Depeche Mode - Spirit

Depeche Mode: “Spirit”

It’s hard to think of another act that has remained successful for so long while simultaneously polarising opinion as Depeche Mode.

Since they veered off the commercial synthpop route sometime in the mid ’80s, they’ve spent over thirty years commanding a gargantuan following while somehow avoiding mainstream success. All thirteen of their studio albums, two singles compilations and a live double album have been top ten hits, yet virtually none of their singles in the past twenty years have made any kind of dent on the public consciousness. As they release their fourteenth long player, it seems fair to ask: are Depeche Mode still relevant?

It seems they are, not least because the band was dragged into controversy shortly before the album’s release when white supremacist loudmouth Richard Spencer branded them “the official band of the alt-right.” Naturally the band refuted this charge, Dave Gahan in particular slinging some choice Anglo-Saxon expressions in the direction of his accuser.

Indeed, Spirit’s opening track Going Backwards could have been written for Spencer and his ilk, but he clearly hadn’t heard it before opening his mouth: “We’re going backwards, armed with new technology / Going backwards to a caveman mentality.” Take this in conjunction with following tracks Where’s The Revolution, The Worst Crime and Scum (“You wouldn’t even offer up your crumbs to the dying”) and there can be little doubt about Depeche Mode’s political alignment. It’s a provocative opening to an album by a band that usual steers clear of political imagery, but these are strange times.

After the ominous opening of the first four songs, much of the remainder of the album concerns itself with more familiar Mode subjects such as lust (You Move, So Much Love), love as physical protection (Eternal) and the eventual recognition that a relationship was doomed from the start (Poison Heart), until we close with the stark realisation that the world has become a disastrous and irredeemable mess (Fail). It’s bleak stuff, even by regular Depeche Mode standards.

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If the lyrics betray a sense of hopelessness at the state of the world, musically the album finds DM brimming with confidence. Producer James Ford (best known for his work with Arctic Monkeys and Simian) dials down the guitars and smothers them with strident electronica to create a gratifying electro-blues hybrid. Whereas the previous two Mode albums felt at times like the band was treading water, Spirit sounds crisp and new, obviously Depeche Mode but with a fresh sheen. It’s not an album to lift the spirits in these discouraging times, but it does at least answer the question. Depeche Mode are still relevant – perhaps more so than ever.

9/10