WIN: Playing the Angel hampers courtesy MWEB and EMIIf Depeche Mode's darkest album to date, Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993) was the big black Cadillac hearse of electropop/rock, Playing The Angel is the gigantic 10-ton truck of new wave. It may not seem as stylish and prestigious as its forbear, but it will certainly crash through any pretentious obstacles you put in its way - and then some.
Sadly - or perhaps thankfully - newcomers to the Mode probably won't be impressed.
Firstly, it's a production loaded with red herrings. For example - the opening sound of the opening track ("A Pain That I'm Used To") may remind the pop crowd of the 'tyre burn' on the popular "I Feel You", which opened Faith and Devotion. But it's actually closer to the 'guitar' screech effect on "Dead of Night" from Exciter (2003) which sold far fewer copies..
Secondly, Martin Gore has returned to his favourite gothic themes of God and suffering, meaning an altogether more vivid and introspective bent in the songwriting process. Such serious themes are not de rigueur, if radio and TV vox pops are to be believed. David Gahan contributes songs for the first time as well - he released a solo album earlier this year.
And so it goes on: "Suffer Well" references the one-two analog bounce of "A Question of Time"; "Precious" is as light and dancy as "It's No Good" off Ultra; and here and there there'll be the odd reminder of past pop and rock transgressions. But it's when listening to the chillingly beautiful of "The Sinner in Me" that everything else on Playing The Angel seems to make sense and suddenly takes on a character of its own.
Depeche Mode was never supposed to be a rock band, after all. Their main role in popular music has been to continually challenge the 'norm' concept of pop music's sound. Having mainly succeeded, they now reside in a self-designed bubble somewhere between pop and art-rock. Nobody else sounds like Depeche Mode, do they?
Playing The Angel is a very difficult, and weirdly exhausting album to listen to at first. Its sound design is unforgiving, unfriendly, jarring and even crunchier than earlier efforts like Black Celebration (1986). But that's not a regression in the band's originality or creativity. It's actually a progression - like rejoining a highway a few miles along after a slight detour.
Combining the lessons learned during "the dark time" of Faith and Devotion with the self re-discovery of the gorgeous Ultra (2001) and the demure but even better Exciter (2003) has resulted in an album true DM fans will smile about.- Anton MarshallWHAT OTHER CRITICS SAYThe troubled electro kings have come storming back with an album that shines with trademark Mode melancholia and dark sexuality.- Zoe Street for BBC.co.uk
...the formula remains largely the same, although the group adds some production tricks, dialing down the perv factor and turning up some extra chirps and bloops they haven't used before.- Gavin Edwards for Rolling Stone
Depeche Mode have the distinction of making their best and worst album in one go: Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993) put the band so far beyond itself that it led to a breakup, which took ten years to repair. With Playing the Angel, the last little cracks have finally been sealed.
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