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CD Review: Depeche Mode, Playing the Angel
October 12, 2005
Scott C. Smith

It's hard to believe, but in the past decade, Depeche Mode has only released two albums: 1997's Ultra, and 2001's Exciter. Prior to both of those albums was 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion. I guess DM have been on a four-year release cycle in the 1990s. Well, it's been four years since the release of Exciter, and Depeche Mode's latest, Playing the Angel, is here -- finally. It's been worth the wait.

I know many DM fans are divided over Songs of Faith and Devotion, and I'm not sure if that same division exists for Exciter, but I have to say, I wasn't a fan of Exciter. I'd rank it as one of DM's worse albums. Does Playing The Angel bring redemption to the group? Hell yes it does.

If you're a fan of the WB's Smallville, you would have heard the first single from the album, "Precious," in the season premiere of that show. I've been so far out of the DM loop that I didn't even know a new album was about to be released. Which reminds me, I need to get back into the DM loop.

Once again, Martin L. Gore takes us through religious metaphor in his exploration of relationships. DM's sound on Playing the Angel is very different from past albums in some ways. I'll get to that in a moment. I know it's safe for some bands to stay within the confines of a particular genre, but DM have taken chances and are not afraid of presenting listeners with challenging material. Frankly, I wouldn't want to hear DM sound like they did in the 1980s. With Dave, Martin and Fletch in their 40s now, I would hope their style would mature -- and it has.

The album opens with the industrial screeching of "A Pain That I'm Used To," and for a minute there I thought I was listening to Nine Inch Nails. We go from the industrial noise to a more techno-style beat. Dave Gahan sounds fabulous, by the way, and Martin Gore provides the guitar licks we first heard in SOFD. Towards the middle the track picks up a melody reminiscent of "Enjoy the Silence" from Violator.

"John the Revelator" begins with a nice old-school sounding analog synth line and aggressive vocals from Dave. Martin's lyrics touch on various religious themes but seems to be discussing how certain groups (or individuals) appropriate God for their own means -- while also throwing in references to the Book of Revelations from the Christian bible.

An interesting trend is beginning to become apparent -- the use of melodic devices from previous DM albums. The melody for "John the Revelator" could very well be "Pleasure, Little Treasure" from Music for The Masses.

"Suffer Well" takes a very simple synth line and percussion and adds in electric guitar and features harmony from Martin L. Gore, with lyrics again dealing with religious metaphors.

More analog synths to begin "The Sinner in Me" and features another great vocal performance from Dave.

"Precious" might bring comparisons to "Enjoy the Silence" but it's a great track, one I keep playing on my computer and in my car. This is the DM we all know and love.

"Macro" features an unusual vocal performance from Martin L. Gore. Not his best work, and it's a bit too obvious, as if Gore were really trying hard to sing in a way he isn't used to singing.

"I Want it All" is a lovely song and a stand-out track from the album.

"Nothing's Impossible" is another guitar-heavy track with a great industrial synth line and percussion.

"Introspectre" is a brief instrumental that segues into "Damaged People," with Martin sounding more like Martin Gore than he did in "Macro." It's a slower-paced song than anything else, I suppose a DM-style ballad (albeit with some dark imagery in the lyrics.

"Lillian" is sure to get you on the dance floor, another classic-sounding track.

We close with "The Darkest Star," another slower-paced number with a dreamy vocal from Dave. I'm not sure I would have gone with a slower-paced track to close out the album, but it's still good.

Playing the Angel is certainly the best of the post Alan Wilder albums. There's some experimentation with an industrial, techno vibe, and it works. The group is now on tour (and not playing Portland...again). I'd really enjoying hearing DM perform this album live. Which, of course, will not happen, since I'm in Portland. Dear tour director, please convince DM to come to Portland. We have a large arena and I'm sure you'll be able to pack it with fans. Is that a little pathetic? I guess so. Here's hoping we do not have to wait another four years for a new DM album.



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