The spirit of humanity by Depeche Mode

The spirit of humanity by Depeche Mode

A year ago, more or less around this time, i Depeche Mode released their first album, “Memento mori” (read it here review) without Andy Fletcherwho passed away on May 26, 2022. It had been six years since the English band appeared on the record market, the previous release, “Spirit”was dated March 17, 2017. Dave Gahan he explained the album's title this way: “We called the album “Spirit” because it's like, 'Where did the spirit go?' or 'Where is the spirit of humanity?'. We thought about calling it 'Maelstrom,' but that was a little too heavy metal.” This is our review of the penultimate work by Depeche Mode.

Depeche Mode talk about evolution, about loss of control, about revolution. Right from the title they try to capture the “spirit” of the time, what in philosophy is called “Zeitgeist”. “Spirit” is, in many ways, the group's most political album. But the personal is political, it was said years ago: the band made very clear choices not only in the words, but also in the sounds and in the production and construction of the album. As for the themes, there is not only “Where's the revolution”, which you have already heard.

The songs with strong social connotations are different in “Spirit”. The album opens with “Goin' backwards”: “We have not evolved, we've lost control, we're goin' backwards, ignoring the reality,” sings Gahan. In “The worst crime” Depeche talk about “Misguided leaders” and say “We're all charged with treason”. We are all copable, in this situation no one is innocent. It's no coincidence that in the only interview given so far about the album (to Rolling Stone USA), Gahan said that “it's a record about humanity, about our place in the world. If we want things to change, we have to deal with what happens. But it seems like we're going in another direction.”

The other (small) revolution is the production of the record.

Depeche said that the album was recorded quite quickly, in the States (where Gahan and Gore live, who have evidently absorbed the social climate of recent times). But, after years, there is a new producer. Via Ben Hiller, who had worked with the group for the last 10 years, and closed the trilogy of “Playing the Angel” in 2005, “Sounds of the Universe” in 2009 and “Delta Machine” in 2013”. Inside James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco and already working with Florence & The Machine and Arctic Monkeys. Hiller, for the record, was also “the most discussed producer of the entire DM discography, and many fans do not forgive him for excessive speed and little attention to detail”, as they explain on .Depeche Mode Italia in their special. The same cannot be said of Ford: “Spirit” is a record that does not betray the identity of Depeche, but infuses new life into the sound, with an obsessive attention to the nuances of the sounds. “Spirit” is a record to listen to with a good pair of headphones or on a stereo with good sound, to capture all the work done by the group with the producer.

The beginning is one statement: In “Goin' backwards” they immediately set the record straight, mixing a piano with electronics. A powerful, yet recognizable sound. The same logic of mixing power/detail/recognizability is applied to all the songs: “The worst crime” opens on an almost ethereal guitar, on which the drums and keyboards gradually build. The pulsating bass of “Scum” is disturbed by small sound explosions, reminiscent of 80s synths, while Gahan's filtered voice repeats “Pull the trigger!”. Those basses return in “You Move”, almost to merge the two songs, even if the song evolves in another direction, where a keyboard supports Gahan who for the first time in the album moves away from more openly political themes (“I like the way you move for me tonight”).

“Cover me” begins slow, hieratic, voice and keyboards, and continues until the beautiful instrumental coda, only keyboards and pulsations.

“Eternal”, sung by Martin, is equally hieratic, a short 2' and 13' fresco of voice and keyboards that ends in an almost dissonant and noisy manner. “Poison heart”, one of the most beautiful and direct songs on the album, has the structure of a soul ballad, but is made less reassuring by the pulsating drums and “dirtied” by keyboards and effects. “So much love” is the most classically Depeche Mode song: a start with old-fashioned electronic percussion, the voices of Gahan and Gore intertwining on the vocal opening “There is so much love in me”, and four notes of a guitar effect that seems to come straight out of a new wave record. A stunning next single, and one of the strongest political statements on the record: “You can despise me, demonize me, but there is so much love in me”.

The wall of sound built by the song is immediately dismantled in “Poor man”, which starts almost distant, with a keyboard sound bouncing from one speaker to another: it is one of the best examples of Ford's production, with the clean sounds that they accumulate, while remaining clearly distinct and identifiable, building a crescendo that by the end of the song has raised another wall of sound. “No more (The last time)” is another potential single, another straight song, with a straight melody, supported by pulsating bass. “Fail” is the closing, entrusted to Martin's voice: dark and melodic, in which opposites attract and unite, as throughout the album. “People, how are we coping? It's futile to even start hoping. If justice prevails, the truth will tear the stairs. Our dignity has sailed, we failed”.

“Spirit” is a record that manages to be simultaneously hard and enveloping. Sounds and words sharp as blades, yet you never have a feeling of detachment, of being put at a distance. Depeche Mode, on the other hand, hypnotize the listener with those synthetic sounds that are part of their history, rethought and dusted off for 2017. The melodies often mitigate the harshness of the words, giving a sense of familiarity to sounds that are often deliberately disturbing. In short: a record to listen to again and again, a band that with 40 years of career does not betray its identity, but moves forward and refuses to close itself in an ivory tower, looking around, looking for new ways of telling what it sees and pushing the listener to do the same.