Documentary Evidence 2017 Top 10 Albums: 6. Depeche Mode ‘Spirit’

“Not an album to listen to if you are remotely worried about the state of the world right now… The kind of album that is necessary for shining a light on our basest traits and for encouraging us to think differently all over again; in that sense, for the first time in a long time, Depeche Mode have judged this just right.”
– Clash

Honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to get excited about Depeche Mode‘s Spirit album. Partly it was because it was billed as being political, and I’m not an outwardly political person and nor do I especially gravitate toward albums with obvious political content. I was asked by Clash to write a piece explaining that Depeche Mode had always been political on some level, which seemed like utter nonsense until I started writing it. That piece can be found here; I won’t rehash it again but it’s a piece of mature analysis that I am particularly proud of.

‘Where’s The Revolution?’ did nothing for me when it was released, and I didn’t hold out much hope for the album. Being political had become trendy, with bands using music as a platform to make a political point, and I couldn’t get on board with it at all. But spending time with the album to write a review, also for Clash, unlocked something that I hadn’t especially expected to find.

My earliest drafts for the review were uniformly negative. I couldn’t reconcile lyrics about impoverished members of society with a band whose members variously live in Manhattan apartments and Californian mansions; it somehow seemed hypocritical on a very obvious level. But as I spent time time with Spirit I began to hear parallels with a very different album – Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On – and a certain similarity of poise began to emerge, especially in Martin Gore‘s lyrics for ‘Fail’ at the very end of the album.

Spirit did much to allow me to reconcile issues that I didn’t even know I harboured toward Depeche Mode, a band that have been part of my life since my teens. Consequently, I’m convinced that when, in decades to come, writers like me are asked to assess Depeche Mode’s legacy, Spirit will stand out as the band’s surprising yet defining late period statement.

Listen to Spirithere.

My review for Clash can be found here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Depeche Mode – The O2 Arena, London 22.11.2017 – photos by Andy Sturmey

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(c) 2017 Andy Sturmey for Documentary Evidence & This Is Not Retro

People Are People – The Politics Of Depeche Mode (Clash feature, 2017)

“If ‘Where’s The RevolutIon?’ is any sort of bellwether of what Spirit will sound like, it suggests that Depeche Mode are ready to stop dealing in vagueness, the cryptic and the shrouded, and instead feel inclined to go for a more direct approach to the message they’re trying to get across.”

Clash, 2017

Ahead of the release of the new Depeche Mode album Spirit, I wrote a feature for Clash that explores the political messages within first single ‘Where’s The Revolution?’.

As a rule, I try to steer clear of politics if I can help it, but in the last twelve months that’s been pretty hard to do. And rightly so; to say we live in interesting times is a huge understatenent, and if there’s ever been a time to take notice of politics, amid the chaos and uncertainty in the wake of the votes against the status quo represented by Brexit and Donald Trump, now is most definitely that time.

Even so, this was a piece that I felt ill-equipped to write, until I got started. The piece was written in the second week of a fortnight spent working in the US, initially on the East Coast, then in the Mid-West, then from the East Coast ahead of returning to the UK, and maybe a sense of proximity to what’s going on over there allowed the piece to come together slightly easier. That and taking the opportunity to trawl back through the entire Depeche Mode catalogue in a bid to see whether the political dimension the band were showcasing with new single ‘Where’s The Revolution?’ was really that new after all.

My feature for Clash can be found here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

MG – Europa Hymn (Mute Records single, 2015) – Official Video

Mute Records today revealed the animated video for ‘Europa Hymn’, the first single taken from the forthcoming Martin Gore album MG which is released in April.

I had the great pleasure of getting to interview Martin earlier this month; that interview will be published online ahead of MG‘s release.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Depeche Mode Photo

Depeche Mode photoI was wandering through our Edinburgh office last month when I came upon this collage of Eighties celebrities, presumably as part of some sort of guilty pleasure thing. Depeche Mode and Carl from Neighbours anyone?

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Gwen Stefani – Wonderful World (Interscope, 2006)

Gwen Stefani 'The Sweet Escape' CD artwork

The Sweet Escape album | Interscope | 2006

Mute alumni Martin Gore and Richard Hawley appeared on this upbeat closer to Gwen Stefani’s The Sweet Escape, both adding their guitar talents to a song which sounds suspiciously like Stefani trying to cover Depeche Mode‘s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ via Black’s song of the same name. Hawley and Gore’s contributions are quiet and not exactly distinctive: Hawley seems to offer ruminative slide guitar wheras Gore’s playing seems to be the kind of simple but devastating melodies he’s made his own. Unfortunately, they’re both just drowned out by the garish high energy pop of this Linda Perry-penned tune.

First posted 2013; re-posted 2014.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Hope & Harrow – Sufferhead (Workhouse Digital single, 2013)

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workhouse digital | dl | 23/10/2013

After almost twenty-eight years, Pete Hope and Dave Harrow have decided the time is right for a follow up to their 1985 EP, also titled Sufferhead.

Vocalist Pete Hope is a stalwart of the Sheffield post-punk scene, which meant that some sort of collaboration with someone from Cabaret Voltaire was always a possibility – in Hope’s case it was working with Richard H. Kirk on the album Hoodoo Talk. Hope has also worked with Jono Podmore (Kumo, Metamono, Cyclopean) and in The Box with members of Clock DVA. As for Harrow, he has occupied a shadowy presence in the world of electronic music, working with Psychic TV, Adrian Sherwood’s venerable On-U institution (overseeing mixes for Depeche Mode, Mark Stewart and others), Anne Clark, Andy Weatherall and working as Technova and other aliases.

Some things are worth waiting for, as proven by this five-track EP. Sufferhead is an understated, assured release wherein electronics flutter and stalk with repetitious dark menace and vocals growl with thinly-concealed threat, anger and cynicism. Standout track ‘Revolution Train’ (see the clip below) is like an amalgam of everything Nitzer Ebb were trying to do around the time of Belief, only with more depth and attention to detail, while ‘Tongue Tied’ takes a crisp, jittery IDM pulse and adds in suggestive low-pitched spoken vocals that probably aren’t about getting your words muddled up. At opposite ends of the spectrum, ‘Sparticus’ might sound aggressive and disappointed by turns but it conceals a hidden sincerity, while the electronic dub of ‘Turn Up The Fuzz’ comes with a punkish social awareness suggesting that things are just as rubbish today as they were in the mid-Eighties.

Labelling this a comeback would be an insult; against a backdrop of electronic music regaining visibility with critically-acclaimed albums from bands and artists that have been treading the boards since the early Eighties, Sufferhead is a lot like a grenade being tossed casually into the fray, its impact proving categorically that much more interesting music is made just below the surface.

Sufferhead can be bought from Juno, Amazon or iTunes.

Thanks to Jono.

dl:
1. Perfect Rain
2. Tongue Tied
3. Revolution Train
4. Sparticus
5. Turn Up The Fuzz

First published 2013; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence