Wednesday, April 11, 2001

ALBUM REVIEW: Depeche Mode - Exciter

Short version: BUY THIS ALBUM.

It's been a few years since Depeche Mode has given us a full-length album of new material. I was, um, excited when I heard about Exciter. David Gahan and Martin Gore are two of my pop music heroes, Gore for managing to come up with such great pop tunes time after time and Gahan for having a great voice and (this is key) pretty much the exact same vocal range as me, meaning I can sing along with them without having to drop down an octave or sing in a horribly reedy falsetto. (The exception is "Shake The Disease", where the chorus goes up to something like F# or G and always leaves me pouting in the dust. One day I will sing that full voice. Oh yes, I will...) Because of this, it was going to be very easy for them to please me with this album. What I was not prepared for was to be absolutely, completely blown away.

I will say without hesitation that Exciter is one of the strongest Depeche Mode albums in their discography. Gore has methodically expanded his songwriting style with each album since Violator. This album shows him firing on every creative cylinder. The chord progressions, melodies, harmonies, and arrangements are uniformly stellar. The album swerves smoothly from fuzzbox snarl ("Dead Of Night") to etherial acoustic guitar ("Dream On") to shimmering psychotropic burble-pop ("Comatose") to lyricless dream-dub ("Lovetheme") to dancefloor doom-stomp ("I Feel Loved") without feeling artificial or forced. These songs all have very distinct flavors, yet each one grows out of a mood set by the piece before it. It's very difficult to imagine these songs on any other album or even in any other order.

Gahan and Gore both invest a lot into the album emotionally. Gahan has loosened up quite a bit since the chilly pre-Violator days, displaying disdain, pleading, seduction, loss, and beauty where appropriate. The real revelation, though, is Gore. His singing has always been very pretty, but also very controlled, almost as if he wrote all of his emotion into the melody and was content to rely on the notes to put across his emotion (notable examples being "A Question Of Lust" and "Blue Dress"). On "Goodnight Lovers", the robotic pose is completely thrown away, leaving a vulnerable Martin to bare his soul to an unrequited love. It's a marvelous effect that makes this an outstanding song. (The perfect backing vocals are merely icing.)

Another notable thing is how warm this album sounds. Most of the synth settings used are very rounded, mellowed sounds that lend an inviting, intimate tone to much of the album. This is yet another trend that the group has pursued since Violator, an album which can now be clearly seen as a creative turning point for the band which allowed them to venture out of the "chilly 80's synth-based dance-pop" box. Gone are the one-note melodies and two-steps-above-Casio-preset drum programming that endeared them to a generation of alienated teens. Their latest effort distills the flashes of pure musical brilliance that have popped up throughout their career ("Somebody", "Strangelove", "Waiting For The Night", "Shouldn't Have Done That", "Shake The Disease", "Sacred", "Home", "Higher Love") into something amazing. Songs Of Faith And Devotion and Ultra aspired to this, but had their missteps. This one is perfect. Once May 15 rolls around (May 14 in the UK), I expect to see you all in the stores, cash in one hand and Exciter in the other.