Playing The Angel
After several mediocre releases following the departure of sound sculptor mastermind Alan Wilder, Depeche Mode fire on all cylinders with their latest effort. Playing The Angel finds the British trio reenergized and more focused than ever. The album’s opener, “A Pain That I’m Used To,” kicks things off with pounding beats. Reminiscent of their earlier work, this track sees Depeche Mode at their peak. The gospel-inspired “John The Revelator” follows with brooding bass and vocal treatments of the highest order. An infectious rhythm will have you singing along without warning. Possibly the album’s strongest track, “Suffer Well” takes hold and never lets go. The guitar work here resembles Martin Gore’s work on the 1987 gem Music For The Masses. Throbbing percussion plays alongside Dave Gahan’s passionate vocals. The only downside is its short duration. It will remind some of “Route 66,” from their 101 Live DVD. Turn this one up to maximum volume and get strapped in.
The slower paced “Sinner in Me” sneaks in next with an eerie backdrop. The keyboard programming is outstanding and blends perfectly with Gahan’s moving vocals. “Precious,” the album’s first single, is a smooth track written back in the Violator-era. It’s a mid-tempo song that engulfs you while letting your imagination run wild. A more experimental side is found on “Macro,” where Gore takes the lead vocal spot. A bizarre melody that seems to go nowhere brings us to a climactic chorus. Space-age bleeps and a hypnotic groove abound on “I Want it All,” with Gahan bearing his innermost soul. The sonic elements here are an aural orgasm. Repeated listens will divulge hidden surprises at every turn. “Nothing’s Impossible” swings into action next with thematic results. Sinister bass lines and Gore’s signature guitar compliment the musical soundscape nicely. Skipping a few nonessentials, “Lilian” shakes the walls with potent rhythms and attention to every sonic detail. As with “Suffer Well,” listeners will wish the duration of “Lilian” were longer. This is a strong dance remix contender.
Finishing off the album is “The Darkest Star,” the album’s darkest piece. It oozes with energy and melancholy. This one reminds me of their 1986 masterpiece Black Celebration. With Ben Hillier at the production helm, Depeche Mode’s best has been brought back into the spotlight. Anyone left wanting more from their previous two releases should embrace Playing The Angel. This is easily Depeche Mode’s most satisfying and invigorating material in years.