Depeche Mode – Memento Mori

A fascinating late-career high...

As he was a constant throughout their prolific career, the passing of Andy Fletcher back in May 2022 could have marked the end of Depeche Mode. The dual-frontmen of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore had often clashed both personally and creatively, with both men putting out their own projects outside of the band in recent years. Despite his sudden death, Depeche Mode – now a duo – have released ‘Memento Mori’, their fifteenth studio album.

Death and love sprinkled with politics isn’t exactly new songwriting fare for the band, but the real-life context of Fletcher’s death permeates the new record, embedded into its texture, with mournful, crushing synths throughout. ‘My Cosmos Is Mine’ is heavy and haunting, with the echo of Gahan’s voice overpowering synths with ease as usual. From the outset, death is tackled head-on – Gahan moans, “No final breaths, no senseless deaths”.

‘Wagging Tongue’ and single ‘Ghosts Again’ are more upbeat, the latter being one of the album’s strongest cuts, with earworm synth riffs and effortless backing from Gore. He leads ‘Soul With Me’, a somewhat mixed bag: vocally transcendent as always in the verses, but his voice is drowned in the overproduced chorus. Unfortunately this track does not rank highly compared to his other lead performances across the band’s discography, though beating out the likes of ‘Somebody’ from ‘Some Great Reward’ or ‘Question Of Lust’ from ‘Black Celebration’ would be a near impossible feat.

Perhaps the most reminiscent of ‘Violator’ is ‘Before We Drown’, with its mix of organic string sampling and colder synth drums making it feel like a lost track from the era, Gore’s echoing of Gahan at the edge of lines strengthening this and tracing the outline of some of their greatest hits. The likes of ‘People Are Good’ does not compare to the innovation of the similarly named 1984 masterpiece ‘People Are People’, however, with its reliance on simple synths and catchy yet straightforward songwriting standing out in an album of complex compositions.

Though not at the level of his powerhouse tones of the eighties and nineties, Gahan is consistently impressive throughout ‘Memento Mori’. The previously mentioned ‘Ghosts Again’ is on the softer side, almost crooning at times, but the penultimate track ‘Never Let Me Go’ is a show of passion, with Gahan ripping through the track at breakneck speed, a rockstar over the guitar-like synths.

Fans of Depeche Mode can be happy to receive the band’s best offering of this century (though don’t get it twisted, ‘Playing The Angel’ is still a great record) but it’s unlikely they’ll change the minds of non-listeners, as foolish as such people are. The same ground is tread here, just in new shoes.

8/10

Words: Jack Oxford

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6mL52cZmaM
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