Sunday, December 11, 2005

Depeche Mode, Playing the Angel

From Basildon to the world

Funny how tides turn. Twelve months, and from being the most mocked and ridiculed decade of all, the 80s have risen to perennial source of inspiration. Everybody from Girls Aloud and Gwen Stefani to The Bravery, The Killers et al., are drawing fashion tips, leggings, drum clips and stage posture from the era of new romantics and Rubik’s cube. One wonders whether this revivalist hangover may have hauled Depeche Mode out of early retirement and solo projects. Wouldn’t it be great if the former boys from Basildon gave it one more go to show The Bravery& co. how it should be done?

Their last few outings had been increasingly guitar-based, a fine display of scratchy electro rock-ism, with the entire Songs of Faith and Devotion and Ultra popping up by right in everybody’s best-of-the-90s list. This time, Playing the Angel is superb, vintage-Depeche Mode. More Depeche Mode than they’d ever been. Martin Gore, Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher rummage through their formative years to settle a few scores. Side-A could easily be the best part of a “I Heart the 80s” compilation, except more mature, clipped, with robotic, dark disco grooves and infectious melodies. Gahan sounds more inspired than ever, the way he uses his vocals stretch to new territories as he nails down killer hook after killer hook. “John the Revelator” is simply addictive. A second go at the theme of “Blasphemous Rumours”, only this time they expose jihadism: “By claiming God - As his holy right - He’s stealing a God - From the Israelites – Stealing a God - From the Muslim too”. One can only hope they won’t have to do a Salman Rushdie and live in hiding for the next 10 years. “A Pain That I’m Used To”, “Suffer Well” and single “Precious” also inhabit groove-a-rama, shedding light to where Nine Inch Nails started while showing Killers and Bravery a lesson or two. If club-DJs meant business then you’d have shaken your botty to their beat on a dancefloor already. A haunting quality characterises the second part of the album with a nod or two at Bowie’s Berlin years, “V-2 Schneider” and all that wonderfully inspired icy business. Just check out “Damaged People”, for instance and you get why Depeche Mode doing a Bowie is refined grub.

Count how many bands can claim this level of magnitude in their third decade. Forget “Enjoy the Silence” and “Personal Jesus” for once; Depeche Mode are happening now.

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