Review: Depeche Mode – Memento Mori

Artwork for Depeche Mode's 2023 album Memento Mori

A new era for Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan and Martin Gore.

The death of a band member can have all manner of different implications for those left behind.

In some cases, using clumsy phraseology, it can be just as terminal for them. Back on the horse, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore were almost ready to start recording Depeche Mode’s fifteenth album Memento Mori when they were told that co-founder Andy Fletcher had been found dead at his London home.

As both processed their grief, the former briefly considered whether he should carry on whilst the latter was determined that they would.

Fletcher’s musical contribution was, the pair have accepted, less than tangible, but he was the social glue that bound Depeche Mode together, even more so after the departure of Alan Wilder in 1995.

Rationalising, in the aftermath Gore knew that Depeche Mode had on their hands material with typically crepuscular themes but whatever the circumstances neither he or Gahan were satisfied with making wholesale changes.

Even with the fractious atmosphere which surrounded the making of 2017’s vaguely underwhelming Spirit, producer James Ford also returned to the fold, discovering that what would previously have led to passive-aggressive eruptions were now handled being with consideration.

As a result two Gahan compositions are included in the running order and credit is shared on a third, whilst Gore’s invitation to the Psychedelic Furs’ veteran Richard Butler to lay down some initial vocal work was accepted with good grace.

This is, all parties insist, not a maudlin record although there are a host of noirish references. Perhaps its whole ethos – and the creator’s joint mindsets – are best summed up on the lead-off single Ghosts Again, in tone a return to the elfin pop of the Depeche Mode’s early post-Vince Clarke days.

Over a restrained backdrop Gahan sings about fleeting time and the only certainty of life being its conclusion: ‘Heaven’s dreaming/thoughtless thoughts my friends/We know we’ll be ghosts again.’

By any standards with which to assess their catalogue it’s a modern Depeche Mode classic, on a par the singer has declared with Enjoy The Silence in terms of its relevance to how they do what they do. He is of course right.

There is also a sense that, despite everything, there is personal enjoyment here in a way that Spirit often lacked.

Full of Butler’s imagery, Don’t Say You Love Me drips with melodrama (try the opening couplet, ‘You be the killer/I’ll be the corpse’, for size) and finds Gahan bridging into comparisons with the flawed genius of Scott Walker, whilst on the Vegas cabaret of Soul With Me he plunges headfirst into the sleazy twilight world so beloved of Marc Almond.

These kitsch excursions were in the past left sidelined on all conquering releases like Violator, but here even at their most business like sounding on Never Let Me Go, Always You and Wagging Tongue, it’s very clear that nobody reckons they have anything left to prove.

The latter is the pair’s joint effort and, whilst scalding the anonymous killjoy, it also refers tangentially at least to another recent passing, that of former Screaming Tree and Soulsaver Mark Lanegan.

Finally there is the omnipresent former muse of narcotics. Caroline’s Monkey is an obvious tilt, but it’s the closer Speak To Me which deals with it less explicitly but with more power; grainy and epic, its words are hosed down with an addict’s honesty and show that subject craves for human connection still above all else.

Memento Mori is a powerful requiem, one choreographed by a band who’ve defined music’s business as unusual for over four decades.

Someone somewhere is probably smiling.

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