Depeche Mode and "Memento mori"

Depeche Mode and “Memento mori”

On the cover two angel wings, made up of flowers, like mortuary wreaths. On the back of the CD, two empty chairs and a skull on a table. The title: “Remember that you must die”. In this way i Depeche Mode they returned on March 24 last year. And if anyone had thought that the title, “Memento mori”is due to the premature death of their lifelong companion Andy Fletcher in May 2022, well that's off track: the album's title and theme were planned before Andy's death. Today “Memento mori” turns one, just as the band returns to tour Italy for the second time in a few months.

See you soon for yesterday's Turin concert review, in the meantime this below is the review we published 365 days ago.

Who are Depeche Mode and what will they sound like in 2023? Martin Gore and Dave Gahan, sure. There is no more Fletch, who passed away suddenly last year. But “Memento mori” is not an album about his deceased companion: the album had already been written by Gore and Gahan before, the title already decided. The paradox is that this is the most classically Depeche album of the band's production from the noughties onwards. Fletch is present in spirit (in one of the photos on the CD there is a third shadow, while Gahan and Gore look at the horizon): he was fundamental in the dynamics of the band, he was the engineer of the group, even if his actual role in studio on stage has long been a subject of discussion. But the incontrovertible fact is that Gore and Gahan have found a new balance, and it works. Here's how it works.

“Memento mori” is an album with a more homogeneous sound, with a return to classic electronics, revisited with current experience: like the previous one it was produced by James Ford (Simian Mobile Disco, Last Shadow Puppets), who plays in several songs, with the contribution of Marta Salogni and that of Richard Butler (Psychedelic Furs), co-author of 4 songs Martin Gore. You can hear the guitars (as in the single “Ghost again”) and you can hear Davide Rossi's strings, as in “Don't Say You Love Me”.

But the real center of the album is the synthetic sound: beats, dark rhythms, often almost mechanical, à la Kraftwerk, onto which the voices are grafted: a sound well exemplified by “My cosmos is mine”, which opens the album. In “Never Let Me Go” they almost remind us of Joy Division's “lei She lei's lost control”.

The songs, as anticipated by the title, talk about mortality “Everything seems hollow/When you watch another angel die”, they sing in “Wagging tongue”, echoing the cover: two angel wings as a mortuary wreath. And then, in general, a more personal and less political approach than “Spirit”. Songs that tell of human fragility, as in “Before we drown” (“I feel so naked, standing on the shore/Are you sure nothing's out there, nothing else/ no more/First we stand up, then we fall down/We have to move forward, before we drown”) or love as salvation in “Always you” (“My love, the world's upside down/My love, no solid ground/My love, there are no more facts/My love, reality's cracked/and then there's you/There's always you/You're all I need to keep believing/ And then there's you/There's always you”). They are not very original themes, if you like, but they are Depeche Mode: Gahan and Gore, with their charisma, give a unique look to these stories.

It's too early to say where “Memento mori” fits into the group's discography, but the first impression is excellent, definitely better than “Spirit”: the 2017 album, listened to again today, has decidedly weaker songs. “Memento mori” should be listened to a few times and left to settle. Depeche Mode exorcise death, process mourning, but they are alive and well.