Depeche Mode: Still on top over twenty years on

Laura Kalinowski

For the film “Mrs. Robinson,” Simon and Garfunkel created an entire slew of songs for the soundtrack that functioned as plot progression for the movie, but, on their own, they were excellent and formed a complete album.

The same can be said for the latest Depeche Mode effort “Playing the Angel,” while each song is strikingly unique, yet they all contain a pulsating rhythm that flows with the synthesized beats throughout the album.

The album is a far cry from the upbeat, bubblegum pop songs the group is best known for from the 1980’s. While “Playing the Angel” is a strange combination of semi-techno and melancholy that some would have to be hopped up at a British rave to enjoy, the album is truly inspired and worth a listen.

Depeche Mode’s greatest forte with this album is the combination of hypnotic and mesmerizing synthesizer backgrounds with the Gregorian chant-like lead vocals provided by David Gahan. Gahan’s chant is especially evident in tracks like “I Want it All,” where the combination of his enchanting voice and powerful, synthesized background take the listener to a drunk and dreamlike state. The song floats and spins through a beautiful web of pulsating beats and captivating lyrics before reaching its climax.

The album’s slower, introspective track “Damaged People” is effective for taking this vocal and synthesizer combination down a level from hyperactive club music to a reflective ballad. Gahan’s vocal scooping further adds to the flowing feeling generated throughout the album and especially on this track.

The truly startling and ironic thing, considering the album’s title, is that “Playing the Angel” makes Depeche Mode sound at times like the latest goth effort. Some of the synthesized beats and lyrics are too melodramatic. “The Sinner in Me,” in particular, makes Depeche Mode sound like they are trying almost as hard to be a badass as they are to rhyme. The band also takes their synthesizer experiment a little too far with the opening seconds of the album’s first track, “A Pain that I’m Used To.” Screeching noises reminiscent of a broken car is a poor way to introduce the album.

While Depeche Mode seems to be in a more glum state of mind with “Angel,” they have not lost the power to create a catchy single that will have everyone nodding their heads and singing along with the radio. The first single on “Playing the Angel,” “Precious,” is so catchy that it’s sickening. While almost a guarantee that this song will make it onto some MTV countdown, “Precious” will be there for a good reason. It is not headache-generating, and Gahan manages to sing of damaged love in a surprisingly upbeat manner.

The true hidden gem of “Playing the Angel” is the album’s last track, “The Darkest Star.” It is a peaceful break from the chaotic energy of the album’s other songs. With piano interludes similar to those of Coldplay, Depeche Mode successfully mixes this classic piano-playing with their trademark synthesized beat to create a relaxing conclusion to a truly holistic album.