ALBUM REVIEW: Depeche Mode – Memento Mori

4.5 rating
Depeche Mode - Memento Mori

A thing that is overlooked about Depeche Mode is their constant need to keep moving, innovating, and recording new material, something their contemporaries rarely do, if they do it at all. Look at U2 – they are now dangerously close to becoming an act that trades entirely on past glories with their ill-advised Songs Of Surrender album.

New Order and The Cure are still touring, but album releases are few and far between. While late-period Depeche Mode are not what you would call prolific, they do so every time they come back with a new album and a new tour and thus continue to please and occasionally challenge fans new and old.

Memento Mori, the band’s fifteenth studio album, is their first as a duo and the first that, a couple of early career tracks aside, sees Martin Gore writing with someone else, namely Richard Butler of Psychedelic Furs. For longtime Depeche fans, that is an odd concept. Gore’s songs have been vital to Depeche Mode’s remarkable success, and his lyrics have inspired so many people, so the idea of him sharing this with someone else seems alien. Will Martin Gore sharing songwriting duties with someone else dilute the essence of Depeche Mode?

Ghosts Again, the first song the band released from the album and a Gore/Butler co-write, nips that fear in the bud. Instantly catchy and achingly emotional, this song is as classic a Depeche Mode song as the band has produced since Playing The Angel’s lead single “Precious”. Interestingly, however, it doesn’t necessarily offer a taste of what is to come with Memento Mori. The pop feel of the song is far removed from the album’s overall sound.

The album opens with the second song the band released from the album, the Gore, written: “My Cosmos Is Mine.” I mentioned earlier that Depeche Mode keeps innovating, and this song backs that theory up to the hilt. In many ways, this is one of the weirdest songs Depeche have recorded, and it is one that put many longtime fans of the band off this album before it even began. This song, however, sums up everything you should love about Depeche Mode; it’s odd, dark, and quite brilliant. This isn’t the overly long false start the band’s recent albums have been blighted by either – It’s an eye-opening start. Depeche Mode can still be the weird band we’ve always loved, even in the fifth decade of their career.

“Wagging Tongue” follows, and already, it’s hard to think of a time since Ultra when Depeche Mode sounded as electronic as this. Part “Europe Endless” and part “Your Silent Face” is another slightly odd but glorious track. It reminds me of “Sweetest Perfection” from Violator in that it fits perfectly with the album without obviously fitting in at all. The recent version played on several European TV shows doesn’t do it justice. Already, Memento Mori has, ironically, a vitality about it that Spirit did not have. It’s also worth noting that Dave and Martin wrote this one together.

“Ghosts Again” follows, and then Depeche Mode decides to release the best James Bond theme tune the film franchise has stupidly ignored. “Don’t Say You Love Me” starts, slightly worryingly, like “The Worst Crime” from Spirit, but it soon turns into something quite extraordinary instead. Previous albums have featured tracks that tried to shoehorn Dave Gahan’s baritone into atmospheric music, but this song learns its lessons from those attempts and creates an atmospheric track that is exquisite. If anything, this song shows why this album works so well. There is no attempt to sound like Depeche Mode – instead, the songs are given room to breathe and last as long as they need to last. This album has very little fat, which is a perfect thing.

“My Favourite Stranger”, another Gore/Butler track, is the first song here that doesn’t work. While the production is terrific, as it is throughout the album, it’s just a bit late in the Depeche period by numbers. It could have been featured on any album post Playing The Angel. That said, it will go down well in stadia this summer.

“Soul With Me”, however, is another thing entirely. The only Gore vocal on the album starts like Low-era Bowie and then turns into a 70’s style torch song, and it is one of Martin’s best lead vocal songs in years. I have always looked out for Martin’s vocals as songs like “The Things You Said” and “World Full Of Nothing” always meant so much to me, and while recent albums have seen his songs take a backseat to better tracks on the albums, “Soul With Me” has a life and spirit to it that has been much missed. Welcome back, Martin.

