Yes, I said that I would do this review about three days ago, but work and other priorities occupied my ability to work on this review. But here you go.
So during my huge review series, going through Depeche Mode's entire discography up to this point, my last album review, Delta Machine, was met with disappointment and dismay at their noted lack of finesse and attempt to sound like minimalist garbage. I wasn't sure how they were going to try to return from grace, but their decision is both astounding and also infuriating.
So Spirit is Depeche Mode's first attempt at being political since Construction Time Again, but without any relevance or even fervor from their youthful era, to see 3 guys pushing their 60s trying to sound like they want to get people riled up with their 5 minute photoshop album cover attempt is simultaneously amusing and sad all the same. Even so, Spirit also slip shods some of their more generally romantic songs from previous efforts as they mix their more political efforts, making the whole affair feel like some of the band members actually didn't want to make this album political. That will play key in a particular song in mind, but the only saving grace that Spirit has compared to Delta Machine is that they have completely ditched the minimalist affair for a more busy, electronic work that rubs shoulders with Sounds of the Universe and Exciter. Let's get into this little mess of a album.
1. Going Backwards (9)
I know you are already thinking that I just lied to you about the album being bad because this song is at a 9, but hear me out. This is perhaps the best song on this album, and it's the first fucking one. Anyway, what makes this song work is the catchy piano ballads, combined with electronic big beat notes, and of course, Gahan's tried and true baritone, that still sounds great even after all of these years. Going Backwards does tread some political notions, but they are so ambiguous and vague that I don't really know where they swing on, which will be a common thread of most of the political songs on this album. What Going Backwards also does really well is have this progressive buildup of symphonic sounds, as the synth relay into the 'chorus' of the song (more like Gahan going ooooh and mmmmm in front of the lyrics) flourishes throughout and fortunately doesn't overburden Gahan's singing voice, so maybe these guys were listening to me when I complained that they forgot how to equalize their voices. But like I said, this is perhaps the best song on this album.
2. Where's The Revolution? (4)
There has never been a more horrible choice of single in Depeche Mode's entire career, less a more horrible song than What's Your Name? from their debut. Barely anything from this song works, even Gahan's singing voice as it just sounds like he's playing the same vocal flourishes from In Chains as the little arpeggio bits don't even match properly from verse to chorus, as the lyrics just preach down at the listener about why they aren't fighting some vague revolution without explaining what rights they are fighting for or who they are fighting against. If Depeche Mode are going to be political with their music, set your sights on a fucking side, and stop riding the fucking fence. But they want me to believe that they are riding a train of movement somehow, based on the lyrics, but it's a neutral train with no fucking engine. The Revolution is subjective, buddies.
3. The Worst Crime (8)
I'm almost certain this particular line has been used in prior albums before, but my memory and the collection of songs from Depeche Mode so long that it doesn't really warrant concern. The Worst Crime is a weird slowdown song for it being the third song in the tracklist, but at least it isn't woefully boring. It's downcast, gritty acoustic strings and the synthetic hums give the song a really worn out western theme to it, as Gahan sings once again in politicized generalities, saying that readers are uneducated and such, but who is uneducated and what they don't know is all up to speculation, properly intentional so that any rebel rouser can use it for their subjective movement. For that, I do cut points for continually teetering on both sides, but I will keep it a 8 for it's clean and vibrant western theme and the eventual buildup of loud, abrasive cymbal crashes.
4. Scum (7)
DIE CIS! SJW Joking aside, Scum is a weird ensemble of jagged arpeggio bits and Gahan 'attempting' to rap over his voice being edited to sound ultra gritty, something that they haven't done since Ultra (ironically being 20 years apart from each other). It's a strange affair that for once the lyricists are the one that have to propel the song forward instead of the instrumentals, not to say that the instrumentals are a bit moving, it's just for me, it's way too jagged to really work for me.
5. You Move (6)
One of the few songs that have songwriting credits from both Gore and Gahan, but it doesn't really matter much considering that this song is basically 'I like your body, dance for me' after having four songs that were tangentially political. Gahan tries desperately to sound sensual over annoyingly poppy drum beats and EDM styled synth waves, as well as farty bass notes that makes the song feel unusually restrained on it's volume level, like they forgot to give their music some kind of ummph to it. For that, it's lower than Scum, for the instrumentals just being grating to listen to.
6. Cover Me (7)
As you remember from my review of Playing The Angel, Gahan made an agreement with Gore that he would have at least three songwriting credits, being the case since that album, and this album holds no exception, this being the first songwriting credit. To clarify, Gahan knows how to sell his own lyrics, but when you take away his singing ability, the lyrics fall apart in being nonsensical. For the first time in a long while, the opposite is true. Gahan can't sell his own lyrics now, but his lyrics are at least on a consistent point. As for the instrumentation, Cover Me feels like The Worst Crime without the subtle political slants, with it's acoustic and dreamy atmosphere at the start of the song, before the propulsion of Tron-themed arpeggio bits and weird cymbal crashes build up from the final array of lyrics. I will give DM credit for giving their songs a lot of progressive punch in this album, but I don't think it can save this song in particular from being any more than a 7.
7. Eternal (9)
This is perhaps the first time, in a long time, that a 'gore's time to shine' song actually won me over this time. After all the failures from before, Eternal decides to go with a melancholy theme reminiscent of One Caress, with a slight political theme (being in post apocalyptic radiation), sad and disturbing oboe flutes and eerie electronic keyboard flourishes as Martin almost seems to be giving his last lines before the radiation storm kills him off in a explosion of sound. This is perhaps Gore's most powerful gore's time to shine song since Home of all things, and it's short running time works in it's favor.
