."  So I wait for March 17th & the magic that can be Depeche Mode at their best.  Hopefully, my stomach can wait until then...  No more Thai.


J. Rotten

Posted on February 18, 2017 and filed under New Wave Music, Alternative Music.