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Depeche Mode - Playing The Angel

Depeche Mode, Playing The Angel

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

YOU only have to look at the track titles to realise that Depeche Mode have lost none of their dark tendencies – what with A Pain That I’m Used To, Suffer Well and Damaged People among the choice picks.

Needless to say, Playing The Angel continues to build on the modern sound of Dave Gahan, Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore complete with orchestral synths, warped guitar loops and heavy atmospherics.

It’s their 11th album and while not quite on a par with the seminal likes of Songs Of Faith and Devotion, Violator or Ultra, it remains a colossal achievement for a band that’s had its fair share of personal demons to conquer.

Produced by Ben Hillier, who has recently worked with Blur and Elbow, the album marks a welcome comeback that is sure to delight the fans ahead of their forthcoming tour dates.

Album opener, A Pain That I’m Used To kicks off with an almighty blast of sound (not unlike the screeching of I Feel You) before catapulting headlong into a suitably rousing track that drips in the band’s trademark sounds – pulsating slabs of dance-floor synths wrapped up in a catchy chorus that contains hints of gospel backing.

Lyrics include ‘I’m not sure what I’m looking for anymore, I just know that I’m harder to console’.

A heady dance-floor vibe surrounds John The Elevator, which Gahan delivers in a vocally explosive style (hinting at old-school rock ‘n’ roll). It’s a gutsy number and continues the good early vibe of the album.

Suffer Well is a synth-heavy, dare I say, New Order-ish effort that again reverberates with dark, disturbed lyrics (‘something’s changed and it’s in your eyes, please don’t speak, you’ll only lie’).

And The Sinner In Me feels like a personal confession, a rant against sin delivered with all the foreboding atmospherics we have come to know and crave.

Former top 5 single, Precious, is probably the lightest track on the album, a retro-blast of feel-good energy that deservedly eased them back into the mainstream. Gahan’s vocals are even softer, perfectly complimenting a sublime beat and electronic melody.

Elsewhere, it’s a mixed bag, with Macro slowing things down somewhat (not entirely successfully) but bringing out the intelligence of the lyrics.

I Want It All is also more ponderous, a slow-builder that once again comes wracked in insecurity (‘sometimes I try, sometimes I lie with you, sometimes I cry, sometimes I die, it’s true’).

Better still, however, are the likes of Nothing’s Impossible, with its grinding, orchestral sound-loops, and Lilian, an angry rant against a spiteful, demanding love that contains a dance-floor energy.

Final track, The Darkest Star, drips in melancholy, bringing the album to a downbeat close amid some spellbinding piano. It’s a reflective finish but one that grows on you the more you hear it.

The overall feeling, therefore, is that Depeche Mode continue to impress – darkness, sadness, misery and despair (or ‘pain and suffering in various tempos’) has seldom felt so intoxicating.

Track listing:

  1. A Pain That I’m Used To
  2. John The Revelator
  3. Suffer Well
  4. The Sinner In Me
  5. Precious
  6. Macro
  7. I Want It All
  8. Nothing’s Impossible
  9. Introspectre
  10. Damaged People
  11. Lilian
  12. The Darkest Star