They are back. They have made albums. All along. As recent as 2009. But DEPECHE MODE is back. In sound and style. Even more political. I half expect to catch David Gahan wondering my neighborhood in cloak and crown, carrying his folding beach chair. Spirit is a return to the iconic sound and production of Violator, with a taste of Songs of Faith and Devotion. But it sounds altogether new, because as I said, its less personal music and more socially aware music for the masses, no pun intended. (Maybe a little pun. But I hate puns.)
The theme is set on the opener, “Going Backwards.” Gahan sings, “ We are going backwards, turning our back to history.” Is he referencing Brexit? Trump? The rise of nationalism in Europe? Or is it a reference to the band’s return to their stylistic glory days combined with that lyrical content that makes it the band’s best album since Songs of Faith and Devotion? “Going Backwards” IS a political song, but unlike so many on the left, it takes ownership. “We are the bigots, we have lost our soul.” “We are going backwards, armed with new technology, we are going backwards, to a caveman mentality.” “We feel nothing inside.” These lyrics beg the question, was Billy Bragg in the room?
On “ When there’s a Revolution”, Gahan asks, “ are you sticking with them?” Good. “ You’ve been pushed around. You’ve been lied to.” Again the specter of Billy Bragg’s lyrics crop up. “ Who’s making your decisions? You or your religions? Your government or countries? You patriotic junkies.”
“The Worst Crime” contends “ we are all judge and jury, hangman and convict.” It feels like an indictment of the breakdown of civility incited by social media. “Scum” engines along like the best of the industrial period of Primal Scream. “Your Move” could have been on Violator. Addressing Gahan’s struggles with mental health. “Cover Me” is a tender song in the style of “Condemnation.” He addresses his private and public vulnerability. “We better take cover, will you cover me?”
Easily my favorite album since the one two punch of Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion, Spirit is political, musically progressive while loyal to the DM playbook, and back to form for the most misunderstood of the electro pop pioneers. It’s a late masterwork, a record of its time and place that draws on the styles that made DM successful to better reach audiences, old and new. I hope it gets the attention it deserves. After all there is only so much one can write to convince others of the greatness of Depeche Mode. Words are very unnecessary. They can only do harm.