Proclaiming humanity to be at the brink of oblivion is a young man’s game — unless you’re Depeche Mode.
Spirit, the band’s 14th studio release, is a strikingly apocalyptic album. Though their music has always danced at the edge of fatalism, this album’s haunted vocals and synthed-out industrial tone carries the added weight of socio-political hopelessness. Given the direness of the current global situation, this extra burden is understandable. But Depeche Mode can’t quite bear it gracefully.
Musically, Spirit captures a deep and tectonic rumbling that speaks to the terror of imminent catastrophe. But lyrically it is dried out, overly simplistic, and frankly underdeveloped. The sincerity of this album’s lyricism is worth noting. Depeche Mode uses the word “fuck” in a song for the first time, and does not do so lightly. But even so, it fails to inspire much more than a sympathetic death rattle at the gates of socially rousing poetry:
Nowhere is this more evident than in the first single, “Where’s the Revolution.” A grave indictment of social conditioning that’s articulated with accusatory bitterness, this track lays blame at all our feet and invites us to “get on board” the train of change and awareness. It certainly wants you to see your own complicity in the terrible global landscape of systemic injustice, and even moreso wants you to do something about it. The only problem is that it doesn’t exactly swell the heart with revolutionary fervor.
Depeche Mode seems to have lost themselves in the shadow of looming demise. That is, until you get to a track like “You Move.” This heavy grind of emotional abandon knowingly shirks wisdom and experience in favor of hedonistic delight. It is the stuff of sweaty basement dance parties and relationships that have failed at everything but sex. Dave Gahan’s vocals cast a fevered curse across reason and desire. The dank feel of this track is what the name Depeche Mode conjures for most people. And they still play that role well, without grasping at a formulaic past. If only that finesse could have bled into all four corners of this record:
Spirit is an honest album. Depeche Mode had something to say, and they said it. While at times not inspiring, it would be hard to argue that it was truly uninspired. Expressing their conscience in their art may not be what they do best, but they do mold it well to a genre that’s somewhat unaccustomed to explicitly political commentary.
Depeche Mode manages to expand and evolve, while retaining their core identity somewhere in the bones of each song. For a band that’s been putting out music since 1980, that’s an impressive feat — and one that makes Spirit worth listening to.