ISSUE #8 FEB 06

Bob

Depeche Mode
"Playing The Angel"

Playing The Angel
reviewer: Bob
rating: 4 out of 5
published by: Mute Records
released: 17th October 2005
  1. A Pain That I’m Used To
  2. John The Revelator
  3. Suffer Well
  4. The Sinner In Me
  5. Precious
  6. Macro
  7. I Want It All
  8. Nothing’s Impossible
  9. Introspectre
  10. Damaged People
  11. Lilian
  12. The Darkest Star

Rarely can a quotation on the back of an album sum up not only the contents of the disc but the bulk of the band’s career so accurately. Playing the Angel is Depeche Mode’s eleventh studio album and if you turn it over you’ll see the line “Pain and Suffering in various tempos”, which has pretty much been the Mode’s core value since Vince Clarke walked out after one album in 1981. Martin Gore stepped into the breach to become their main songwriter and has since steered them in an increasingly bleak and dark direction.

The Mode frolicking gaily on a beach, yesterday
The Mode frolicking gaily on a beach, yesterday

Their last album Exciter was bleak and dark for all the wrong reasons. From its Depeche by numbers title and cover too its dull songs, which seemed to be haunted by the Mode of old, were the sound of a band whose moment had passed and didn’t know it.

Fortunately this new album sees them return to form. Lead singer Dave Gahan, fresh from his first solo release, has contributed his first three songs to a Mode album and they fit in perfectly. This new found competition to contribute material has spurred Gore to his best song writing since Songs of Faith and Devotion.

Lead single ‘Precious’ is the best thing they’ve released since ‘Enjoy the Silence’ and has a similar feel. ‘John the Revelator’ comes on like a cousin of ‘Personal Jesus’ with the Mode’s brand of gospel, electronic rock. There’s a handful of dark sparse electronic numbers which give the record a lot of variety. Lyrically, the themes touch all the usual bases: God gets a ticking off; love hurts; and pain is, well, painful. Gahan’s contributions feel particularly personal. When he sings “Just give me a reason some kind of sign, I’ll need a miracle this time” in the lowest voice you know he knows what he’s talking about.

It’s rare for a band that's been around for the best part of 25 years to make a new album that’s as essential as those released when they were at their artistic peak. Since POP that U2 have managed to echo their former selves but without the glory. Yet with Playing the Angel Depeche Mode have pulled it out of the bag - sounding like them at their best but without being a pale imitation.