wed 28/02/2024

Album: Depeche Mode - Memento Mori | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Depeche Mode - Memento Mori

Album: Depeche Mode - Memento Mori

Depeche Mode's hymns to love and loss sound as vital as ever

'An extra level of reflectiveness that really makes it sparkle'

Depeche Mode’s Andy “Fletch” Fletcher, who died in May last year, was generally held to contribute to the dynamic of the band more than the music. The only member of the band without songwriting credits, his contribution as peacemaker and “tiebreaker” in creative decision-making was nonetheless so important that speculation was rife that fellow founders Martin Gore and Dave Gahan might not be able to continue without him.

They have, though, and it seems the loss of their friend of over 40 years has spurred them on to work together well, and to an extra level of reflectiveness that really makes Memento Mori sparkle. From the off, the sense of reminiscence is palpable. The opening brace of tracks “My Cosmos is Mine” and “Wagging Tongues” have synth patterns and deliberately simple melodies that hark all the way back to 1981 and DM’s first work with Vince Clarke still in the band.

They’re not a straight throwback, though. It would just be silly for a band of their history and scale to return to crisp pop, and these are delivered with all the gothic grandiosity they became megastars for, but there’s also an intimacy. This sounds exactly like what it is: two men in their early 60s, battle-scarred, looking back to their teens as if at dusty, dog-eared photos. Sorrow and mortality have always been part of the Depeche Mode palette but here they’re acutely felt.

Those 1981 sounds weave in and out of the album, as do plenty of clear references to their other early work as their sound got darker and they got bigger. And there’s also a sense that maybe they’re at peace with the cultural legacy and place in the landscape of that early work as echoes of their contemporaries come in. “Don’t Say You Love Me” and "Before We Drown", for example, have something of Soft Cell’s vaudevillian darkness, and “Caroline’s Monkey” hints at Eurythmics and their eery, sci-fi psychedelic best – and there are gentle currents of the 90s techno and electronica that DM influenced too.

Again, this isn’t pastiche, it isn’t nostalgia, and it really sounds like Depeche Mode. It is completely of the now, with producer James Ford, as on predecessor Spirit, rendering both big sweep and intimate detail just so. The overwhelming sense – right down to the intensity then dissipation of the closer “Speak to Me” – is of completeness: complete acceptance of all the manifestations the band has had, and complete functionality of Gore and Gahan’s working relationship even with the glaring absence of their “tiebreaker”. If this were to be the end of the DM project it would be a beautiful one, but even as it is a mourning, it also contains the seeds of hope that they remain as vital as they’ve ever been.

@joemuggs

Listen to "Ghosts Again": 

Sorrow and mortality have always been part of the Depeche Mode palette but here they’re acutely felt

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