12 Songs, 52 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Twenty-five years and 11 studio albums and Depeche Mode still matters. Once underground/alternative masters of the dark end of the synth-pop dance floor, DM is now one of the world’s most successful electronically engineered groups. While the music world has caught up to their technologically driven impulses, it hasn’t learned how to successfully replicate the human ingenuity that powers them. You still need the trio of Gore, Gahan, and Fletcher to run the program. Playing the Angel, the follow-up to their 2001 studio release Exciter, delivers all the expectant drama that made the band favorites of introverted malcontents for three decades. Producer Ben Hiller (Blur, Doves), who admitted to not being a fan of the band’s music before working with them, pushes the group up a few beats to give them a newfound sense of urgency (“A Pain That I’m Used To,” “John the Revelator”), but the trio still drapes their crestfallen images in beautiful electronic hues (“Precious”). Dave Gahan aids main songwriter Martin Gore with three tracks of his own that fit snugly within the group’s internal angst. No amount of worldly success can temper this group’s alluring dark side.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Twenty-five years and 11 studio albums and Depeche Mode still matters. Once underground/alternative masters of the dark end of the synth-pop dance floor, DM is now one of the world’s most successful electronically engineered groups. While the music world has caught up to their technologically driven impulses, it hasn’t learned how to successfully replicate the human ingenuity that powers them. You still need the trio of Gore, Gahan, and Fletcher to run the program. Playing the Angel, the follow-up to their 2001 studio release Exciter, delivers all the expectant drama that made the band favorites of introverted malcontents for three decades. Producer Ben Hiller (Blur, Doves), who admitted to not being a fan of the band’s music before working with them, pushes the group up a few beats to give them a newfound sense of urgency (“A Pain That I’m Used To,” “John the Revelator”), but the trio still drapes their crestfallen images in beautiful electronic hues (“Precious”). Dave Gahan aids main songwriter Martin Gore with three tracks of his own that fit snugly within the group’s internal angst. No amount of worldly success can temper this group’s alluring dark side.

TITLE TIME

Ratings and Reviews

4.4 out of 5
160 Ratings
160 Ratings
HerrDoktorZ ,

Better than Exciter, but what isn't?

As a hardcode DM fan since the age of 12 (the first CD I ever bought was "Construction Time Again"), I rate anything that was done with Alan Wilder as 5+ stars. I think the two albums released since his departure have gone steadily downhill. I had nearly given up all hope that they could ever rekindle their past glory. And then, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, they release "Precious"!
Hands down, this is one of the best DM songs ever recorded. The percolating
analog synth, the samples of metallic clanging, the lyrics about a failed relationship with brooding religious overtones...this is the stuff of classic DM!

My expectations for "Playing the Angel" were probably impossibly high, but
I am seriously underwhelmed. I would only give it two stars if I wasn't confident
that it will grow on me. Every other DM album has, I'm sure PTA will be no different.

I never thought that I could say this, but I think Martin Gore's obsession with
pain, suffering, and sardonic religious themes actually seems overdone on this album. It would have been nice to have at least ONE song about sex, nihlism, or lying just to break it up a bit :-) Many of the lyrics come off as stale and corny.
"John the Revelator" includes a line rhyming up "revelator", "elevator" and
"smooth operator"...*cringe* Anyone who grew up in the 80's would probably agree that the only valid excuse for such lyrical cheese is to intentionally inflict pain :-)

That being said, the highlights from PTA have to be "Suffer Well" and
"A Pain That I'm Used To". "Precious" is in a class by itelf, nothing
else quite compares. "The Sinner in Me" and "I Want it All" are evocative of
the more synth-driven tracks from SoFaD, and have strong growth potential.
Ironically, the most hopefull tracks, "Macro" and "Nothing's Impossible",
are actually the most lugubrious and tedious. The one instrumental track, "Introspectre", is a perfect example of how much musical complexity they have lost without Alan Wilder. Most notably, PTA lacks a high-energy
arena-rock song, practically a DM trademark. "John the Revelator" is probably supposed to fill this role, but I still can't cut through the aforementioned lyrical cheese.

wal-marx ,

Is it worth it?

Hell yes, it is. Stop waiting around for a record better than Violater, it isn't out there. This is Depeche Mode now, not fifteen years ago, and they've made a fantastic record. The sounds are beautiful, there is a real edgy tension in everything, even the slower tracks, and Dave sounds amazing as ever. One does not find groups that stay relevant and challenging after so many years. DM does both, with authority, energy, and honesty. This sounds like the kind of record made by a band about to be huge, and that's almost unheard of after so much time and so much history.

By the way, Martin Gore remains one of the greatest songwriters of the past 25 years, period.

atticbase ,

Bring Back Flood as a Producer

It is obvious the DM takes on the sound of whatever producer they are using at the time. Had this albums been produced by Flood or Alan Wilder this could have been a return to form. Unfortunately, the synths can actually annoy and take away from the overall feeling the song is trying to invoke. The overall feel of the album is a feeling of unfinished work, like the album didn't go into post-production before final pressing. I do give cudos to Dave Gahan though, his songs are actually better than Martin's. Buy individual songs, not the whole album.

About Depeche Mode

Originally a product of Britain's new romantic movement, Depeche Mode went on to become the quintessential electro pop band of the 1980s. One of the first acts to establish a musical identity based completely around the use of synthesizers, they began their existence as a bouncy dance-pop outfit but gradually developed a darker, more dramatic sound that ultimately positioned them as one of the most successful alternative bands of their era.