8. Poison Heart (7)
This song probably should've been called just 'Poison' since the person who has a Poison Heart also has a Poison Mind and other poisonous poison things. poison. Anyway, this is Gahan's second songwriting credit, and perhaps the second attempt that Gahan is tried to sell himself as a new age Johnny Cash, with twangy acoustic riffs with a dash of synthetic bits towards the chorus of the song. While it does give the song a bit of a sexual edge to it, it also makes the song kind of boring on the majority of the length, as all we have to keep us moving is Gahan's baritome throughout. At least this song both keeps it's theme consistent and does the Gahan can sell lyrics part as well.
9. So Much Love (6)
Excuse me, but is there ANYTHING else from this dead horse that DM haven't beaten out of already? Strangelove, Freelove, I Feel Loved, So Much Love, SO MUCH FUCKING LOVE HOLY SHIT. But even disregarding that, this song seems to have some quality issues reminiscent of You Move, as the instrumentals sound like they are bouncing off the studio in really bad ways, the instrumentals of which being overbearing 128BPM electronic drums and the singer's breaking through parts of the song in really annoying ways that makes me beg the question of DM's production quality up to this point. The only thing that keeps this song even partially bearable is the hooky lyricism, which is quite surprising for a song that yet again delves into that fucking black hole of love.
10. Poorman (8)
Hello? Spirit Called. They want you to go back to being political. OK? Ok. so Poorman is perhaps the only song, the only political song that actually hits on a specific, ableit cliche notion; corporations and the wealthy. yeah, it's basically 'we're poor and the rich get everything!' coming from three guys that with 30 years of albums probably still make more money in one fucking day than I will in an entire year of working, but that's an aside for me to be satisfied that they finally hit some kind of side on the political spectrum that isn't grey. Poorman slightly suffers from production quality issues like with So Much Love, as Gahan's voice sounds like it's breaking through the microphone, as well as parts of the beats, but to a lesser extent, and like with Poison Heart and The Worst Crime, has this slow and deliberate western aesthetic that makes the song sort of interesting to listen to.
11. No More (This is the Last Time) (6)
Gahan's final songwriting credit, and a song that somehow both teeters on being apolitical and aromantic, as Gahan talks about a lie being recylced and processed as truth, but in the perspective of another person instead of a vague entity like 'muh corporations'. As for the title, I guess it's a ok choice to put the subtitle in it, as the subtitle doesn't 'immediately' follow from the main title of the song, but they both fall in the end of the same stanza. But regardless, No More is sort of a nice near ending song to the album, with soft flutes, xylophone keys and drum bits here and there, but good luck trying to get excited listening.
12. Fail (6)
I know this doesn't sound that important, but this is the first time, THE VERY FIRST TIME, in Depeche Mode's ENTIRE CAREER, that they have cursed in the song, as Gore says 'we're fucked' at the end of a verse. I know, I curse like a fucking sailor, and I'm highlighting the importance of a band that has never said any curse apart from 'horny' if you can even consider that one. To a lesser extent, this song spoils the title of the album, although I don't think it's as important of a note as a song having the word 'spirit' is easier to do than say put a song that has 'Some Great Reward' in the lyrics. As for it's political nature, Gore is disappointed in that we didn't persevere the way that he wanted, whatever that's supposed to mean, considering how intentionally vague every political punch has been to this point, so now he's going to talk down to all of us about how we 'failed' as a human species, when Gore failed in even addressing just one political topic at all. Like, imagine if I made my Sweethearts project poem just completely full of vaguities to SJWs; people are going to ask where I draw the line on that? IN fact, I even have a poem called 'On The Fence' that talks about people being this intentionally vague so as not to be politically inclined. I've divulged a bit; the instrumentals are a combo of some sad accordance of instrumentals as well as the continued unnerving production quality (it must've really shat itself at the last few songs on this album) but it doesn't really have a biting punch compared to Gore's lyrics about how we failed him, like he's the moral arbitor of everybody or something. I guess it isn't too boring or too awful to listen to, I guess?
So that was Spirit, a 'political' album if you can call it that, where all it does it tackle the corporations for like one song and then just goes into obscure generality after obscure generality. I can say that it's a small, miniscule improvement over Delta Machine, as at least the songs have much more momentum and punch to them then before, but it's barely two steps up a long ladder of relevancy for Depeche Mode up to this point. I was almost convinced that Depeche Mode have just lost their way, but right now, they are just barely hanging on a thread of a pulse on society's issues. It would've been interesting to hear DM's opinions about Brexit, or SJWs, or BLM for that matter, instead of just riding the post but still wanting to convince everyone that they give a damn about you. I'd give this a 68/100, above from Delta Machine, but just one point shy of tying with A Broken Frame, and that's saying a lot more if you can't even beat what is arguably DM's worst early entries so far. I don't really know what DM are going to try to do to reinvigorate themselves this time, but if they want to do political punches, it's best not to pull them in favor of playing it safe. I guess 2021 will tell us of their next outing, if they are even alive to do another album at this point.
Listening to: A POORMAN
Reading: THE WORST CRIME
Watching: SO MUCH LOVE
Playing: YOU MOVE
Eating: POISON HEART
Drinking: SCUM DEW