THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE The New Wave pioneers stake out new, more political ground.
It’s not like Depeche Mode hasn’t been political before.
Back when the British band was winning over teenage hearts in Reagan’s America and Thatcher’s England, their early ’80s pronouncements about “the grabbing hands grab all they can” and “people are people” crystallized rebellious thinking into well-crafted, irresistible pop songs.
But now, decades later, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher are far more direct in their cultural objections for the new album “Spirit” (Columbia), in a way that’s often more lecturing than universally uplifting.
There are moments of greatness here, starting with the intense “So Much Love” — built on frustration and a musical backdrop that sounds like the beefier cousin of “A Question of Time” — and “Poison Heart,” where Gahan seemingly channels Amy Winehouse. The groovy “You Move,” which opens with a synth riff that feels reminiscent of Prince, shows how Depeche Mode is an unexpected influence on trap music, while the stark ballads “Cover Me” and “Eternal” have an icy beauty.
But global politics informed “Spirit” and the responses don’t seem fully formed. “Who’s making your decisions? You or your religion?” taunts Gahan in the first single, “Where’s the Revolution.” Sure, it’s a bit more tongue-in-cheek than the thunderous rhetoric would suggest. (The chorus is “Come on, people, you’re letting me down.”) It still comes across as heavy-handed, though, as does “The Worst Crime,” which opens with “There’s a lynching in the square, you will have to join us.”
“Poorman” may be the biggest disappointment because it sounds so promising — a mix of industrial dance rhythms, rock guitar, and gospel-inspired backing vocals that calls to mind the halcyon “Violator” days. Then Gahan starts singing, “Corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make” followed by talk of trickle-down economics that feels so deflating. Come on, guys, why can’t we have a “Black Celebration” tonight?