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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 3 November 2005
Although the reviews here are mostly mixed it would be true to say that even the best albums divide opinion. What Depeche Mode have achieved with Playing The Angel is another metamorphosis of their sound. The band constantly develops and this upsets some of their original fanbase but is crucial to their evolution and longevity. Playing The Angel manages to sound very Depeche Mode like but, simutaneously, completely fresh and unlike anything other music of the day. The basis, of course, is electronic sound which on this album is louder and dirtier than on recent records- somewhere beyond 1997's Ultra. It is to the band's credit that they retain their sound while working with different innovative producers on each project- in this case Ben Hillier who brings the music closest to the sound they achieved when Alan Wilder was still part of the band. The single, Precious, at first appears a rather tame melodic track but listen to it on headphones and it becomes evident that it has a hard basis of heavy electronica and is satisfyingly complex- it is a track that grows in stature with repeated listening. The first five tracks are driving, urgent and dirty and contain immediately appealing hooks and surprisingly savvy techno elements which even Underground Resistance purists would appreciate. The synthesisers could be from any period from 1982 to the present day and there is no band better at using them. I would say, though, that the album's core strength is the vocal arrangements. These have developed so much over the years and occasionally bring a deep soulfulness to the music- check out the Dave Gahan penned Suffer Well for an example. Playing The Angel may not appease everyone but it is encouragingly groundbreaking and modern, It shows no signs of the band's creativity abating- in fact they are scaling new heights. We should treasure Depeche Mode who offer real uniqueness among the blandness of modern British music and have been sorely underrated over the years compared with the likes of U2 (Who have borrowed heavily from Depeche Mode over the years). This is a very good album- here's to the next one!
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Quite how this perverse bunch of multi-millionaires got to headline stadiums across the US should baffle everyone. With their eleventh album, "Playing The Angel", Depeche Mode continue to mine the dark alley of spiritually confused pain and suffering with beats.

If it wasn't for the fact that Depeche Mode made some thirty or so chirpy perverse pop songs a decade or so ago, they could easily have fallen by the wayside, and be like The Human League, playing the Exeter Lemon Grove and free shows organised by Councils. If they'd never had hits, they would be at best, a backroom partime hobby for some bored office workers who like playing popstar four weeks a year, or at worst an obscure memory.

Faster, harder, and darker than anything they've ever done, "Playing The Angel" is a determinedly perverse beast. Sounding like the work of accountants brought up in the early Eighties with a penchant for suburban orgies and religious guilt, it's the soundtrack to a hundred traffic jam breakdowns, a thousand moments of commuter terror, and at least one mid-life crisis.

Familiar themes abound : "A Pain I'm Used To" sounds like the title of a parody of Depeche Mode, and follows the odd hybrid of bleeps, driving beats, and weird electronic blues that they've made their trademark. It growls and grinds and sounds like tyres screeching on rubber. And in the midst of it all, the band writhe as if they're almost enjoying it. As if, in this self-inflicted prison of guilt and sex, they have made it comfortable. And it sounds ace. In the way that a life made of old skool synths, minor chords, and a melancholy sense of hope can only be.

With not much in the way of progression (aside from a slight hastening of BPM's), it sees DM refining their template. "Precious", the lead single, is a stone dead classic that will probably be a highlight of their live shows and prove, somewhat oddly, that middle aged men can play the pop game with as much panache, and a lot more dignity than people half their age. Like the rest of the album, it's an understated exercise in streamlined techno melancholia that would sink undeservedly with a different name on the cover.

