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Depeche Mode - Exciter Print E-mail
Tuesday, 15 May 2001

Depeche Mode
format: CD
label: Mute/Reprise Records
release year: 2001
performance: 7
sound 8
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

ImageWhen Dave Gahan sings, "What the flesh requires/Keeps the heart imprisoned" in "When The Body Speaks" on Depeche Mode's new "Exciter" album, one is tempted to whisper, 'Here we go again; here comes the Betty Ford-speak.'
Remember that Gahan nearly succumbed to a cliché rock death on account of his heroin addiction only recently, and music-as-therapy is now just about as common as those overly familiar party-hearty anthems which, ironically enough, chronicle the kinds of behaviors that put Gahan into his chemical dilemma in the first place.

But Gahan throws us a curve when he later sings, "I'm just a slave here/At the mercy/Of a girl." It's not a kiss-off to drugs song after all, but a simple romantic ode instead. Who’d’a thunk it?

It's also a gently moving composition. Rather than relying on Depeche Mode's regular synth orchestra, this ballad is built around a heart-beating bass line, aided by a small chorus of strings arranged by Knox Chandler, who even plays a cello solo on it. Yep, those are real strings you're hearing.

Such mature sentiments might deceive you into believing Depeche Mode has finally grown up at last. But when they sing about being "the horniest boys" employing lecherous ploys upon "the easiest girls" in the drunkenly swaying synth buzz of "The Dead Of Night," you're soon returned to the reality that this trio is – no more and no less – a creepy but cute B-movie band. Even bad B-movies sometimes provide moments of guilty pleasure, and Depeche Mode can at times certainly behave like a small gang of smart little perverts.

Who else but the Mode would take the morbid metaphor of a coma, and turn it into a dreamy love song? Martin Gore's desperately angst-ridden vocals slither nicely over a backing of burping and tinkling keyboard effects on "Comatose."

With "I Feel Loved," a 4/4 synth bass line and jazz percussionist Airto Moreira update that familiar disco groove into the modern musical vernacular, bringing to mind a Gothic Donna Summer – strange bedfellows, indeed.

The lazy guitar and jazzy Gore vocal turn on "Breathe" makes it sound like a late-night Chris Isaak leftover.

"Goodnight Lovers" has Gahan backed by a swooning -up vocal chorus, like it's some sort of space-age Mills Brothers tune.

The fidelity of this recording is always crisp and clean. Depeche Mode are masters at highlighting the chilling moodiness of synth-based music, and "Exciter" provides plenty of reasons to respect their musical mastery of this niche realm. But it's the surprise usage of strings, percussion and even an occasional electric guitar that raises this project above just another predictable techno/synth pop exercise.

With "Exciter," Depeche Mode shows us that they still haven't completely shed their extended adolescence, or lost their affection for Eighties synth-pop. But it's their retro kinkiness, after all, that made us fall for them in the first place.

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