After thirty-seven years, thirteen albums, countless accolades and a cascading discography wrapped up in a cold-war with itself, a catch-22 of the same old song recycled relentlessly, tie-dyed in lamenting dirges of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”, where do you go next after four years out of the limelight? You strip-back the synths, bulk up the basslines, and tackle the tormenting political landscape the word is slipping so helplessly into.
On album number fourteen – Spirit – synth-pop superiors Depeche Mode find themselves slipping away from the ‘Songs of Faith & Devotion’ love-affair which was their last two albums – 2009’s ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ and 2012’s ‘Delta Machine’ – and instead finds themselves appropriating 1986’s ‘Black Celebration’ and 1987’s ‘Music For The Masses’, stripping back their sound so much as to find themselves sounding somewhat primitive.
Pulsing synths simmer over palpitating basslines with trickling acoustic-and-keys chill-wave wobbling under the surface on opener ‘Going Backwards’ sets the sound of ‘Spirit’ both musically and lyrically: a simplistically sombre series of lamenting dirges desperately dragging at the heels of politically-tinged synth-pop. The partnership of Martin Gore and Dave Gahan’s inability to explore the depths of technological advance the world has experienced since their experimental hey-day finds ‘Spirit’ falling behind the bar, failing to hit the highs they could once again reach, and it’s clear in their own words that they themselves know their playing on past glories: “We are still in debt to our own insanities.”
Whilst 2012’s ‘Delta Machine’ was a lot of filler and no killer, ‘Spirit’ is all-killer-filler: twelve tracks of twisting, turning, tormenting heart-pulsating basslines, weighted down by sparsely-sprinkled synths and jangling guitars; an album as average as the Marks & Spencer’s stocking-filler selection. It’s not as bad as it sounds, it’s just not as great as it could be.
Single ‘Where’s The Revolution’ and the dancefloor-calling beat-throbbing ‘So Much Love’ are the exceptions to the rule, trading off their downright downbeat down-in-the-dumps tone for one entirely upbeat, albeit somewhat nihilistically sinister.
It’s one thing to find yourself making an average album knowing you’ll hit it high up in the charts off of your own name, it’s another to carry on making them, with ‘Spirit’ undoubtedly set to simmer somewhere in the top five ahead of a wealth of stadium dates, where the down-tempo stripped-back sonatas of the album will find themselves neglected, perhaps unfortunately as it feels these mostly-atmospheric dirges could become inordinately and exponentially fleshed out.
‘Spirit’ may be more of the same from Depeche Mode, but damn will they do things by halves because ‘Spirit’ is one of the finest filler albums you’ll ever come across.