By guest blogger Ethan Guddal

Depeche Mode as a band has now been in existence for over 40 years old and just released their fifteenth album titled “Memento Mori” – meaning ‘remember that you [have to] die,’ – a concept that undoubtedly permeates throughout the album. When the lead single “Ghosts Again” was released over a month ago, I could see that the band (now a duo of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore) had dropped what seemed to be themes of anarchy and politics from their most recent album “Spirit” and reverted to the themes of death and romance. This makes sense considering the untimely demise of Andy Fletcher (a key member of Depeche Mode) in 2022.

The duo open up about themselves with the grief they’re dealing with. They go as far as also accepting the fact that they are next in line. Their lyrics hold a dark meaning even in relatively upbeat tracks such as “Ghosts Again”, wherein their effective use of a hook-laden synthesizer melody creates the imagery of an uplifting ascent up a mountain. “Heaven’s dreaming. Thoughtless thoughts, my friends. We know we’ll be ghosts again.” – one might be tricked into believing that the catchy synthpop of the album’s lead single is emblematic of the overall sound of “Memento Mori”. “My Cosmos is Mine”, the album’s second single, is a sonic and stylistic counterweight to “Ghosts Again” and is the first indication that the latter might be the album’s red herring. On this song, the duo goes back to a sound which feels like a combination of the “Songs of Faith and Devotion”and “Delta Machine” albums. “My Cosmos is Mine” opens up a tomb of haunting synths and sounds that symbolize death and demise. Someone who thinks he or she has the ability to hold the universe together is looking straight at you. On “Caroline’s Monkey”, it appears that a monkey is being used as a metaphor for a disease. The monkey yells at Caroline like a demon driving her to the brink of insanity. She incessantly struggles to keep up with the monkey. Right when she thinks that she is on the verge of a breakthrough, the monkey hurls a new curveball to hurt her with.

The album begins to lose steam in the middle. “My Favourite Stranger” sounds just like something on the band’s “Playing the Angel” album. Similarly, “Before We Drown” does not do anything for me. But then there is “Soul With Me” (featuring Martin Gore on vocals) – a highlight I found very interesting because the verses sound like those of a guitar ballad well-suited to the soundtrack of an 80s or 90s romantic movie with a tragic ending. While the lyrics still talk about the same topic as the rest of the album does, the song represents a welcome change of pace. “Always You” is another highlight where the rhythmic chorus with the high notes Dave Gahan hits is ear-candy.

The album ends with its most significant highlight (besides the singles) with “Speak to Me”. The song showcases the subtle fear of disappointment, losing sight of where to go with yourself, and acceptance. It feels like a conversation with God about how to move on. Asking where his signs are, Dave Gahan sings the following:

Speak to me, in a language. That I can understand.
Tell me, that you’re listening. Give me some kind of plan.
I will disappoint you. I will let you down. I need to know.
You’re here with me.

A side note I want to point out is that I wonder if this album was also meant to be the band’s swan song. There are so many subtle references (intentional or not) relating to their previous work. Ignoring the fact that the name is very similar to “Never Let Me Down Again” (from the “Music from the Masses” album), “Never Let Me Go” sounds like the opening to their 1987 single “Behind the Wheel”. “People Are Good” uses sounds that are very similar to used in “Some Great Reward”. Of course, the name is also very similar to that of the band’s hit single “People Are People” too. It also uses the opening distorted guitar that is used in “I Feel You” from the “Songs of Faith and Devotion” album. This all might be a stretch but I figured it might be an interesting detail to share.

Memento Mori is an apt title for the album. The band dealt with their share of drama within the band, suffered addictions, near-death experiences, and the unexpected loss of band member Andy Fletcher. But instead of looking at the phrase in a negative light, lead vocalist Gahan states that we should think of this in a positive way. Yes, we are all going to die one day. But as cheesy as it sounds, we should use that as motivation to live life to the fullest. This album is not a collection of catchy tunes in the vein of albums such as “Violator” or “Music for the Masses” (the two albums with some of the band’s most potent radio fodder). That being said, this album definitely does carry itself in Depeche Mode’s discography.

Here is a full-length video of “Ghosts Again”:

STAR RATING: 4 out of 5 stars


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