Going Backwards

Spirit – Depeche Mode

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 7/10

I’ve always been impressed with how solid Depeche Mode’s later era albums are. Most bands still going over 30 years lose that something that made them special and start churning out mediocre material. While none of Mode’s later albums hit me like their early stuff, they’re still pretty impressive. So I was pretty psyched when they announced Spirit. When I got my hands on it, I found another solid record that finds the band turning their gaze outward instead of in. The band offers a damning commentary on what’s going on in the world. This isn’t the first time they’ve done it; look at “People Are People,” but it’s their most politically charged effort. Though their commentary is often blistering, it’s often too much and doesn’t make for a wholly satisfying album.

The album opens with the rousing “Going Backwards,” one of the strongest songs on the album. It’s booming opening making you think of an army marching in the field sets up the dark mood of the song. The lyrics find Dave Gahan calling out our society and how despite all our progress, we keep moving backwards: “We are not there yet/We have not evolved/We have no respect/We have lost control.” It’s eerily appropriate to what’s happening now with political tensions running high and the rights of people being threatened. Though it’s not an in-your-face song, there’s still a lot of anger and frustration channeling through the song. They’re clearly fed up with what’s going on and this can speak to those who feel the same. It’s a blistering track that’ll get your fist pumping for change by the end of it. Its political nature sets the tone for most of what’s to come.

I was never really sold on lead single “Where’s the Revolution?” Though I really like the dark, futuristic synth music, this song doesn’t thrill me or get me going like their other material. It has a well-meaning message: get off your ass, stop complaining, and make a change. Still, it never really got me excited for the album. And the bridge where they repeat “The train is coming/get on board/the engine’s humming” made me roll my eyes. They couldn’t be serious with that part, right? I get the metaphor they’re going for, but it’s too on the nose and comes off as awkward. Though it’s not my favorite, I do appreciate the song for its lyrics like “Who’s making your decisions/you or your religion” that, again, reflects what’ we’ve been going through on a daily basis.

According to Gore, most of the album was written over the course of two years, yet it sounds like it was written for the Trump take over. While the commentary they offer is appreciated, it does get tiring. The band has touched on political issues in the past with songs like “People Are People” and “Everything Counts,” but they’ve never done it to the extent they do it here. Just because they usually don’t make political statements in their songs doesn’t mean they shouldn’t ever do it, but the way the band goes about it isn’t necessarily subtle. The biting track “Scum” finds the band attacking someone and begging them to “pull the trigger” that instantly makes you think of Trump. It’s one of the more memorable tracks even though some parts are disjointed, which can be off-putting. The slow burning “The Worst Crime” looks at what’s happening and blames it all on misinformation and stupidity that we’re all to blame. These songs aren’t bad, but after repeated listens you get tired. After a while you think we get it, we’re fucked. Can we dance now?

Luckily, not everything is focused on the political climate of the world. Things properly pick up with the infectious “You Move.” The song hooks you instantly with its heavy groove and sexy vibe. The lyrics fit more in tune with past Depeche Mode topics: unbridled lust, love, and temptation. The track is one of the few that gets you excited and makes you want to dance. Sounding like a leftover from Delta Machine, “So Much Love to Give” gives the album a much needed energy boost. The upbeat synth and the memorable hook makes it a fun diversion from the blackness the album is steeped in. Providing a bit of optimism, lyrics like “You can forsake me/try to break me/But you can’t shake me/no” shows it’s not the end yet; we still have a fighting chance. “Poison Heart” isn’t all that upbeat, but it’s another notable cut from the record. It lures you in with its stuttering, Blues inspired riff and opens with Gahan’s throaty vocals singing “You have poison in your heart/I’m sure of it.” A track about a nasty relationship coming to an end, it’s nothing spectacular, but it stands out from the other heavy tracks.

Honestly, there isn’t a song I outright hate on the album. Sadly, most of them aren’t that notable or are just a drag. “Poorman” has a harrowing opening filled with doom laden music and eerie harmonies of “Heeeey” that sound like ghostly apparitions. It’s another politically charged song about corporations only looking out for themselves, which we pretty much know. It’s not bad, but doesn’t really add much to the album. “Cover Me” is another slow song with somber music and gloomy lyrics about not reaching that other life. It actually makes me think of the end of the world. The highlight here is the dreamy, atmospheric music that gets an extended play near the end. Again, not terrible but nothing stellar. “Eternal” and “Fail” are both Gore solo spots that are decent, but again, nothing amazing. The former has a similar vibe to “I Want You Now” with Gore expressing his love, while sounding sinister and diabolic. The latter is another song damning where our society is and condemning all of us ending the album on a depressing note.

So is the album as bad as some critics said? Not really, but it’s not as great as some are claiming either. I appreciate the band’s efforts to comment what’s going on in the world. Some of the lyrics on those songs are poignant and thoughtful.  That being said, at times it does feel like you’re being bashed in the head with these messages. I applaud the band for going out of their comfort zone and showing that they’re willing to try different things. That’s a least a plus for this album. But it can be a bit tiring at times, which could be how they’re presented as slow, brooding tracks that drag on and on. It leaves you feeling hopeless at times. Putting political messages aside, most of the songs don’t pack the same punch and excitement of their other material. Even the tracks on their last album were more exciting. There are a handful of memorable tracks, but most of them don’t hit that sweet Mode spot even though they’re well meaning. Many of the songs I can’t picture myself listening to again outside of the record. Like many of their modern records, it’s solid and has some great moments. But does it live up to expectations? Not really.