Stabilizing at a good, but not great, level, the first disturbing and aggressive seconds give you a somewhat wrong impression. It's back to basic, but DM is treading water with rather average melodies. Best songs are "Precious" and "The Darkest Star".
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!
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".
This album represents a welcome return to form by the boys from Basildon. The follow up to 2001's largely disappointing 'Exciter', it features Dave Gahan on songwriting duties for the first time, contributing a couple of fine tracks, with the catchy 'Suffer Well' a potential single. Martin Gore's songs shine here, and will pull you in totally after the benefit of 2 or 3 listens. Fans will be pleased to hear the band in familiar territory with the lyrical themes of the music, and the majority will be even more pleased to know that they have returned to doing what they do best, using synthesisers to build interesting and rich soundscapes. Having said that, and despite the classic-mode sound of the excellent single release, 'Precious' there is a new feel to the sound. It's not radical, but it serves to make this offering feel fresh and not just a rehash of old material. A number of tracks are pushing towards Nine Inch Nails territory (which is no bad thing in my opinion, especially as early NIN borrowed heavily from DM) with the industrial feel and sound. However, the underlying melody and pop sensibility of the songs will make them much more accessibe. Of course, as you would expect with a DM album, the songs are mainly about emotional pain and suffering, although there is always just enough optimism weaved into the fabric of them to stop the listener from feeling totally devoid of hope. And I guess they wouldn't want it any other way! It's unlikely (though not impossible) that this album will rival Violator or Black Celebration as the band's two finest, but it may finish up a close third, and is definitely their best and most consistent post Alan Wilder effort.
Having bought 'Playing the Angel' last week I was surprised to find that on first listening the album sounded remarkebly similar to their earlier albums including 'Violator'. But with repeated listening the album has simply grown on me immensely. It is a dark album but not as dark as 'Black Celebration'. Gahan and folks seem to tap into the subconsious with a number of songs including 'Damaged People' and 'The Darkest Star'. The many innovative musical ideas stick in the mind and many of the songs could quite easily be James Bond soundtracks. That is not to say that the album is commercial but represents yet again the sogwriting ability and talent of this group. What I like most about the album is its overall colour and atmosphere. Many of the chords, progressions and riffs are so delicious which has always been a trademark of Depeche Mode. Coupled with Gahan's superb vocals this makes for an album which I believe will become a classic in years to come. I may also mention it in the same breath as Radiohead's 'OK Computer'.