It feels a bit odd to have some mid-50s famous musicians open their new album by insinuating that all of us are going backwards, in part due to technology, and have lost our souls. Truth be told it feels like some old man back-when-I-was-your-age and get-off-my-lawn shit. And if it wasn’t for Depeche Mode’s street cred, I’d probably have left it at that, even though the opening song to their 14th studio album “Going Backwards” is a pretty catchy jam.
But these guys came of age in left-leaning Basildon in the late 1970s, a working class town with no jobs, so they came by their revolutionary streak honestly. And that streak runs right down the middle of Spirit like an eight-lane superhighway to nowhere. It’s right there on the cover, legs with flags as the upper half of their bodies (one imagines them being red if they were in color), and on the inside photos showing the members wielding sledgehammers. But in case the imagery wasn’t enough, you just have to listen to the words, which are like an accusatory slap in the face. Where’s the revolution? / C’mon people, you’re letting me down (“Where’s The Revolution”). I’m told I must pay a penance for being so shallow (“The Worst Crime”). I kind of feel like I’m being lectured here. As a middle aged man I bristle against that a bit. It’s one thing to hear it from the young and idealistic; it’s another to hear it from someone older than me.
Spirit is an angry album. Not quite bitter, because the sound is too clean for that. It’s more the resignation of the parent who realizes their kid is an idiot. Not that the kid is a bad person, mind you, just a goofball who follows the status quo, not because it’s what they like, but because it never dawned on them to do anything different. It’s like Depeche Mode are kind of throwing up their hands, flabbergasted but not entirely surprise at how things ended up.
There are some less cranky songs on Spirit. “You Move” is my favorite track (though I have to confess “Where’s The Revolution” is super catchy), opening a section of the album that is a bit more traditional Depeche Mode. But after a brief two-song respite, it’s back to black clouds and radiation (“Eternal”), and I’m a bit bummed out. Even the relationship songs reference having poison in your heart. Corporations get all the breaks and references to trickle-down economics. It’s like the worst of the 1980s Thatcher / Reaganism all rolled into one.
Spirit isn’t a good-timey album, but it is excellent. Even though it’s a bit preachy at times, the songs are brilliantly composed and have a great sense of flow to them. If you’re a fan I’m guessing you’ll love it, because even with my casual familiarity with Depeche Mode’s catalog, I still find myself getting caught up in the music.