The first new album from Depeche Mode in four years, its first since 2001's gold and Top 10 Exciter, Playing the Angel is quintessential Depeche Mode-hi-tech electronic pop with enormous hooks-and yet faster paced, more urgent than recent albums. The band has sold upward of 50 million records worldwide during its 25 years, but Playing the Angel sounds as fresh and exciting as any in Depeche Mode's glorious history. Warner. 2005.
The blasphemous opinions surrounding Depeche Mode's 2001 release Exciter
were well warranted. Exciter
didn't supply Depeche Mode diehards much in the way of dance tunes, and the experimental sounds drummed up by Bjork producer Mark Bell strayed from the industrial standard in an overly delicate, less than welcoming way. True fans, luckily, forgive and forget and as well they should, given Playing the Angel's
return to dark, brooding greatness. The first single "Precious" is an emotionally loaded, characteristically long faced, distortion-pocked masterwork - a "Personal Jesus" level accomplishment. Also on that order are "Suffer Well;" the droning, lovely and altogether danceable "Lillian"; "I Want it All," whose muffled beats and blasts of suck-you-in static recall the industrial glory days; and the simple, synthy exercise in hyper-intelligent pop that is "John the Revelator." Those songs make it easy to salute the band for parting the sea of imitators and returning to its roots, but an obvious stain prevents Playing the Angel
from being a perfect album. Two tracks are the problem: Martin Gore may be a brilliant lyricist, he wrote every song on Playing the Angel
, but pull David Gahan away from the mike and pretentiousness prevails. Some will find "Macrovision" lovely, but it's arguable that there's no room for trilling on a Depeche Mode disc. The same goes for "Damaged People," a dangerous, show-tune-ish flirtation. A couple of clunkers don't spoil the lot, though, and this return to form will alienate few. All hail the 80s. --Tammy La Gorce