If music is indeed the soundtrack to our times, then Depeche Mode‘s first album for five years is a suitably bleak one. It’s a post-Brexit, Trumpian world now, and Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher obviously aren’t too happy about it. Over the course of just the first three tracks, we hear that we’re all going backwards, we’re being berated for not starting a revolution, and hearing about lynchings in a square. You’d be forgiven for curling up with just a photo of the Obamas for comfort and sobbing your way through the record’s 50 minute running time.
Yet, despite its bleakness, no Depeche Mode album can be especially depressing. The trio have returned sounding revitalised and refreshed, in tandem with new producer James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco. Ford wisely doesn’t try to revive nu-rave with the Mode, instead creating a stately, dramatic atmosphere that allows Gore’s songs to really flourish. The resulting album has presence from the very first note.
Lead single Where’s The Revolution sets up the mood: an angry, aggressive sound that grabs the listener by the scruff of the neck. There’s talk of “patriotic junkies” who have “been pissed on for far too long” before a chorus of “where’s the revolution, come on people, you’re letting me down”. It’s a lyrical motif that’s continued throughout the album – Poorman takes aim at big business, even if it does seem a bit too obvious with lines like “corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make”, and it’s not too difficult to work out who the target of the pulsating Scum is, especially with a rallying cry of “pull the trigger!”
Even if you’re broadly in sympathy with the politics though, it can begin to feel a bit hectoring at times. Thankfully, there’s still room for some proper old-school Mode bangers, such as So Much Love – an ’80s tinged percussion heavy dance number with a pace that sounds quite thrilling, especially after the brooding that’s come before. Gahan’s vocals sound particularly good, with a snarl and bite that rolls back the years. The sleazy throb of You Move is another highlight, with Gahan singing about a failing relationship that seems to be only held together by sex: “I don’t need your ball and chain…there is no water left in that well…but I like the way you move”.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Spirit is hard work though. It’s very much a serious album that aims to address the problems in the world, but given that the problems in the world are so horrific right now, it’s not a record to put on for some light escapism. This is a album, after all, that ends with the none-more-bleak chorus of “we’re fucked” in Fail. And fucked we may well be, but there needs to be some fire and some hope to make you want to come back to an album. Spirit is, ironically enough, sometimes lacking in that, with a few too many downbeat, mid-tempo brooding numbers for comfort. For a soundtrack to a revolution, we’re going to need to party more.