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Playing the Angel

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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.

Customer Reviews

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.

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.

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.


Formed: 1980 in Basildon, Essex, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Originally a product of Britain's new romantic movement, Depeche Mode went on to become the quintessential electropop 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...
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