The roots of Depeche Mode date to 1976, when Basildon, England-based keyboardists Vince Clarke and Andrew Fletcher first teamed to form the group No Romance in China. The band proved short-lived, and by 1979 Clarke had formed French Look, another duo featuring guitarist/keyboardist Martin Gore; Fletcher soon signed on, and the group rechristened itself Composition of Sound. Initially, Clarke handled vocal chores, but in 1980 singer David Gahan was brought in to complete the lineup. After one final name change to Depeche Mode, the quartet jettisoned all instruments excluding their synthesizers, honing a slick, techno-based sound to showcase Clarke's catchy melodies.

After building a following on the London club scene, Depeche Mode debuted in 1980 with "Photographic," a track included on the Some Bizzare Album label compilation. After signing to Mute Records, they issued "Dreaming of Me" in early 1981; while neither the single nor its follow-up, "New Life," caused much of a stir, their third effort, "Just Can't Get Enough," became a Top Ten U.K. hit, and their 1981 debut LP, Speak and Spell, was also a success. Just as Depeche Mode appeared poised for a major commercial breakthrough, however, principal songwriter Clarke abruptly exited to form Yazoo with singer Alison Moyet, leaving the group's future in grave doubt.

As Gore grabbed the band's songwriting reins, the remaining trio recruited keyboardist Alan Wilder to fill the technological void created by Clarke's departure. While 1982's A Broken Frame deviated only slightly from Depeche Mode's earlier work, Gore's ominous songs grew more assured and sophisticated by the time of 1983's Construction Time Again. Some Great Reward, issued the following year, was their artistic and commercial breakthrough, as Gore's dark, kinky preoccupations with spiritual doubt ("Blasphemous Rumours") and psychosexual manipulation ("Master and Servant") came to the fore; the egalitarian single "People Are People" was a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic and typified the music's turn toward more industrial textures.

Released in 1986, the atmospheric Black Celebration continued the trend toward grim melancholy and further established the group as a commercial force; it eventually sold over 500,000 copies in the U.S., which earned it gold status. Released in 1987, Music for the Masses, featuring three Hot 100 singles in "Strangelove," "Never Let Me Down Again," and "Behind the Wheel," propelled the group into the mainstream. The album would sell over a million copies in the U.S. alone. A subsequent sold-out tour yielded the 1989 double-live set 101. Recorded at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, it was accompanied by a concert film directed by the legendary D.A. Pennebaker.

With the alternative music boom of the early '90s, Depeche Mode emerged as one of the world's most successful acts. The triple-platinum Violator, released in 1990, was a Top Ten smash that spawned the hits "Personal Jesus" (a number eight single), "Enjoy the Silence," "Policy of Truth," and "World in My Eyes." Their 1993 LP Songs of Faith and Devotion -- featuring a significant change in its heavy use of electric guitars -- entered the charts in the number one slot. However, at the peak of its success, the group began to unravel, beginning with Wilder's 1995 exit. Gahan attempted to take his own life and later entered a drug rehabilitation clinic to battle an addiction to heroin.

After a four-year layoff, Depeche Mode continued onward as a trio and released 1997's Ultra, which featured the hits "Barrel of a Gun" and "It's No Good." A year later, the band embarked on a tour in support of its newly released hits album, The Singles 86>98. Depeche Mode played 64 shows in 18 countries for over one million fans. Each member took considerable time off after the tour's completion, and Depeche Mode would not regroup for another three years.

Exciter, the band's follow-up to Ultra, was released in 2001, with the singles "Dream On" and "I Feel Loved" finding moderate success on international radio outlets. Two years later, Gahan issued his debut solo album, the dark and sultry Paper Monsters. Gore also followed suit by issuing the all-covers Counterfeit², a full-length sequel to his similarly themed 1989 EP. Each member supported his work with respective tours of the U.S. and Europe; however, the bandmembers soon resumed working together, and Playing the Angel, their 11th studio album, became a Top Ten hit upon its release in October 2005. Produced by Ben Hillier (Doves, Blur, U2, Elbow) and studded with singles like "Precious" and "John (The Revelator)," it topped the album charts in 18 countries and went multi-platinum and/or gold in 20 countries. Depeche Mode went on to play for more than two-and-a-half-million fans worldwide, and the 2006 video release Touring the Angel: Live in Milan captured one of the band's greatest shows.

Sounds of the Universe, also made with the assistance of Ben Hillier, arrived in early 2009 and debuted at number three in the U.S. The 2013 release of Delta Machine made for a trilogy of Hillier albums, while the album was mixed by longtime Depeche associate Flood. Delta Machine debuted at number two in the U.K., and peaked at number six on the U.S. Billboard 200. The concert film and album Live in Berlin (directed by Anton Corbijn from a late-2013 show) followed in November 2014.

The band returned in early 2017 with their 14th studio effort, Spirit. The album's material was largely inspired by the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and was produced by Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford (Foals, Arctic Monkeys). Buoyed by the single "Where's the Revolution," Spirit debuted at number five on the Billboard 200. ~ Jason Ankeny & Andy Kellman

ORIGIN
Basildon, Essex, England
GENRE
Pop
FORMED
1980

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