Depeche Mode Are Reborn on 'Memento Mori'
Published Mar 27, 2023Depeche Mode's greatest strength may be their resiliency amid chaos. Over the past 42 years, it's been that ability to pivot that's kept them afloat, relevant, and stable. The departure of their initial chief songwriter, Vince Clarke, led the burgeoning group to abandon their carbonated synthpop foundations for a more goth-draped sound that defined their finest work. Their second sonic migration came as 1997's Ultra — released in the aftermath of Alan Wilder's retreat from the band and Dave Gahan's near-death experience — became an instant post-grunge classic.
This is why it's no surprise that Memento Mori, recorded after the sudden death of founding member Andy Fletcher, stands as Depeche Mode's finest work in 26 years. On their 15th full-length, first in six years, and first as a duo, Gahan and Martin L. Gore channel grief and flux into a collection of spacious, stripped-down numbers that are nearly Kraftwerkian in their execution. Conceived during the pandemic but not recorded until after Fletcher's passing, the album's 12 tracks trade sonic richness for stark moodiness and partisan interpretations for heartfelt narratives.
Not only does sentiment drip from Gore's lyrics, but tracks like the jittery, angular "Caroline's Monkey" and the austerity of album closer "Speak to Me" foster worlds of aural emotion before Gahan aches out a single word. Remarkably, Memento Mori comes off more insular than its liner notes might suggest, as the duo were joined by a slew of co-writers. This includes producer James Ford, programmer Marta Salogni, touring members Peter Gordeno and Christian Eigner, and Psychedelic Furs leader Richard Butler (who contributes to a third of the LP).
Although it's unclear the extent of Fletcher's studio contributions while in the band (he's the only member to have never received a writing credit), the LP is nonetheless missing the synth-bass that defined tracks like "Everything Counts" or "Policy of Truth." Instead, tracks like gloomy opener "My Cosmos is Mine" and the churning "My Favourite Stranger" replace cascading low end with popping IDM drum beats and rhythmic noise bursts. Bringing back producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Gorillaz) helps provide a sort of widescreen view to skeletal tracks like grinding single "Ghosts Again" and the kosmische musik inspired "People Are Good."
Gore's sole turn at the mic, the syrupy "Soul with Me" is understandably/unforgivingly histrionic in the most British manner. However, Gahan delivers some of the most moving performances of his career as he adds to the panache of the orchestral swirls of "Don't Say You Love Me" and simultaneously comes off jilted and lusty on "Never Let Me Go." Memento mori has a literal translation to "remember you must die." On Memento Mori, Depeche Mode turn this philosophical reminder into a beautiful, raw and passionate rebirth. (Columbia)