In the meantime, "Playing The Angel" is another Depeche Mode album. Demonstrating a more consistent quality of songwriting than previous albums, and a harder, darker, faster edge it may even be their best release in over a decade. As it says on the back "Pain and suffering in various tempos".
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on 17 October 2005
Having been a fan of DM for ages (since my introduction to them during my high school days back in the 1980s), it was good news to me when I heard about their intention to record a new album as afterall, it has been 4 years since their last effort. But on the other hand, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Their last few albums have had mixed reviews... 'Exciter', though a well-recorded album, was considered by many as being too experimental and lacking in Mode-styled, powerful dark-electro-dance tunes that have made them so popular... 'Ultra' contained some excellent tracks but was criticised for lacking uniformity and direction... 'Songs of Faith and Devotion' brought them to the height of their career but was a more rock-powered and less synth-laden experience. Although 'Songs of Faith and Devotion' and 'Ultra' are actually 2 of my favourite DM albums (despite some who hate them and prefer their older albums), I can't say the same for 'Exciter' as I did not particularly enjoy it when it was release, and up till today, I still feel that 'Exciter' is their weakest album to date. So, I was pretty worried about a similar sounding new album. But just a few seconds after putting the new CD into my CD player... listening to the griding industrial intro of 'A Pain That I'm Used To' and I thought... yes, definitely some potential here... and scrolling through quickly track-by-track, I wasn't disappointed. From a creative synthed-up adaptation of the traditional 'John the Relevator', to the classic Mode sounding 'Suffer Well', 'Precious' and 'Lilian', and the slower and darker tracks like 'I Want It All' and 'Damaged People', this new album does not disappoint. YES, they are definitely BACK! And most interestingly, we now have not only Martin's songs but Dave's as well. This is probably the album that will rebuild their reputation as one of the pioneers of synth-industrial pop, an album that reminds me very much of 'Violator' and 'Black Celebration'. Old fans who have given up, try this and you'll definitely forgive their past misadventures. And those from the younger generation who are unfamiliar with Depeche Mode, this is an album worth exploring if you love Nine Inch Nails. And those who love Marilyn Manson's 'Personal Jesus', also check out the aforementioned 'Violator'.
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on 14 November 2005
Unbelievably clever production. Distortion and dirty sound are used very, very effectively on this album, transforming relatively simple pop tunes into something much, much better, and contrasting crunchy, rough sounds (including a very effective "blown speaker" sound which made me panic for a moment) with pure tones and perfect clarity. If you've any interest at all in electronic music or music production it's a must-hear album.
If you've liked a couple of Depeche Mode tracks in the past, but generally prefer metal, industrial, or rock, buy this album and be converted. I was.
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on 20 October 2005
I have been a life long fan of "THE MODE" from my teenage years,what with the advent of the synthesizer and the ground breaking sounds they produce.
Here we have Depeche mode a band that have stood the test of time and with this album still prove to do so.Their music still as popular as ever.
Like all "MODE" fans I wait with anticipation when new material is released and I think this was worth that wait.The Album starts with the track "Pain that I am used to" which is a good excellent track then moves on to "john the revelator" which is one of my favourites Gahans vocals are superb as always.Apart from "Precious" which is very commercial,Other tracks that stand out are tracks:4,7,8+11 with only track 6 disappointing. On the whole this Album suceeds where Exciter bitterly disappointed and is well worth the investment.Welcome back "Depeche Mode"
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After a reasonably fallow (by their high standards) period between 1997 and 2004, Depeche Mode have produced their most affecting and accomplished album in a decade. With their late Eighties/early Nineties industrial synth sound cranked up to eleven, and Dave Gahan's voice oozing invigorated passion after his solo album side-project, Playing the Angel retains all the best elements of la Mode whilst simultaneously broadening their canvas to encompass more depth and greater vibrancy.
Standout tracks are the urgent John the Revelator - a snarling danceable slice of Martin Gore mastery, Suffer Well - the nearest thing here to a 'classic' DM single in the mould of their Violator phase, and Precious; plaintive yet powerful, and a track that easily bears an infinite number of repeated listenings.
This album stands shoulder to shoulder with the best from the Basildon three-piece, and serves as a timely reminder of why British music is the best in the world.
