Who would have thought the follow-up to Björk’s Homogenic would come in the form of a Depeche Mode album? Producer Mark Bell successfully recaptures the sonic heights of his work with the Icelandic singer while effectively preserving Martin Gore’s guitar rock sensibility and Dave Gahan’s distinct vocal, never once permeating the band’s signature sound. Depeche Mode’s first studio release in four years, Exciter, revisits the band’s synth-pop roots with co-founder Vince Clarke (tracks like “Breathe” and “Goodnight Lovers” even recall Erasure’s recent foray into pop-tronica) as well as the pop/rock of 1990’s Violator. The industrial-strength “The Dead of Night,” reminiscent of “Personal Jesus,” was perhaps inspired by a recent visit to one of NYC’s now-defunct superclubs: “We are the dead of night/We’re in the zombie room/We’re twilight’s parasites.” Lead single “Dream On” warns of the subsequent karmic debts amid impeccably positioned acoustic guitar loops and spliced up beats: “What you take won’t kill you/But careful what you’re giving.” Gore’s lyrics lament the darkness of desire; an ambiguous woman induces “disabilities of the strangest kind” in “The Sweetest Condition” and she’s got him “slipping in and sliding out of conscious feeling” in “Comatose,” a track that pulses with the life of said lust. Similarly, the haunting “When the Body Speaks” explores the delicate, co-dependent balance of the body, mind, soul and wanton desire (“Oh, I pray too much,” Gahan sings deeply over a lulling guitar and fragile strings). The band doesn’t fully abandon organic instrumentation but, rather, weaves it throughout Bell’s bristling drum programming and pitched-up basslines, creating a startlingly minimalist backdrop for obsessive love.
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