In 1981 a new band came onto the music scene with an intriguing name which seemed to garner as much as discussion as the band themselves. Four smartly dressed teenagers with trendy haircuts and a catchy pop song called “See You” which graced the turntables of many a school disco.
The band was of course Depeche Mode, a French term taken from a fashion magazine which directly translated into “fast fashion”. It was different to a lot of other band names from those early “new romantic” years and the innovation continued when, over the ensuing decades, Depeche Mode continued to produce challenging, thought-provoking and eminently likeable music, steadily gathering a solid audience of “devotee” fans.
The high point of Depeche Mode’s career was the 1990 classic, “Violator”, which showcased their most commercially successful singles in “World in my Eyes”, the foot-stompingly fantastic “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence”. The songs each seemed to possess that perfect mix of lyrics which had something to say, catchy harmonies and most of all, consistency. In addition to those singles being massive hits, the other album tracks ranged from the tenderly beautiful to political to romantic and yet still managed to retain a Depeche Mode branding throughout. In my opinion, “Violator” unarguably remains the pinnacle of their career. However, the only problem with pinnacles is that anything produced after that, will inevitably start to slide downhill.
The departure of Alan Wilder from the band proved to be somewhat of a turning point in the band’s fortunes. They continued as a three piece, with additional musicians brought into bolster up their sound, but it’s safe to say that Depeche Mode were never the same force again.
Fast forward to the 21st century and there was now a significant gear change in the music which Depeche Mode were producing. “Playing the Angel” and “Sounds of the Universe” were both almost universally slated, despite, in my humble opinion, there being several great songs on both albums.
Following their usual form of touring then going back into the studio for their next album offering, “Delta Machine” was hugely anticipated. With a distinctly bluesy guitar edge, it was a massive departure to their signature sound, which was essentially as a pioneering synth band. Were the band moving in a completely new direction to greater appeal to the American market where they have a strong foothold? Were they ironically falling into their own brand of music for the masses? It certainly seemed to be that way.
Devotion for the band’s music amongst long-standing fans was now moving from a slight tear in the ether, into a chasm of Grand Canyon proportions. In the UK and Europe where Depeche Mode have just as strong a following as they do in the US, there seemed to be a certain unrest in the camp. So their latest offering “Spirit” was going to be the ultimate decider.
The album is due for UK release on 17 March. There have been some spoilers posted to YouTube which sadly has only served to underline the concerns that the wavering fans had in the first place. Those links have since been removed due to breach of copyright but they were publically available for enough time for some fans to form a strong, and very negative, opinion.
The lead single “Where’s the Revolution?” certainly left me feeling cold on my first listen. In my opinion it’s lazy both lyrically and musically, and containing the most irritating middle 8 section, which was repetitive and quite frankly, dull. The apathy oozing from the speakers was quite overwhelming. It was about as revolutionary as a dish of cold blancmange.
I understand that the overall feel of the album is politically-charged, which is astutely apt for the frightening political landscape of our current times, however I found the single to be completely UNrevolutionary. If this is an indication of what is to follow for the album, then my expectations have been set decidedly low. Seemingly neither protest songs nor pop songs, the general gist of the album appears to fall in some kind of “no man’s land”, waiting for something significant to happen.
I’ll be fully reviewing the album when it’s released in a week’s time. I will do my very best to listen without preconceptions or judgement until I’ve heard the entire thing for myself, despite what I’ve heard so far. Keeping an open mind isn’t going to be easy. At worst it will be a epitaph to the Depeche Mode of the last 37 years. At best, it will indeed turn out to be revolutionary. Watch this space…
Post-script: my review of the album can be viewed here
Ange Chan is a poet and novelist. Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in paperback and Kindle in 2016. Her third novel will be published in 2017.