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on 18 October 2005
Its been a long time coming, I was gobsmacked by 'violator' and was amazed by 'Songs of Faith and Devotion' and 'Ultra' had its moments, and i personally thought 'Exciter' was a decline from the previous. But a sigh of relief when I heard David's 'Paper Monsters'. Which i though was the demise of dm. But along comes this gem, and I was in two minds after hearing 'Exciter'. But Soon as I heard the first three tracks I was once again hooked into the depeche mode fever that swept the country over the 'Masses' and 'Violator' period. It is straight from that erea and being close to being depeche mode's best album to date. Total concentration and time has been taken to record this and every note is a high point in the bands long career.
Don't think twice about buying it, it is worth every penny and some.
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on 2 October 2005
When Depeche Mode dissapeared in the 90s I feared they would never release a new album and I think I can all say we were all blown away by Ultra, which many consider to be DM's top 3 albums of all time easily.
Then I questioned DM's ability to survive after I heard the mixed bag that was known as Exciter, it was DM, but it was a bit too dancy.
Then David Gahan releases his solo album and I truly feared DM might stop playing as a band.
Well true synthpop fans rejoice, everything you liked about Ultra is back again, 'Playing the Angel' is a very mature and complex album. The beats are interesting and the singing is rich, if you like DM at all, this is an album to buy. Every song is really good (no particular song is their best ever, but they're all really good!). The synth work can be very dark and slow and sometimes touches on the complex styles of IDM (without the dancy aspects).
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on 6 November 2005
There are umpteen good reviews of this album, and one bad one. I too am a hi fi buff blessed with a superb system. Trust me on this one, this album sounds brilliant. The tracks have great melody and depth. Its just so very, very, good. If you like pop electronica that you can almost dance to, then you will love this record. One of the best releases this year.
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#1 HALL OF FAMEon 19 October 2005
'playing the angel' is everything a longtime Mode-fan could have wished for; 1997's 'Ultra' was inconsistent, while 2001's 'Exciter' had a great production, but was lacking in both arrangements and songwriting. It seemed the Mode were having problems without Alan Wilder, though there were decent songs amid the filler: 'Surrender', 'It's No Good','Home','Sweetest Condition','I Feel Loved', 'The Love Thieves'...
It's very possible 'playing the angel' will become a 5-star chestnut, I guess I'll have to get to know it better...having listened to it several times this week, I'm feeling good about it! The best Mode LP since 'Violator', to which it's a relative - I like 'Songs of Faith & Devotion', but the mix/production (somewhere between 'Achtung Baby' and grunge) never worked for me. 'John the Revelator' here shows how 'SOFAD' should have sounded. The excellent 'Exciter'-tour, Fletch's record-label and the solo-releases by Gahan and Gore have rejuvinated the band - producer Ben Hillier (Doves, Elbow) was a wise choice. The Mode don't need the $$$£££, they could just release another best of and tour Greatest Hits...but clearly they wanted to deliver...
The Mode still stand out, a lot of their peers aren't as exciting - REM hobble on, U2 have regressed to their 80s-sound, Madonna is forever fashionably patchy, The Human League did a not bad LP few bought, Simple Minds sound like 'Midnight to Midnight' Psychedelic Furs, Soft Cell made a so-so return, Echo & the Bunnymen are half the band they used to be, & New Order are as undependable as ever! There are a few examples of acts from that era still making decent records - the last Cure album was great, David Sylvian's Nine Horses-project is excellent, and Kate Bush is always welcome in my house! The Mode have made an album that was worth the effort, as good as it could be, and one that sounds fine against recent releases by Goldfrapp, The Killers, The Bravery & Moby...
The album? - well I have to get to know the songs better, but the songs that stand out at present are 'the sinner in me', upcoming single 'a pain that i'm used to', 'John the Revelator' (based on an old blues song, so continuing that line back to 'Personal Jesus', 'I Feel You' & 'Dream On': Robert Johnson vs. Kraftwerk). Single 'Precious' balances the anthemic with electronic subtlety, and Gahan's co-compositions are better than those on his solo album that didn't appeal much the time I listened to it. Gore's lead vocals on 'macro' and 'damaged people' are excellent and his best leads on a Mode LP since 'SOFAD.'
'playing the angel' is Martin Gore's 'Blood on the Tracks', like Dylan's famous LP and Sylvian's 'Blemish' it reacts to divorce. Pain has always been part of the Mode's world I suppose. A highlight of 2005...
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