Depeche Mode’s new album kicks off with a dire warning that we’re going backward as a society. Things go quickly downhill from there.
“Spirit” then tells us we’ve been lied to and advocates revolution, convicts everyone of treason and urges selfish scum to turn their guns on themselves – and that’s just the first four songs.
“First and foremost, we wanted to make a fun album,” deadpans chief songwriter Martin Gore. “That was a joke.”
The gloomy British electronic trio resurfaced this month with its first new music in four years and the timing seems impeccable. The dozen new dark songs seem the perfect soundtrack to a world rocked by Brexit and Donald Trump.
“It’s a little bit of a heavy listen,” acknowledges lead singer Dave Gahan. “Look, that’s what we do. It’s about creating these atmospheres with this backdrop of the world we’re living in.”
“Spirit” continues the band’s evolution in alternative-rock under the new guidance of producer James Ford, who has worked with Florence and the Machine and the Arctic Monkeys.
Band member Andy Fletcher said Ford, who also played drums on many of the tracks, managed to “freshen us up a bit.” The songs are drenched in dread, slithering synths and strong hooks, exploring everything from trickle-down economics to heartbreak.
Gore, who had a hand in nine of the tracks, said the album might sound like a reaction to recent political and cultural shocks but was actually written in the second half of 2015 and early 2016.
“The world was still in a mess then and it was quite depressing to me. I felt that I couldn’t just ignore it. If I was going to actually write and be honest to myself I had to kind of like face it,” he said.
“I wanted to say that I feel that we’ve lost our way a bit, that mankind has lost its way spiritually. I’m not talking from any denomination here. I just mean in a general sense and by pointing that out, maybe it just gets people to think a bit.”
Depeche Mode will go on the road – their Live Nation-backed, 28-show North American tour starts in Salt Lake City in August – mixing the new songs with their go-to anchors, including “I Feel You” and “Walking In My Shoes.”
“I try and find songs from some other albums that will relate to what we’re doing now,” said Gahan, who mused that “Everything Counts” would sit nicely with the new tracks. “Hopefully, there will be a couple of little surprises.”
Depeche Mode was part of a wave of English pop-synthesizer bands to sweep into America in the 1980s with light-hearted songs like “Just Can’t Get Enough.” They matured with edgier, socially conscious tunes like “People Are People” and “Blasphemous Rumours” before hitting big success with 1990’s “Violator,” which produced the singles “Personal Jesus,” “Enjoy the Silence” and “Policy of Truth.”
The band found itself this year on the list of potential inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but failed to make the cut for the Class of 2017.
“To be honest, we were surprised. We never aimed to be in it. We think, ‘An electronic band in the Rock and Roll Hall?”’ Fletcher said. “To be nominated is quite good, really. I don’t know if we’ll eventually go in. It’s not really on the top list of our wishes. It would be nice if it happened, I suppose.”
If it ever happens, it would be a remarkable crowning for a group of acknowledged misfits from East London that made its reputation making symphonies from smacking pots and pans and wearing eyeliner, nail polish and black leather.
“Definitely, we were not the cool kids in town,” said Gahan. “We were those weirdos, the ones that got chased home from school.” Now their songs have been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash and Susan Boyle, and Depeche Mode’s influences are heard everywhere, from airy Scandinavian pop to EDM.
“I think we’ve been lucky enough to have made some timeless records at certain points. Some of them, not so timeless,” said Gahan, laughing. “I feel like you get led somewhere and you’ve got to take that risk to jump in. I feel like ‘Spirit’ is an album that we’ve been led to.”