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DEPECHE MODE - Playing The Angel   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Monday, 17 October 2005
"Pain and suffering in various tempos."


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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