Depeche Mode ‘Spirit’ Review: electronic music icons get political on bleak new album.
We are the bigots, we have not evolved/we have no respect, we have lost control. That’s the opening line to Going Backwards, the brooding first track off Depeche Mode’s 14th studio album Spirit. Even for a band known for moodiness, it’s an especially dour starting point. It’s clear the electronic titans are not at all pleased with the current state of politics in America and Europe.
And this agitated attitude about the world’s current nationalist streak culminates into the most socially conscious album of their career.
This lend itself to first single Where’s The Revolution, which takes aim at Trump-nation over the group’s patented electro-blues shuffle, with frontman Dave Gahan bellowing: Who’s making your decisions? / You and your religions? / Your government, your countries / you patriotic junkies.
In other words, Richard Spencer: these guys hate your guts.
The album title and cover art set aside, Depeche Mode aren’t here to deliver power to the people. Revolution’s chorus of come on people you’re letting me down, shows palpable discontent with just how we got into this mess, with band lyricist and primary songwriter Martin Gore extolling his sharpest and most astringent wordplay.
This somber dystopian tone lends many tracks a mid-tempo feel, one that feels stifling at times, and may cause some consternation among fans needing more sonic variety. It lacks the multifaceted attributes of 2013’s Delta Machine and the group’s more iconic releases. If ever there was a Depeche Mode album requiring multiple listens to let their songcraft sink in, this is it.
Production-wise its gorgeous, with new producer James Ford (Simian Mobile Disco) paring down the group’s sounds to its base elements–a less is more approach that stands out significantly from other albums in their discography, even if it gets monochromatic in large doses.
That’s not to say its all gloom and doom: the album features two high-energy politic-free tracks: Your Move (co-written by Gore and Gahan) is a sleek, up-tempo ass-shaker, a respite from the doldrums, while So Much Love is a pulsating tune made for a late night drive.
And other tracks, like the slide-guitar driven Poison Heart, or the skittering, cinematic No More (This is The Last Time) are clear-cut breakup songs. Heartache of both the political and personal abound.
One of Depeche Mode’s greatest strengths are Gahan and Gore’s vocal harmonies, which are in fine form throughout, specifically on Poorman, which sounds like an old spiritual melded with krautrock over lyrics of economic inequity.
In many ways Spirit is their darkest effort since 1986’s gloriously gloomy Black Celebration–but where that album closes with one euphoric moment of uplift (But Not Tonight), Spirit ends with Fail, a song as harrowing as its title. Gore (who takes lead vocal duties) offers an emotional sucker punch, dismayed by humankind’s failure to learn the lessons of history:
People, do we call this trying?
We’re hopeless, forget the denying
Our souls are corrupt
Our minds are messed up
Our consciences, bankrupt
Oh, we’re fucked
Spirit belies a title which suggests hope, instead tapping into a dark mood of (much of) the collective consciousness. Uneasy listening to be sure. It’s an album offering no easy answers, and may prove too slow-paced for many, but deserves credit for being so unapologetically uncompromising.
Spirit is likely to prove one of the most polarizing releases in Depeche Mode’s career. But if that doesn’t fit our current fractured political era to a tee, what does?