Depeche Mode ‘Spirit’ (Columbia)

Policy Of Truth

We live in interesting times. The Brexit/Trump double header has turned politics on its head, split opinion and divided nations. The repercussions from both look neither pleasant or especially healthy. While it is democracy in action, accepting it is what it is seems wrong. And yet what to do? The awkward truth is that as the generation who had no say in either grow up, will the consequencies have them asking how we let his happen? What did we do to stop it?

In an interview with London’s Evening Standard last year, DM’s Martin Gore claimed that, despite the 100 million-odd units shifted and the ability to sell out stadia pretty much anywhere in world in the blink of an eye, Depeche Mode still see themselves as a cult band, outsiders. Which is an interesting idea for one of the biggest bands on the planet. You have to wonder what kind of grip on reality behemoths like DM still actually have.

That said, you can almost set your clocks by their regularity. Since the 90s it’s been an album and a world tour every four years, which will pretty much be the life cycle of Trump’s presidency, give or take an impeachment.

Which brings us neatly to ‘Spirit’, their 14th studio outing and their first since [counts back four on fingers] 2013’s ‘Delta Machine’, which finds them confronting the current world order head-on. First single ‘Where’s The Revolution’ is the cornerstone. The deep, warm synthesis sets the tone, and the blunt lyric puts down quite a marker. “Where’s the revolution? C’mon people you’re letting me down” intones Dave Gahan.

Thing is, there has already been a revolution, just not the one that Gahan ordered. People associate revolution with the left, not the right. And that’s the problem, this whole thing is on its head. No one seems to know what’s going on, or indeed where it’ll end and ‘Spirit’ holds a mirror to that. It’s an album, for the most part, trying to make sense of things that make no sense. Yes, ‘You Move’ (“I like the way you move”) and torch song double ‘Eternal’ and ‘Poison Heart’, plough that business-as-usual DM angst and turmoil farrow, but on the whole it’s more outward looking than their usual inward looking, that’s for sure.

Opener, ‘Going Backwards’ rails against the horrors of modern warfare, how, armed with new tech, we “watch men die in real time/We feel nothing inside”. The call and response repetition of the “we feel nothing inside” refrain hammers the message home as the track reaches its crescendo. The slow burn ‘The Worst Crime’ sees a guitar pick its way through a synthy wash and opens with the line “There’s a lynching in the square…”. Do whaaaat? ISIS and the continuing horror of their kangaroo courts coming under their gaze?

Without wishing to state the bleedin’ obvious, DM lyrics can be a little route one at times, the rhyming couplets a bit D minus, if you catch our drift. ‘Poorman’, with its lush tip-toey synth lick, has more than its fair share. Blues/shoes/lose… road/load/abode… passersby/eye/why. But you know, minor niggles, minor niggles. Get beyond the occasional clunk and sonically, the record is rich and deep. There’s a real analogue feel and nowhere more so than the glorious oscillating arpeggios of the total standout, ‘Cover Me’.

When we spoke to Martin Gore around the release of his ‘MG’ album in 2015, he explained how in the early days everything was done on a £200 synth and, because of the limitations, it was all about ideas. These days the equipment is at least enjoying equal billing. How could the modular/analogue resurgence not be embraced by a band as inventive and influential as this?

“There are so many sounds now and you can be as creative as you like,” Gore told us. “There are so many manufacturers; your choices are blossoming on a daily basis… and they all sound great.”

‘Spirit’ is a more direct record, sound-wise, than the dense ‘Delta Machine’, which is in part down to a change of producer. After three albums with Ben Hillier, the trio have turned to Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, who for the most part takes a less-is-more approach. The growling fury of ‘Scum’ is as abrasive, dense and dark as proceedings get, while the aforementioned ‘You Move’ has a downtempo dancefloor chime about it, some of the sounds – the noises, the thrums – will be a gift to remixers and indeed, the deluxe version comes with a clutch of reworkings. More importantly, where ‘Delta Machine’ sounded like a studio record, the songs on ‘Spirit’, you suspect, will sound almighty live as they take their message on the road, landing stateside later this year, which could be interesting.

When so many people feel lost and are grasping for answers, DM are, if anything, just like the rest of us. For an act who could churn out an oompah album of Dave Gahan armpit farts and still watch it sell by the truckload, standing up and being counted, whether you agree with them or not, is pretty refreshing.

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