12 Songs, 52 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Nearly a quarter century after making their full-length debut, Depeche Mode achieve new levels of synth-pop nuance on 2005’s Playing the Angel. “Damaged People” explores gloomy themes of faith and mortality, with slow-building chords and chiming synths shining a new light compared to their ’80s hits. Singer Dave Gahan pushes for the stars on “Macro,” his voice riding high above smoldering, distorted textures, and “John the Revelator” transforms a traditional gospel song into bruising industrial pop.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Nearly a quarter century after making their full-length debut, Depeche Mode achieve new levels of synth-pop nuance on 2005’s Playing the Angel. “Damaged People” explores gloomy themes of faith and mortality, with slow-building chords and chiming synths shining a new light compared to their ’80s hits. Singer Dave Gahan pushes for the stars on “Macro,” his voice riding high above smoldering, distorted textures, and “John the Revelator” transforms a traditional gospel song into bruising industrial pop.

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Ratings and Reviews

4.4 out of 5
163 Ratings

163 Ratings

wal-marx ,

Is it worth it?

Hell yes, it is. Stop waiting around for a record better than Violater, it isn't out there. This is Depeche Mode now, not fifteen years ago, and they've made a fantastic record. The sounds are beautiful, there is a real edgy tension in everything, even the slower tracks, and Dave sounds amazing as ever. One does not find groups that stay relevant and challenging after so many years. DM does both, with authority, energy, and honesty. This sounds like the kind of record made by a band about to be huge, and that's almost unheard of after so much time and so much history.

By the way, Martin Gore remains one of the greatest songwriters of the past 25 years, period.

HerrDoktorZ ,

Better than Exciter, but what isn't?

As a hardcode DM fan since the age of 12 (the first CD I ever bought was "Construction Time Again"), I rate anything that was done with Alan Wilder as 5+ stars. I think the two albums released since his departure have gone steadily downhill. I had nearly given up all hope that they could ever rekindle their past glory. And then, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, they release "Precious"!
Hands down, this is one of the best DM songs ever recorded. The percolating
analog synth, the samples of metallic clanging, the lyrics about a failed relationship with brooding religious overtones...this is the stuff of classic DM!

My expectations for "Playing the Angel" were probably impossibly high, but
I am seriously underwhelmed. I would only give it two stars if I wasn't confident
that it will grow on me. Every other DM album has, I'm sure PTA will be no different.

I never thought that I could say this, but I think Martin Gore's obsession with
pain, suffering, and sardonic religious themes actually seems overdone on this album. It would have been nice to have at least ONE song about sex, nihlism, or lying just to break it up a bit :-) Many of the lyrics come off as stale and corny.
"John the Revelator" includes a line rhyming up "revelator", "elevator" and
"smooth operator"...*cringe* Anyone who grew up in the 80's would probably agree that the only valid excuse for such lyrical cheese is to intentionally inflict pain :-)

That being said, the highlights from PTA have to be "Suffer Well" and
"A Pain That I'm Used To". "Precious" is in a class by itelf, nothing
else quite compares. "The Sinner in Me" and "I Want it All" are evocative of
the more synth-driven tracks from SoFaD, and have strong growth potential.
Ironically, the most hopefull tracks, "Macro" and "Nothing's Impossible",
are actually the most lugubrious and tedious. The one instrumental track, "Introspectre", is a perfect example of how much musical complexity they have lost without Alan Wilder. Most notably, PTA lacks a high-energy
arena-rock song, practically a DM trademark. "John the Revelator" is probably supposed to fill this role, but I still can't cut through the aforementioned lyrical cheese.

Synethete ,

Essential Evolution -- Innovation Is Not Easy

It seems to me that both those who like this album and those who do not have valid points. My own view is that this album represents an essential step in the continuing evolution and maturation of the DM sound, even if it strikes a wrong chord every now and then. The one commenter with whom I could not disagree more is the person who said that, given that DM is producing fewer great songs per album, it may be time for them to hang it up. In my book just one great song like “Precious” merits a whole album in which the band’s sound evolves song-by-song. These guys are (still) doing the heavy lifting of musical innovation when we all know they could easily just churn out one pop hit after another if they were willing to settle for as little.

I agree with critics who complain that the sound canvas on this album is a little messy. The sound palette also seems a bit too treble. The same rich electronic instrumentation used in previous albums is present, but it’s often concealed by some of the electronic accents that have played an increasing role in DM’s music since MFTM. Compare “Precious”, with its clean, balanced sound to the buzzy and cluttered “Darkest Star” or the tinny, distorted sound of the refrain in “Pain That I’m Used to” and much of “Suffer Well”.

There is in DM’s music an inherent tension between the pop sensibility that puts them on the charts and the more avant guard tendencies that many of us long-time DM fans love. Their best albums, in my opinion, are those that satisfy both hankerings. That was, for example, why Black Celebration was such a success. They tried a similar quantum leap forward in sound in this album, but only with partial success; they’ll probably satisfy those with a taste for the avant guard more than they will those with pop sensibilities.

I do love “Precious”. Apart from the solid, balanced, melodic, singable sound, the lyrics in this song are among the best I’ve heard since Ultra (e.g., Love Thieves). “If God has a master plan, then only he understands. I hope it’s your eyes he’s seeing through.” Zingers like that are what make even the most “pop” of DM’s music vastly superior to much of what passes for popular music these days. It’s one of the reasons that it would be really sad if DM were to hang it up.

I do hope that, in future albums, they’ll keep the really sophisticated chord structure of songs like “I Want It All”, while employing a clean sound palette that is fully electronic but almost acoustically rich. I would use non-musical electronic sounds and distortion more sparingly. A lot of the treble in this album comes from these sorts of sounds – probably an effort to create an innovative sound. I would rather that this treble come from placing the vocalists closer to the mic and recording with a lot of high partials and presence, as was done, for example, in “Love Thieves” and “Sister of Night”. These guys have great voices, the full richness of which is apparent when they get close to the mic and aren’t competing with too much background electronica.

So, no, this album is not their best. But it’s definitely NOT the work of has-beens, just trying to profiteer on past success with another album just for loyalists. These guys are real musicians, still seeking the elusive blend of pop and avant guard that truly merits the name “alternative” and that satisfies those DM jones like nothing else can.

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