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
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
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
"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.