Depeche Mode’s new studio album, Spirit, is their best work in many years.
Quality songwriting, combined with top-notch production, propel it to a vital, visceral and entertaining level. There is not a single filler song on this album – seriously. Each song has its own little quirks and special touches that left me saying “Wow…” as I listened to it for the first time, in a darkened room on headphones.
Yes, the boys from Basildon tackle the sorry state of today’s world in Spirit, but that’s not the only theme. There are still a number of songs that deal with love, longing and angst – familiar territory for songwriter Martin Gore. There are even a few songs that carry forward the blues undertones from Delta Machine. But Gore has evolved them into more soulful outings, emphasizing more songcraft over style – a welcome change.
There’s no question that Spirit benefits from a new producer. James Ford has produced groups like Arctic Monkeys, Florence and the Machine and Little Boots, and is one-half of the group Simian Mobile Disco. He takes a good set of songs and deftly sharpens them, simultaneously stripping down the group’s signature sound and amping up the energy – which gives the entire album a distinct and engaging edge.
Less is more; every synth riff, beat, buzz and assorted sound effect sounds like it belongs there. Nothing is muddy, clipped or over-produced. The songs, though serious and often morose, have lots of room to breathe and exhibit a brightness and clarity lacking from the last several DM albums.
Scum: This intriguing track begins with Gahan chanting “Hey, scum” before reciting the sins of someone (representing all of us/society) who is so selfish that they have no redeeming value. But they’re so shallow, they don’t realize that they will one day stand in judgment for their selfish behavior. This mid-tempo track features a strong bassline, organ and some quirky sound affects that really make it pop. It’s one of my favorites on this album.
So Much Love: This track is more along the lines of a traditional DM song. A driving beat, persistent guitar riff and a modicum of sound effects make it very enjoyable tune.
Cover Me: This beautiful ballad opens with what sounds like a slide guitar, which gives the song a distinctly western feel. Gahan sings of a relationship that is nearing its end, while dreaming and wishing that things could be different. The second half of Cover Me is an extended synth instrumental that is absolutely gorgeous. It’s backbone is an arpeggiated synth line, which is surrounded by a variety of effects and other synth touches. It’s beautiful!
Poorman: This is a very bluesy song that is perhaps the best musical criticism of trickle-down economics ever. It’s well written and features a clean, sparse production and more of a story than the semi-lifeless blues tracks of Delta Machine, DM’s previous album.
The Worst Crime: This ballad features a sparse arrangement of organ, guitar and Dave Gahan’s plaintive vocal. This sounds like a recipe for a boring, formulaic tune, only it isn’t. The storyline speaks to the misinformation that dominates our world today. A number of synth and percussive affects keep this song engaging.
Looking at Depeche Mode’s 40-year catalog from a bigger picture level, Spirit represents an awesome, vital next step in the group’s evolution. This album simply works on so many levels. Kudos to DM for continuing to create music that surprises and delights, four decades into their amazing and multi-faceted career.