After several years apart and a few side stints, Depeche Mode, the groundbreaking synth-pop trio notorious for leather, dark shades and musical displays of cynicism, is back in a big way with its 11th studio release, “Playing the Angel.”
Musically and lyrically speaking, little has changed since the height of D-Mode’s hey-day in the late 80s. The band’s latest is sure to appease D-Mode fans, as the band returns to its classic sound and continues to explore well-known topics, such as religion, love and the purpose of life. “Playing the Angel” is already being dubbed the band’s best and darkest album yet.
The album features an array of potential hits and is chock full of techno-industrial beats, thought provoking lyrics and mood-altering instrumentation. D-Mode seems to have progressed immensely since their cynical days, which spawned such hits as “Blasphemous Rumors.” In fact, “Playing the Angel” is uncharacteristically upbeat at times. In songs such as “Nothing’s Impossible” Dave Gahan, lead singer, makes it painstakingly obvious that he still believes in miracles and love at first sight.
The album opens with “A Pain That I’m Used To,” which is definitely an example of the men of D-Mode at their finest and was an instant personal favorite.
D-Mode treads on spiritual ground, as the album contains many religious undertones; virtually each track makes reference to a higher being or to faith in general and the goth-rock boys seem to continue their eternal quest for greater meaning. “John the Revelator,” an upbeat, fast-paced and danceable cut backed by a gospel choir, is ostensibly reflective of a renewed sense of life and purpose.
And Gahan, the legendary religious skeptic himself, may shock D-Moders with the prayer he sends to the heavens above in “Nothing’s Impossible,” as he croons “just give me a reason/some kind of sign/I need a miracle to help me this time.” If the notoriously cynical Gahan still believes in miracles, then maybe nothing is impossible.
“Precious,” the album’s first single and surely its most melodic and uplifting is a brooding track with Gahan down on his hands and knees once again as he sings “I pray you learn to trust/have faith in both of us,” a chorus line sure to be lodged in heads everywhere. This hit will go down in D-Mode history with the likes of “Personal Jesus,” “But Not Tonight” and “Policy of Truth.”
The gloomy but ever hopeful “Suffer Well,” the first Gahan composed track on the album, is sure to sit well with D-Mode diehards as it is nostalgic of the trio’s old-school hits. Gahan, who receives songwriting credits on three of the album’s twelve tracks for the first time in the band’s career, deserves notable mention. He proves to be even more than the voice behind the trio.
“Suffer Well” segues into “The Sinner in Me,” which goes head to head with “Damaged People” for the noteworthy title of “darkest track.” It begins with a heartbeat-esque synth-line and eventually elapses into a sporadically harmonious tune about humankind’s incapacity to escape the wraths of sin.
The album’s 12 tracks are easily relatable, for most everyone has questioned faith, fought for love and endured “pain and suffering in various tempos,” as the back of the album reads. As Martin Gore preaches, “We’re damaged people /drawn together by subtleties that we are not aware of.”
The album changes moods frequently, leaping from dark and brooding in “A Pain That I’m Used To” and “Suffer Well,” to light and inspiring in “Precious” and “John the Revelator” and finally to downright disheartening in “Damaged People” and “Darkest Star.”
“Playing the Angel” is a must-have for diehard D-Moders and music lovers alike. The album may leave listeners in a dismal mood at first listen, but if it failed to the soul, it would not be qualified as music- at least not my kind of music.
Jessica Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.