Depeche Mode: "Heaven"
By Christopher Alexander | 1 February 2013
Man, Violator (1990) is so good. Man, every Depeche Mode album since then is so bad.
“This Piece of Shit” “Heaven” inaugurates the band’s third decade of activity, and their second of basic irrelevance. There have been worse sob stories in rock ‘n’ roll debauchery than Dave Gahan, who sacrificed his voice, career, and bandmates to become, for a hot minute in 1994, Al Jourgensen. This gained the band some marginal credibility in the industrial/rock/”smart techno” cognoscenti (and Gahan a Los Angelino overdose), but they lost their sense of direction utterly when Alan Wilder, the band’s arranger and the sole natural musician, departed after that tour. So now, in 2013, Depeche Mode follow a dependable schedule: release a disposable album every five years, follow it with a monster international arena tour, keep Anton Corbijn’s mum on the Christmas card list. Their legacy (if not their setlist) relies on a back catalog of several great-if-inessential ’80s albums and one best-of-genre masterpiece. They are, finally, the goth Def Leppard.
It’s frustrating to see. The band never lost their excellent visual and sonic sensibility. All of the bands’ singles and records sound gorgeous, even hip. The problem is they also sound airless and soporific. Songwriter Martin Gore retained that characteristic unnerving sense of melody—snoozers like “Wrong,” “John the Revelator,” and (whatever that song about the zombie room is called) all feature the same tense chromatic steps and big choruses leaping up from nowhere that marked early triumphs like “Enjoy the Silence,” “Halo,” and “Behind the Wheel.” But without Wilder, he has no idea where they should go, how they should develop, where the pieces should lay. So it is with “Heaven,” where a creepy and descending musical bed is defanged immediately by an ill-fitting swing-set melody. It could be that Gore isn’t sure what to do with Gahan, either. The singer’s voice still bears the scarring from stadium tours fueled by booze and heroin. The nuance of “Blasphemous Rumors” has been replaced by a kind-of grizzled carnival barking that’s plagued the band’s career since the overwrought (if still captivating) “Condemnation” from 1993.
Then again, their classic era also contained “People Are People,” so. You know. Whatever. They’ll play Madison Square Garden and I’ll have to sell my car for a ticket. Which I will. I’ll hold my lighter up for “Stripped.” I’ll step out during this song to buy a pretzel. I’ll enthusiastically cheer as Fletcher sits behind a keyboard and obviously does nothing. They had some high marks in their past, and they’ve aged relatively gracefully, even if they’re completely boring now. Exactly like me.