October 15, 2005

Review: Depeche Mode's Playing The Angel



It's been 10 months since I wrote my praise for Depeche Mode and now I have been listening to their new CD, Playing The Angel. It's fantastic, bringing together so many incarnations of DM over their 25 years together.

The silvery lead single Precious is unlike anything else on the record - it's the softest song here and perhaps one of the most tender they've ever done. I love the opening lines, "Precious and tender things need special handling." This becomes more poignant when you hear that Martin Gore wrote the song while worrying about how his children will survive his divorce. Dave's voice on it is absolutely crystalline. How does he do this after his long, druggie lost weekend in the 90's? I mean, in Vh1's Behind The Music, each commercial came with this line:"Next, Dave dies!"

Aside from Precious, the most immediate and obvious addition to the DM "canon" is the massive John The Revelator. It's a super- melodic, electronic army of a song that's lifted by Dave's fearless I Feel You-like vocal and an amazing amazing chorus. I can't wait to be in the audience when they sing along (which they WILL in this case) to these lines:

Seven lies, multiplied by seven,
Multiplied by seven again
Seven angels with seven trumpets
Send 'em home on the morning train

Well who's that shouting?
John the Revelator!
All he ever gives us is pain

Well who's that shouting?
John the Revelator!
He should bow his head in shame

Musically, PTA is all over the place: the Star Wars space battle noises at 2:50 in John The Revelator, the soft plucked notes at the end of Lillian (which made me wish they'd done it as a ballad), and the simple 2 note da-da-da duh structure of Precious.

Dave contributes three of his own songs for the first time and two are standouts. Suffer Well might have fit on Music For The Masses or Exciter, and I love the almost inhuman vocal he delivers on the new wave gothic Nothing's Impossible, which has a subtle chorus.

Martin brings an over-the-top vocal to Macrovision - listen to the way he lets rip just 50 seconds into the song when he sings: "whispering cosmos." The lyrics are cheese, but that's a minor quibble for one of the catchiest tracks on the CD. Aside from the simultaneously heavy and light Precious, he outdoes himself on the lyrics to Damaged People, which opens with an amazing line: "We're damaged people, drawn together by subtleties we're not aware of." How often do you hear a song with a line that self aware? The song, the chorus of which reminds me of something else I cannot pinpoint, is a midtempo electronic piece, almost prayerful.

Playing The Angel is a true return to form, made sweeter by Dave's dark period. It is truly their best album since Songs Of Faith And Devotion.
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Aside from this music, we have some other DM songs to look forward to: the array of remixes (including an upcoming Goldfrapp remix for the next single, the noirish A Pain That I'm Used To and several full-vocal b-sides. I'll see them live for the first time in December and I will report back then.

2 comments:

V said...

I re-read your homage to DM and had forgotten how Princess had already given us her experiance of the Black Celebration tour, just I had explained in my e-mail to you!

cgl88 said...

Good review!