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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Depeche Mode

Playing the Angel

Review by Gary Hill

I remember back in the day being dragged kicking and screaming into liking Depeche Mode. The thing that was such a problem wasn’t the music. It was the fans. So many people who were in love with this band had very closed minded attitudes about who was and was not cool – and what types of individual expression were allowed and disallowed. The Depeche Mode fans really turned me away – and I think they liked the fact that they created a separate clique. Well, I found that despite that bias, Depeche Mode were a great band. They’ve had a lot more longevity than many of the other groups in their particular style – and frankly, they’ve been more willing to stretch and try new things. This disc finds the group both experimenting and reinventing and grounding with their old sound. It’s a strong album and has one track that might be the best one they’ve ever done.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 5 at

Track by Track Review
A Pain That I'm Used To
Noisy keyboards open this in rather abrasive way. That holds it for a bit, but then drops away. More standard Depeche Mode type sounds come in from there. This is classic DM in so many ways. While I wouldn't consider this a modernization, it fits in modern times. That noisy keyboard does return later. This works well as an opener, letting the listener know that this is going to be a familiar Depeche Mode experience.
John The Revelator
This one’s more consistently hard rocking with an almost techno texture to a lot of it, yet it’s still very much in keeping with the classic Depeche Mode sound.
Suffer Well
Much of this song is along the lines of what we typically would expect from Depeche Mode, but there’s an almost lounge lizard like chorus and some space rock built into this. At times there are hints of progressive rock. I like this one a lot. 
The Sinner In Me
This is moody and has moments that come close to electronica. There are some stripped down, rather atmospheric portions, too. It’s a cool piece of music, but not really a standout.
A slow, danceable and moody piece, this is very much in keeping with old school Depeche Mode. It’s one of the most accessible pieces here. 
There’s a little bit of that lounge sound on this track, too. It’s moody and pretty mellow. I’m not overly crazy about it, but the chorus is catchy. 
I Want It All
Sound effects, rhythmic elements, textures and other items make up the backdrop of this moody number. It’s one of the most sedate pieces on the set, but also quite strong. 
Nothing's Impossible
For my money this is the best track on the set. It might be the best track the band have ever done. The powerful emotional textures are just plain incredible. In many ways it doesn’t differ all that much from a lot of the rest of the music here. It’s just so much more successful. I love the contrast between the moody texture of the music and the optimism of the lyrics.  By itself this one’s worth the price of admission. 
This is just a short instrumental. I’d put forth that bands like Porcupine Tree have as much in common with this type of music as they do with progressive rock – or perhaps this is progressive rock?
Damaged People
Moody and darkly pretty, this has a lot in common with some modern progressive rock, too. It’s another highlight of the set.
A rather catchy, but still moody piece of music, this is tasty, but perhaps not a standout.
The Darkest Star
Another moody piece, this is a bit more electronic in nature. It’s a good track, but I’m not sure I would have ended the album with it.
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