Next, we hear a song called “Caroline’s Monkey“, the final Gore/Butler co-write. I’m a Depeche snob and have always taken pride in their songs and lyrics being different from other bands. My fear about this song, and that’s a fear-based entirely on my DM snobbery, was that a Depeche Mode song couldn’t have as bad a name as this and be any good, but this one may be a grower as it is full of rather lovely noises, but I’m not convinced. It doesn’t seem to do that much.

The next track is Dave’s song ‘Before We Drown’ which he wrote with Peter Gordeno and Christian Eigner. As the recent leak of the Delta Machine demos showed, Dave has a knack for writing songs that sound remarkably like Depeche Mode. While that sound may have been knocked out of them when they came to their album appearances, this song has perhaps deliberately been left-sounding, just like a Depeche Mode song. That is a perfect thing, by the way. It’s as good a Depeche song as Dave has written, up there with “Nothing’s Impossible” and “Broken.”

When the internet first saw what purported to be the Memento Mori tracklist, many people, myself included, thought it was wrong and not just because it suggested there was an actual Depeche Mode song called “Caroline’s Monkey.” For a band whose attention to detail saw the song “Miles Away” renamed “Miles Away/The Truth” because Martin noted Madonna had released a song called with the same title, it seems odd that Depeche would release a song called “People Are Good” because, well, you know, why should that be? They have done that, though, and perhaps I’ve spent too long listening to this band, but I am convinced that they are having fun here as its opening 30 seconds or so sound like the Different Mix of “People Are People” played at a weird speed. It’s bloody odd overall.

It’s a perfect mix of early Mute mixed with mid-period Mode. There are bits of Computer World-era Kraftwerk here, too, and while it is certainly not a song that will have 100,000 people singing along in European stadia this summer, it’s great to have this type of Depeche back. It’s why we all like them. They’re a weird band, and not everyone gets them. Songs like this remind me why I love Depeche Mode; it’s not their best track, but no other band does this.

“Always You” is fine enough, but perhaps one of the two tracks that could be trimmed here to make Memento Mori an outstanding album instead of a very good one. However, Dave’s vocals are a real treat, and it’s certainly enjoyable enough. One thing that must be noted is that recent Depeche albums have perhaps lost the listener’s attention by this stage; that is not the case with this album.

The penultimate track is “Never Let Me Go”, which is again perhaps a little too close in name to another Depeche track, but that may just be me. Sonically, however, it’s a different beast entirely. When the guitar starts, Nine Inch Nails, albeit a cleaner, less aggressive version of that band, springs to mind. It is a great song, though and, like most of this album, it has a vibrancy missing from recent Depeche Mode albums. They seem to embrace their roots rather than burying them in electro-blues, which is no bad thing.

We end on “Speak To Me,” a song Dave wrote with Christian Eigner, James Ford and Marta Salogni. It is gorgeous and the best Depeche album closer since “Clean.” It ensures the album ends on a high note. Beautiful.

One aspect of this album I’ve not mentioned yet is the absence of Andy Fletcher. Memento Mori is the first Depeche Mode album that doesn’t feature Andy, and though the songs were all written and the album was named before he died, his absence is keenly felt throughout. As Dave and Martin have recently said in interviews, Andy was the biggest Depeche Mode fan, and I, and many other fans, have missed his usual pre-album enthusiasm where he tells us Martin played him songs that were some of his best.

Until May last year, it seemed inconceivable that any Depeche Mode product would be released without Andy being involved, but here we have just that. As the band’s biggest fan, I’m confident Andy would have loved this album. That is perhaps the best compliment anyone can pay it. No other band could have recorded an album like this. No other band is like Depeche Mode.



ALBUM REVIEW: Depeche Mode - Memento Mori
ALBUM REVIEW: Depeche Mode - Memento Mori

A thing that is overlooked about Depeche Mode is their constant need to keep moving, innovating, and recording new material, something their contemporaries rarely do, if they do it at all. Look at U2 – they are now dangerously close to becoming an act that trades entirely on past glories with their ill-advised Songs Of Surrender album.

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Xsnoize Author
David McElroy 91 Articles
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