by John Parks
Over the span of their 20-year career, Depeche Mode has given a dark synthesized voice to the disaffected youth of the planet.
On Exciter, their tenth studio album to date, we find the trio teaming up with Bjork producer Mark Bell. Their lexicon is the only feature that has remained constant: dresses, darkness, lost love and biblical imagery. What has changed is their sound. The music is more subtle and less anthem-like than ever before. Brooding keyboards are replaced by guitars and electronic blurps and beeps. The rhythms are more ethereal, with an underwater quality, while the drum machine has been greatly slowed down. Chief songwriter/lyricist Martin Gore's flirtations with gospel music are especially present in the choruses and tempos.
Interestingly, the main instrument on this recording is the voice of singer Dave Gahan. It is emotive, personal and varied. Gone is the detached, industrial quality that characterized much of the group's early work. (Ironically, Gahan's voice was destroyed by his long-term heroin abuse and has only been regained with the help of a vocal coach. On "When the Body Speaks" he achingly sings, "What the flesh requires keeps the heart imprisoned.")
Exciter will puzzle many fans on the first spin, but I'm certain it will endure. It appears that the members of Depeche Mode are growing more comfortable in their skins, but are definitely still searching for redemption. Gloom has never sounded so hopeful.