Music Reviews

Depeche Mode Spirit

(Columbia) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10
Social commentary is not usually at the forefront when you think about Depeche Mode. Sure, some of their classics, like Everything Counts, People Are People and Blasphemous Rumours, are political. But Dave Gahan and Martin Gore usually focus on the personal instead. On Spirit though, current events guide their hands, expressing their desire for change.
At first glance, the thematic switch is a welcome one, as is the more electronic, digital vibe that inhabits the album. It's time that Depeche Mode found new avenues to explore. But different doesn't always translate into good. Many of the tracks are undercooked, unfocused or unmemorable. A few bright (or appropriately dark) moments keep the ship afloat, but this is a half-hearted affair.
Most of this LP's problems condense into the first single, Where's the Revolution? It's got the sloganeering down, but that's about it. The verses reheat the vocal melody of Corrupt from Sounds of the Universe. And the digital beats drain out any sense of instrumental melody. It glides too smoothly for the frustration the lyrics imply. If this song wants to get people to build a resistance, it would have as much impact as an Instagram filter. The Worst Crime is criminally boring, with an anemic guitar melody. Scum recovers a bit of that much-needed harshness in the music. But the song sounds incomplete, with a bridge that loops the rhythm with nothing laid over it. Did someone forget to include a guitar solo or synth line here? 
A stronger groove isn't always a recipe for success either, though it does help. You Move, the first album track co-written by Gahan and Gore, has a sexy, slinky bass riff. Otherwise, there's little else going for it. Plus the chorus, "I like the way you move for me tonight," is not only generic and lazy but it completely clashes with the record's theme.
Even songs that aren't as disappointing suffer from being near these earlier duds. Cover Me is a lovely, ethereal piece that stands fine on its own. But coming after a few bland ballads or mid-tempo numbers makes this too much of an uphill climb. Eternal has better luck, working up to a thunderous conclusion. 
There are a few songs on Spirit, though, where everything clicks. Going Backwards opens with a solid, earthy piano line, selling the gravity of the lyrics. "We are not there yet/We have lost our soul/The course has been set/We're digging our own hole," Gahan sings, as dirty electronics swell in the atmosphere. So Much Love supplies the album's only rush, with a quick-footed rhythm and a fantastic James Bond guitar riff. Poison Heart hits hard with cutting, angular chords and a full-throated vocal from Gahan. 
"Our spirit has gone/And once where it shone/I hear a lonesome song," Gore sings on the closer, Fail. With a sinister synth line creeping out of the shadows, hope comes up short in a battle that's already lost. It's among the darkest songs in the band's catalog and one of the most impactful tracks on this record. Maybe that level of commitment is what's missing. Rather than going for broke, Depeche Mode eked out a half-decent release that doesn't do either the theme or their abilities any justice. It may be called Spirit, but this album is sorely lacking in soul.