Written by Kai Feltham
The label of “legends” is one often thrown around with little more than a second’s contemplation in the crazy world of popular culture, with announcements of godlike status plastered across every new release in adhesive covered neon plastic. Some bands however fit the mould, fully deserving of their raised positions on the musical pedestals of the modern world. One of these bands is Depeche Mode, regarded by many across the globe as the true pioneers of electro fuelled rock and pop. Swirling soundscapes, gut-shaking bass and Dave Gahan’s unmistakably deep vocal tone combine with all manners of synthesisers to create Depeche Mode’s ground-breaking style which has proven so influential in the development of the genre.
Released on March 17th, Spirit is the impressive 14th album from Basildon’s finest, displaying their true longevity and reliability in the fickle world of the music business. Although Dave Gahan, guitarist Martin Gore and synthesiser extraordinaire Andy Fletcher may find themselves in the middle of their 50th years, Spirit proves that they can still create unique, hard-hitting sounds in 2017.
Spirit is an album of angst, anger and a desire for change. In an era where almost every band or artist offers a musical political commentary, it is the unrelenting nature of this record that separates it from the work of others. This is primarily borne out of lyrical content that does not shirk or avoid any punches, without an ounce of subtlety throughout. Although “armed with new technology” humanity is “going backwards to a caveman mentality” on Going Backwards; “misguided leaders” conspire with “uneducated readers” on The Worst Crime and on Poorman it is “corporations that get the breaks / keeping almost everything they make.” Depeche Mode’s view of modern society is one of despair, requiring immediate action without hesitation. Dark, serious lyrics combine with industrial synths and percussion to create a record that acts like a demonstration; demanding change with the backing of a soundtrack personifying the marching feet of protestors throughout.
The record opens with the parading, apocalyptic anthem Going Backwards, arguably the best track on the album. Heavy electronic beats lead into siren-like synths as Gahan laments the demise of human society, repeating that “we feel nothing inside” as swirling soundscapes combine with layers of industrial beats, mimicking the swelling of protesting throngs. In a world where people “watch men die in real time” it is no surprise that chief songwriter Martin Gore feels the necessity to write so directly about such issues, and Going Backwards is an impactful as well as impressive opening track.
Gahan goes as far as to call for all-out political overhaul on Where’s the Revolution, teasing that “come on people, you’re letting me down.” Such unshrinking candour is evident throughout Spirit, with political accusations apparent on Scum, Fail and Poorman. The latter is a further highlight on the album, stressing the issue of poverty and homelessness in an increasingly consumer-centric and covetous society. Dual synths combine with choral vocals, once again accompanied and accentuated by striding beats.
Gahan’s baritone voice slices through the stereo synths as he tells of the story of the Poorman, “laying in the snow and sleet / Begging for something to eat / Looking beat.” All of these declarations of pessimism culminate in final track Fail, an electronic ballad, mournful for the failure of human society. Martin Gore sings that we are “barely hanging on”, ultimately concluding that “our consciences, bankrupt / Oh, we’re fucked.”
In amongst all of the apocalyptic political declarations and general pessimism lies some solace, in the form of You Move and Cover Me. You Move opens with dark synth beats, running into a murky underground nightclub style sound, hinting towards the influences of trap beats. The only song on the album chiefly written by Dave Gahan, Cover Me is one of the great highlights of the album, as a textured and atmospheric ballad. Its true prominence on the record derives from its outro, in which never-ending layers of synths build to a techno lover’s dream of a crescendo. Although still suiting the dark nature of the album, both You Move and Cover Me offer more than just political debate, with the talented musicianship of all three members combining to create intense, yet artistically impressive electronic music.
With 12 tracks and 50 minutes of music, Spirit is the perfect length for an album that attempts to be as hard-hitting as this. Although no strangers to political debate, this record sees Depeche Mode go one step further; taking no prisoners as they attack their social questions head on. It is another success to add to their ever-growing back catalogue, in which their inimitable industrial style combines once again with the exceptional and unique vocal range of Dave Gahan.
For the group labelled by Richard Spencer as the perfect band for the “alt-right”, it is music like this that backs up Gahan’s response to such claims. Dave Gahan replied by saying that he “saw the video of him getting punched and he deserved it”, ultimately coming to the reasoned conclusion that Spencer is a “c*nt.” Spirit is Depeche Mode’s musical extension of this denouncement, sending a loud message to people just like Spencer, and boy, does it pack a punch.
Depeche Mode are set to play a huge headline show at the London Stadium (that’s the Olympic Stadium to you and me) on June 3rd, tickets are available here to see their unique stadium sized electronic music on a grand stage.
Watch the video for Where’s The Revolution below.