Depeche Mode - Spirit album review: the flesh is still willing, but the spirit is bleak
These are strange days for music, and even stranger days for Depeche Mode. As Ed Sheeran occupies the top 16 spots on the Irish singles chart and Dave Gahan and co were recently forced to denounce scurrilous comments by white nationalist Richard Spencer describing them as the “unofficial band of the alt-right”, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world is gone a bit mad.
That sense of anxiety and uncertainty about humanity permeates the Essex trio’s 14th album. While they’ve never been the most lyrically optimistic band in the world, 37 years into their career they paint a bleak (arguably accurate?) picture of today’s society from the record’s opening line: “We have not evolved / We have no respect / We have lost control.”
It sets the tone for most of the album. Although the odd skewed love song (You Move) skulks its way onto the tracklisting, The Worst Crime speaks of “preparing the nooses”; Scum demands you “pull the trigger”; Poor Man’s denunciation of capitalism asks: “When will it trickle down?”, while Martin Gore sums things up succinctly on closing track Fail, with lines such as, “Our conscience is bankrupt / Oh, we’re fucked”. In short, they’re probably not the best go-to party entertainment right now.
On paper, enlisting James Ford on production may seem like an effort to shake things up. In reality, the Simian Mobile Disco man’s influence is negligible; it’s difficult to make your mark on a band who pioneered a very distinct brand of industrial synth-rock.
Lead single Where’s the Revolution’s grimy, synthy thrust is stellar Depeche Mode, the hypnotic syncopation and crackly flourishes of Cover Me is a highlight, and the hip-snaking groove of Poison Heart is irresistibly sleazy.
When all is said and done, however, despite Gahan’s call for revolution and action throughout, there’s plenty to like here – but nothing particularly radical.