Depeche Mode - Exciter
For me, the wait for a new Depeche Mode album is always an exciting time. Since my childhood they have been a constant, a band that I always loved. Each new album brought its own delights and without fail got me rummaging around in my cupboards for the back catalogue. But nothing could have prepared me for the crashing disappointment that was “Exciter”.
Exciter was produced by the band and LFO's Mark Bell. Sporting a sparser, acoustic guitar and electronic based sound, it sounds very different to Ultra’s scuzzy beats and hoarse vocals. “Songs of Faith and Devotion” sounds like an entirely different band. The songs do blur into each other, with only a couple really standing out amid the mush and the gentle arrangements. In brief, the album is just boring. Even the cover is dull – what looks like a dab of handcream dolloped on a few trainer insoles. If the artwork is that uninspiring, what hope for the music.
Don’t get me wrong, I tried to like this record. When the lead single “Dream On” was released, I thought it was alright, nothing special but I quite liked the fiddly guitar and was willing to overlook the appalling lyrics (lets be honest, you have to if you are a Depeche fan). Late one night in bed I heard “Freelove” on XFM’s Exposure show, and again tried my best to like it. “It’ll grow on me” I thought, “I’ve only heard two songs, I’m sure it will be ok. They’re just in a slump. They’ll be great again!”. And the album came, and I hated it. Had it been by another artist, I would have Ebay’d it immediately. I merely kept it to complete the collection. Sickenly, for the same reason, I even bought singles I hated for the b-sides, which I hated also. The album remains on the shelf. I have never managed to listen to it in one sitting, only in chunks when I could tolerate it.
For this review then, I had to make myself listen to it a couple of times in its entirety. This called for drastic measures. I tried listening to it at home but kept on giving up. I tried on my MP3 player and kept on skipping to something else. So what I had to do was record it onto a cassette, blow the cobwebs off my old walkman, and go for a long walk with nothing else to listen to. Then, and only then, did I actually listen to Exciter in one, continuous go.
What I heard was a hugely disjointed album. To call this “Exciter” must be some sort of cruel joke, as it is the least exciting album you can imagine. Only a couple of the songs here even attempt to raise the pulse rate, most just drifting aimlessly along with little if any sparkle. So when they do attempt to up the tempo, on “I Feel Love” for example, it sounds so wildly out of place amid the ponderous and turgid.
“I Feel Love” is actually a pretty good song. Keyboards howl and whine and it does show some invention, but stripped down, it is just a slightly fancier “Just Can’t Get Enough” – 1981 Depeche Mode with a modern studio at their disposal. “Dead of Night” is also an interesting song, with a cool vocal by Gahan, but has some awful words, the drop out in the chorus crass and disjointed. “Freelove” also has some terrible words, just sounding creepy as keyboards beep and boop and go nowhere.
However, the truly terrible lyrics, the real limit, are saved for “Breathe”, words so staggering bad I can hardly believe it. The last verse in particular, with all its “I heard it from Peter, who heard it from Paul” nonsense. Its absolute tripe, but not even the worst song on the album. That accolade goes to “Goodnight Lovers”, which I absolutely detest. I almost fell out of my chair when I discovered on the internet that they are closing their 2005/2006 gigs with this appalling song. I guess this must put me out of step with most other Depeche Mode fans, or else they wouldn’t be playing it, but I hate this song and think it is the worst they have ever written. And I’m including “Photograph of You” and “Boy’s Say Go!” in this - it’s that bad. A feeble attempts at a mix between gospel and soul that falls flat and…well, I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
For this, and other reasons, I was the happiest Depeche fan in town when “Playing the Angel” was released. For their career to have ended on this would have been a huge shame. There are two or three songs on here that are passable, but on the whole, this is a miserable excuse for an album.
COMING SOON - reviews of the reissued albums will appear on CDtimes shortly.
And yes, I won't be able to help myself and will probably get the new version of Exciter...