Depeche Mode is revered for their angsty ruminations on religion and sex, and they’ve been reflecting on the larger state of the world for decades. On 1983’s Construction Time Again they took aim at corporate greed and corruption (“Everything Counts”), poverty (“Shame”) and the threat of nuclear war (“Two Minute Warning”). “People Are People,” an anthem about the ridiculousness of racism, followed along similar thematic lines on 1984’s Some Great Reward.
Thirty-plus years later their fourteenth album, Spirit, is rife with disdain for today’s fractured political climate. And who could blame them. Where past albums married topical commentary and memorable synth hooks, Spirit falls mostly flat. In short, their lyrical hand-wringing is exhausting to listen to.
Spirit, which was produced by James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, opens with “Backwards,” a lament on the failed promise of technology (“We have lost our soul / The course has been set / We’re digging our own hole”). “Revolution” is a call to arms without a takeaway message (“They manipulate and threaten / With terror as a weapon / Scare you till you’re stupefied / Wear you down until you’re on their side”) and is a musical cliché of a musical cliché. The cinematic “Cover Me” finds Dave Gahan self-righteously drowning in the glow of the Northern lights for no apparent reason (“And you know we’re sinking / We could fade away / I’m not going down / Not today”).
“So Much Love” finally hits the mark. Gahan’s voice is spot on (“You can forsake me / Try to break me / But you can’t shake me / No”) and Martin Gore’s twangy, reverb-drenched guitar played over a clanking drum machine is chum for die-hard fans. “No More,” another welcome breather from the political rhetoric, is a compelling, melancholy requiem about the end of a relationship.
While Spirit is largely an unsatisfying whingefest, there is a lot of passion behind their preaching. In the end, the uneven album at least affirms Depeche Mode’s core tenet that everything counts in large amounts.